Friday, January 7, 2011

The Magic of BBP

Interesting piece in the Pharma Times this week about how the UK's National Health Service (NHS) recently discovered it was paying widely varying prices for the same equipment and supplies. In NHS procurement waste “costs £1 billion a year” John Neilson of NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), an alliance between the NHS and IT services firm Steria, reveals that a new NHS SBS database identified up to 19 different prices for the same pacemaker, and 22 different prices for a surgical tool. The article goes on to suggest that one of the biggest barriers to the NHS achieving significant cost savings in medical equipment & supplies procurement is that physicians are reluctant to participate in initiatives such as strategic sourcing because they fear they will have to compromise on quality and performance.

What jumped out at me from this article was the basic question: did anyone even know the NHS was paying all these different prices for the same product? To be fair, the article does not make it 100% clear whether the different prices being paid are for products with identical manufacturer brand names and specifications or only equivalent specifications from different OEMs. I read it as the former, for example the cardiology department in an NHS hospital in London might be buying a Boston Scientific Altrua Model # S404 Pacemaker for one price while another NHS hospital in Manchester could be buying the same S404 pacemaker for 10% less. This would be a totally believable situation with all the hundreds of NHS locations in the UK that could be buying this and other products with no coordination or communication between them.

If it is indeed the case that the new NHS SBS database has unearthed the previously unknown fact of multiple NHS buyers purchasing identical products at widely varying prices (and often I'd bet from the same supplier) then questioning the willingness of physicians to embrace the principles of strategic sourcing best practices is premature. What has been stumbled upon is actually one of Procurement 101's most basic but also most productive source of quick win cost savings - find out who in your organization is buying this product at the lowest price today and get everyone buying at that price, or "Buying at BBP (Best Buyer's Price)" as some purchasing veterans call the practice.

Buying at BBP is completely non-strategic but in some cases can deliver levels of early savings sufficient to fund the truly strategic investments required to create and sustain value over time such as strategic sourcing, supply chain optimization and demand management. In my opinion it's overlooked in many cases because it's so simple and, well, because let's face it we didn't go to business school to create value for our customers with such trivial solutions.

In the case of the NHS (and the same could apply to any mid or large-sized organization with multiple decentralized buying locations) I would be concerned that nobody is considering the Buy at BBP approach. Someone should be getting hold of those new database reports and identifying the name, rank and serial numbers of the buyers that secured the lowest pricing for those items with the highest annual combined usage across all NHS locations. Two things should then happen. First, these buyers should all be sent generous denomination Marks & Spencers Gift Cards. Second, someone should be assigned responsibility and authority to negotiate with the BBP suppliers to have the lowest price extended to all other NHS buying locations that are buying these same items. Suddenly, simply, almost magically a windfall of hard savings will have showered down upon the NHS without a single physician being asked to consider another brand or back down on a specification.

And one last thing. A new enterprise-wide database is not necessary to identify BBP opportunities. The same outcome can be achieved by pulling accounts payable vendor disbursement data from different locations and consolidating the data into one file. Look for those vendors being used by the most locations within your organization - these will likely be the vendors selling the same products to different buyers at different prices. You can then go the locations those vendors are selling to and pull item level usage and pricing data to identify specific pricing discrepancies and the savings available from buying at your organization's BBP. Sure, this approach requires a bit more manual effort and legwork but do you really want to wait around for one of those enterprise data warehouses to be built before you can create the cost savings? Besides, to quote Booker T. Washington: "Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work."

Except BBP.