Understanding the Voice of the Customer is the First Step in Strategic Partnership

Allison Cory

Assistant Vice President of Procurement at Intermountain Healthcare

Learning Objectives

Join us for an Executive Interview with the Assistant Vice President of Procurement at Intermountain Healthcare. She will be discussing everything you need to know about creating a strategic partnership. Along with how COVID has impacted their supplier partnerships and how InterMountain Healthcare is working through these challenges.

Key Takeaways:

  • Key operational complexities exacerbated by the pandemic that highlighted opportunities to partner with suppliers differently

  • Unique challenges in logistically partnering through Covid with your suppliers

  • Strategy changes in response to COVID to reduce operational challenges along the entire supply chain continuum

"We actually had a strategy previously to be very cost centric and sole source when we could, especially for commoditized goods. And what we found is that that's just not going to work now with our new risk management strategy and the elements of supply assurance. "

Allison Cory

Assistant Vice President of Procurement at Intermountain Healthcare


Hello, everyone and welcome to the scope procurement and virtual summit hosted on quartz network. My name is Britt Erler QN executive correspondent, thank you so much for joining us. I would like to welcome our executive speaker Allison Corry, Assistant Vice President of procurement for Intermountain Healthcare. Welcome, Allison. Thank you so much. Happy to be here. Pleasure to have you here. And today, we have a really interesting conversation, we’ll be discussing how COVID-19 has impacted the supply chain industry as a whole, and how leaders can adapt and navigate during this ever changing landscape. Now, obviously, your company went through a lot of changes last year alone. Were there operational complexities that were exacerbated during COVID that really highlighted opportunities for you to partner with suppliers.

Absolutely, I think anyone that recognizes healthcare organizations are really been taxed by the COVID complications from a scaling of our procedures back so that we have capacity, but also from an opportunity to complete somebody additional lab tests that were really frankly, unprepared for, that has a cascading implication for lots of things. But I think one of the areas where we have had a new reflection is how does that impact our supplier community, and frankly, the way that we partner with them, because in all honesty, we need to change the way that we’re partnering with our suppliers to have more of an end to end perspective related to our supply chain. So one of the realizations that’s really come from this is a newfound appreciation for transparency. So we found there’s a lot of organizations that frankly, have some hesitancy being very open about where they know they’re going to have backorder situations, or where they’re anticipating shortages that are coming. But our true partners, we’re finding are willing to come to the table and be transparent about that, so that we collaboratively can work through those. So it’s not necessarily seen as a negative or a penalty, that they’re coming to us saying we’re gonna have a miss here. But it’s really how early on in this process, can we be open about that, so that we can collaboratively work together. And I think what we found, it’s just the de lose of suppliers that were contacting us, we’d rather partner with the regular suppliers that we have for a myriad of reasons. And we can do that best if we are sharing from a transparency perspective. We very quickly break guide some feedback from our suppliers that they wanted to know what our priorities were, that evolves not just from COVID. But in general. And one of the things that we’ve started doing is, frankly, being really transparent about our annual goals with our supplier community. And so we’ve started hosting a series of open asked me anything’s where we will engage with them in a very similar format for open questions. But we’ve walked them through our priorities. And here’s what we’re going to be focused on this year. And in the coming years, and frankly, it’s created a lot of collaboration that we didn’t have in the past. So hopefully, that’s something that’s a positive that we can take away from COVID and retain.

Definitely, I think that’s a silver lining that I’ve heard, honestly, from all the industries across the board is this idea of more collaboration, more communication. And as you mentioned, more transparency. I think companies and people in general are realizing we can’t do this alone, we’ve got to work together if we’re going to make it through. And I think another important note that you mentioned too, is companies are no longer looking to partner, just based on monetary factors. They’re also looking to partner people that have the same visions, values and goals that they do. And I think that’s such a crucial point that will really become a focal point into the new year. At now, in terms of logistics that make it more difficult for you to partner with your suppliers. What challenges did you see?

