Interview with a LabOps Expert: A Candid Discussion About Multivendor LCMS Servicing

Jun 02, 2022 | Blog

multivendor service labops interview

A common source of frustration for Lab Operators and Facilities Managers is coordinating maintenance and repair services for LCMS equipment. To learn more, we sat down with Kim Dougherty, a lab operations expert and Senior Director of Facilities and Operations at Atalanta Therapeutics.

In the world of asset management and servicing, LabOps professionals sit somewhere in the middle; balancing the needs of the business with the servicing needs of the scientists. From that seat, they have a unique view into what works and what doesn’t when it comes to LCMS servicing options.

To better understand this unique perspective, we spoke with LabOps expert, Kim Dougherty, about her career, the problems facing today’s lab operations managers, and whether non-OEM service models make things better – or worse. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

An Interview with Kim Dougherty, LabOps Expert

How did you get into LabOps? Where did you start?

I started off as a OneSource Program administrator working for PerkinElmer (PE). I was finishing my MS at Northeastern, and they had an open position. That was my first step into a pharma-biotech industry job. I was responsible for lab asset management and administration from getting vendor quotes to managing service providers on site.

I spent a couple of years there in the administrative role and slowly took an interest in a bit of a different path. Most service providers convert scientists into engineers, but I had mechanical skills, having been a machinist by trade. PE had faith in my technical skills and allowed me to train under another engineer and I went from admin to engineer. I also learned a lot on my own through trial and error and really enjoyed that process. I grew my career and took over Laboratory Relocations for PE.

“Most service providers convert scientists into engineers, but I had mechanical skills, having been a machinist by trade. PE had faith in my technical skills.”

Down the road, I took a Lab Operations job with Vertex Pharmaceuticals. I was working at the Laval, Canada site that was slated to shut down and move operations. They knew I had the relocation and engineering background and tapped me to manage the shutdown and transfer of the facility and equipment.

And this is when you first heard about ZefSci?

Yes, exactly. ZefSci was involved in the shutdown of the site in Laval, and a lot of the Vertex people there spoke very highly of their service and attention to detail. It was with a heavy heart that we were shutting down that facility, but working with ZefSci in that process was great. So, when I moved down to Boston, I made it a priority to get ZefSci on board there.

It’s funny when I think about it, moving from my job from PerkinElmer to Vertex, I moved from being the service provider to the customer. Because of that, I started to notice some shortcomings in the OEM service model.

Right now, I’m working at a startup called Atalanta Therapeutics, so a lot of my recent experience has been shaped by working in a startup environment.

For someone in your position, why did you like the non-OEM LCMS servicing model? How was it different from what you had experienced before with OEM?

When I moved down to Boston with Vertex, I had a real issue with communication with the OEM service provider. The provider wasn’t adhering to our lab’s protocols. We had repeat visits and often were chasing down updates on service delays and parts, overall, it was causing a lot of headaches for my team and the scientists.

That’s why I wanted to get ZefSci onboard. From my experience with the Laval site shut down, they were great communicators, and that’s something that a lot of OEM service providers miss.

In this regard, there is one distinction I want to make – that’s the difference between non-OEM and OEM servicing companies. A lot of OEMs have started to put together a multivendor servicing package, so they can service a little bit more than what they manufacture.

But I think a lot of value should really be placed on service providers that don’t manufacture equipment. If a company doesn’t manufacture lab equipment, then their sole purpose is to repair or PM what’s in your lab, they are non-biased. They don’t upsell or try to force an upgrade. There’s little sales aspect, their sole goal is service, with this, there is no wasting time and when you are talking about downtime of critical assets, every minute counts.

Companies like that are great with communications, which is ultimately what both scientists and lab operations managers are looking for in an LCMS service engagement.

“Their sole goal is service, with this, there is no wasting time and when you are talking about downtime of critical assets, every minute counts.”

Going back to your time at Vertex, were there challenges bringing a company like ZefSci onboard?

One of the biggest problems that I see, especially if you’re looking to change your service contracts is that lab scientists generally trust the OEM a little too much. It’s much like trying to give a generic product to someone. The generic is essentially the same, but just because it doesn’t have the name brand attached to it, people think it’s somehow inferior.

This was the problem that I had at Vertex when I was looking to involve ZefSci in our operations in Boston. The scientists were unnerved by us leaving the known OEM service provider.

It becomes a battle of trust. They know and trust the OEM because, in their eyes, the OEM is the only service option.

The thing that I had to remind everyone about is that the engineers at ZefSci all typically come from an OEM background. They’re not inferior engineers. They’ve repaired and serviced machines like ours their whole career. They’re the same engineers that the OEMs use.

At the end of the day, I had to pull some executive authority to make the move to ZefSci. I did tell the scientists that if they weren’t happy, we would switch back. My neck was a little on the line with this move, but as the months went by, I did not hear any further protests and for me it was clear, that this was because the service quality was undeniable.

“The engineers at ZefSci all come from an OEM background. They’re the same engineers that the OEMs use.”

How would you suggest OEMs change their services? Is it not something they value in their business model?

That’s a great question because it is a question of whether they can or even want to change. From what I see, OEMs are always trying to make engineers salespeople. There’s a quota attached to a job, and there is always a push for an upsell. They’re told to keep a lookout for what you can sell the client on, even on routine service calls.

It’s not that the practice is necessarily a bad thing, but there’s a time and place for selling. And selling during a much-needed repair isn’t the right time. A lot of scientists and lab operations managers would be happier if the engineer showed up, did the repair or PM, documented the service correctly, and then left.

Going back to my engineer days, I remember I used to feel conflicted about that part of my job as an engineer. I just wanted to fix the equipment, I never wanted to be a salesman.

“OEMs are always trying to make engineers salespeople. There’s a quota attached to a job, and there is always a push for an upsell.”

What’s the solution? How do you think an OEM could improve things?

We talk about breaking down work silos in a lot of cases, but I think there are some things that should stay siloed. Like sales and service delivery. When you combine sales and service delivery, I think you cheapen the value of the service and create an experience that nobody is really happy with at the end of the day.

I think if OEMs really wanted to improve their services, they could make the effort to partner with other companies. The customer is often punished when a part is delayed, or a service engineer isn’t in the area and won’t be for weeks. There needs to be a network of collaborators on the OEM’s part to ensure that the lab gets the service they need. Ultimately that’s what it should be about – providing good, fast service. The reduction in downtime is the primary objective of Lab Operations Managers.

What are some new or future challenges that a non-OEM servicing model can help solve for labs?

The main issue we’re seeing right now and will see for the foreseeable future is downtime. As we speak, I actually have a piece of equipment under warranty that’s been dead for two weeks, and it will still be another three to four weeks before it can be serviced.

The worst part of that is, once they finally come out they may tell me that it can’t be fixed until a part comes in or that it can’t be fixed and it will be swapped out as part of the warranty. However, I know 2 non-OEM service providers that can probably fix it within the week, but, it’s under warranty so do I spend the money and use the non-OEM or wait? Why can’t the OEM call on them just to get the customer running again? Worse case is if it needs to be swapped out I am now waiting 4 weeks for them to make the assessment and then another ‘x’ months for the replacement.

This problem is particularly pronounced for startup companies that don’t have redundant equipment. That means if a piece of equipment is down, that entire lab function is down with it, which is back-breaking.

This is where a non-OEM servicing company like ZefSci can truly help. For them and companies like them, service and communications are their top priorities.