A recent poll by FedEx and Frost & Sullivan of UK healthcare executives has reinforced the importance of maintaining effective buyer-supplier relationships. More than three quarters of respondents stated that an effective supply chain will be "extremely important" in aiding their ability to compete over the next 10 years.
The results demonstrate the strategic role suppliers can play in helping private healthcare businesses as well as NHS facilities and departments to provide the best service possible. However, what should healthcare buyers be looking for from their suppliers in order to better guarantee this?
Creating an effective supply chain fundamentally comes down to suppliers being as proactive as possible by seeking to add value to their relationships with healthcare buyers. This should be a priority for all vendors whether they have short or long-term contracts in place. Being a preferred supplier on a long-term contract shouldn’t mean that providers become complacent about maintaining the right level of service. Striving to offer a value-added service at all times leaves suppliers in a position where their contract is more likely to be renewed at the end of an agreed period.
Those suppliers that can turn orders around quickly and accurately are best suited to the healthcare sector as they understand that the service they provide shouldn’t disrupt operations. The best way to provide assurance of this is to maintain an efficient stock control system to ensure that supplies are reordered in a timely fashion before they run low. Suppliers should then back this up by making certain that they are able to source from an alternative vendor in good time if their original provider lets them down.
Getting this right from the outset is vital so that healthcare buyers can ensure their suppliers have the right due diligence processes in place. This should all be agreed before any agreement is signed. One way of achieving this is to determine a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) for suppliers to work to. Even where a vendor is on a list of preferred suppliers this should not take away from the need to continuously provide excellent levels of service delivery.
Healthcare buyers must look to work with suppliers that go above and beyond their remit by anticipating future needs. This can only come about if suppliers have an inherent understanding of a healthcare buyer’s business and day-to-day needs. Those suppliers that proactively maintain regular contact with clients are in the best position to provide this kind of added value. This can be of particular benefit to healthcare-focused businesses and organisations as needs shift at a moment’s notice and have far reaching implications for patients.
Within the healthcare sector specifically, there may be long-standing contracts in place that have not altered for a number of years. However, although this brings benefits in terms of familiarity and a continuous service, it is important not to become complacent. Healthcare buyers must review their suppliers on a regular basis to check the prices charged are in line with the market. This is an important basis for challenging suppliers who in turn should be prepared to be flexible in a relationship even if they are contracted for a specified period of time. In turn healthcare buyers can readily demonstrate they understand the wider landscape in which suppliers operate.
☛ Nigel Crunden is business specialist at Office Depot.