How do I act on instrument utilization data?

Or: how I learned to stop worrying and love cross-departmental meetings!

The potential of instrument utilization data has never been in doubt. With utilization data, everyone in the organization is empowered to make educated decisions around instrumentation. However, when the time comes to implement an instrument utilization solution for the first time, we often find that the project lead has lingering questions about how best to roll out the initiative and recognize that potential. As the data pours in and the number of possible actions accumulates, here are some simple tips to help ensure you get the most value.

1) Have a project plan in place prior to deployment.

The excitement around landing a new tool and organizing installation can delay realization of results. It’s not that these details are unimportant, but rather that it’s more important to keep an eye on the big picture. The groups that recognize that CapEx and OpEx savings are the endgame will get there the fastest. Make sure installation and training are steps in a plan to reach that goal. Place hard deadlines on set dates, and include success criteria (X number of instruments identified to be retired, or Y number of instruments with optimized service contracts).

2) Keep all departments in the loop.

Look, the fact of the matter is that tension can exist between departments, and the source of that tension is often related to instrumentation. Utilization data provides the opportunity to bring departments together around a shared source of information. It’s helpful to have early meetings with selected project leads from each department (scientists, ops, IT, procurement, etc) to agree on processes and methods for handling spotlighted instruments. It’s hard to argue that an instrument labeled “high-throughput” should be kept on board if it’s averaging less than 5% use. Similarly, one can’t defend a preventive maintenance cut to a critical instrument that’s keeping steady at 25%+ usage. Moreover, having a diverse team will all but ensure suggested actions are completed, as the department lead can become the negotiator for the utilization team. For example, if you’re a chemist, it’s much easier to hear you’ll be losing a mass spec from a fellow chemist than say an IT head or Ops lead. On that note...

3) Make sure key parties can access (and understand) the information.

Any project aimed at relocating, adding, or subtracting instruments that affect multiple departments is going to be tricky business. The easiest way to avoid heated conversations with colleagues is to make sure everyone is on the same page from Day 1. Provide all interested parties with access to the utilization data. If certain stakeholders are too busy to decipher data themselves, make sure your project lead creates and supply regular reports, highlighting notable trends and summarizing actions-to-date. Feelings of mistrust brew when people are left in the dark, and having information readily available will keep everyone feeling they’re a part of the initiative.

4) Lean on your solution partner.

Utilization solution vendors have completed countless utilization projects at dozens, if not hundreds, of companies similar to yours. Because utilization solutions are relatively new and unchartered territory, you want a partner that will help interpret data and discover insights and trends, not just drop a solution off on your front steps, never to be heard from again. A quality customer success team will share innumerable best practices and recommendations to be applied to your situation. Don’t count out a solution provider as a valuable resource throughout your initiative.

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