Yeah, so unlike many health systems, we have our own distribution facilities and warehouse here. And so that’s an atypical model. Also, we are very penetrated into our procedural areas. So we are managing the inventory in our cath labs are some of those other areas and have that more into end visibility. So when people talk to me, they think that sounds really great, and we have this additional control. But with that comes additional maintenance. So I think the perfect example that I get and suppliers ask us all the time, why are you so slow to be responsive? or Why does it take so long to make a substitution. And if you just think about the sheer volume when we had all the PP shortages over the summer, have tried to substitute product A for product B, we have trained our clinicians and they are passionate about the fact that we are a formulary organization so they are not accustomed to using something that is not the normal item that they see there by training and education. We’ve taught This. So we had to come up with new communication protocols, visual cues to indicate that these were permissible items that were frankly available. And we are endorsing that they use. Some of them come with different units of measure or packaging strings. So knowing that we have pars that go into the O r, and in our warehouses and in our, you know, sat stores at the facilities, the number of places where we have to make maintenance cadence is significant. Plus, at no time do we have the the wonderful magic wand of being able to say we no longer have any of this. And now we’ve 100% switch to this, there’s always sort of that cutover strategy, where we have both in play for some time period, but, but really, I think it’s been shocking to me, frankly, how much work it takes to just cascade these things, even in an emergency to get our infrastructure and systems up to speed to be able to track. I think one of the really interesting things that happened. We started collaborating with the state government here, which Utah some some very progressive things, frankly, and having us collaborate, but we’re also collaborating with who other health systems who traditionally would be our competitors. And so we’re really trying to be open and solve this, you know, COVID complex from a community perspective, which is wonderful. But it changed the way that we needed to interact and report. So my, my favorite example is we had, you know, at 1.6, or seven different masks that we were using that were interchangeable at the same time. But when we do reporting, we look at those at an individual item or skew level. We can’t do that when we’re talking about how close are we to outage of a mask. And so we really had to do some quick categorization and set up really, frankly, new reporting structures that allowed us to have that collaboration with those other groups. And it was really interesting. And again, I hope these are things that for long term emergency management, we can keep in place with our our competitors, frankly, app. Now, obviously, no one can be 100% prepared for a pandemic such as COVID. But did you have strategies and structures in place to at least prepare you to pivot and adapt as quickly as you did?

While being on us? We thought we did. But in reality, we really weren’t prepared. And I think we’re not alone in that from a healthcare organization perspective, we had a number of lists and management tools that we thought represented substitutions and critical item lists that we would treat inventory control levels differently. But what we found is those are not dynamically being managed. If you’re putting that on a shelf, and it’s a printout of something, then that’s not saying relevant or recent. And as the standards of care change, frankly, the product mix that is in there needs to change as well. So we’ve had to really look more broadly at what did we learn from this? And where do we have gaps. And I think there’s been a huge recognition, and all applaud our organization quickly in when this started a recognition that we need a dedicated program or role to really look at risk mitigation more holistically. And that is for not just supply chain. But you know, in my role in procurement, for example, what risks Do we have with our suppliers or a smaller supplier that may not have the continuity of supply that we’re used to? Or that we’re, frankly, counting on? And how does that change our strategy and the way that we engage with them back to that transparency? Or do they have programs in place that we’re comfortable with with, you know, from a risk mitigation strategy perspective, and it’s really just changed the way that we’ve collaborated, and the conversations we’re having, frankly, very transparently now about risk.

I completely agree. And as you mentioned, I don’t think you are alone in that you’re not just the healthcare industry, but all companies across the board are really taking a look at that again, and seeing how they need to pivot in that circumstance. Now, as far as your vendors, have they changed their approach to sales and product introduction.

Yeah, somewhat, I would say it’s probably not our traditional vendors that have shifted, but rather new entrant vendors. And if you think about it, there’s been a lot of those lately, with all of the changes and some of the manufacturing challenges that COVID presented. I think it’s really interesting, because when this started, everyone we knew everyone you knew knew someone that had masks that they wanted to sell to us at a very reasonable price, you know, so it really became a lesson very quickly and what it looks like to have a dealership all of these suppliers contracting and we needed to entertain them, frankly, all at once. And so it really has changed probably more the way that we interact with net new suppliers than it has with our traditional suppliers because they really just didn’t have the product or we probably would have been buying it from them to start with and not entertaining someone else. So it’s interesting though, as you step back because you started to hit down Listen, this last question, but I think we actually had a strategy previously to be very cost centric and sole source when we could, especially for commoditized goods. And, and what we found is that that’s just not going to work now with our new risk management strategy and the elements of supply assurance, and still good pricing, don’t want to pay too much, obviously, but so good pricing, but maybe not that one or two cent extra savings that we would get from a sole source relationship allows us to have flexibility and allows us to have manufacturing and goods coming in from different places. And, and really, that ties into that risk management strategy that we have. But it’s changing the way that we’re doing our strategic sourcing, and therefore changing the way that we partner as it relates to language in our contracts about, you know, service level expectations, penalties for not being able to meet certain, you know, supply deliveries, for example, or price gouging and protections for us based on Raw good changes in pricing. So, it’s really sort of exploded the area in a way that I think historically health care has been very dependent on the supplier community to just take care of it, you’ll get it in eventually we’ll find a way to to carry on until then. And we’ve really, I think, noted that we need to take a lot more responsibility for that. But that also changes maybe uncomfortably for supplier partners, how we engage with them, what we’re asking the tougher questions, and then getting them to put that in writing for us as well. So that we’re mutually managing together.

completely understand, and you mentioned this a little bit earlier, there’s been so many new policies and governmental changes put in place product specific, or the new policies that are now being used to address the pandemic?

Um, yeah, I mean, I think a lot of them come down to what I would call industrial hygiene, or like the clearance of particular goods. One of the things that became very confusing early on is the difference between an N 95 and a K and 95, and a procedural mask and all these different things. And I still don’t even understand we have a cheat sheet that I’d be happy to share with you. But if you have an interest in really learning it, but But what we found is we got so many of these, you know, well intended offers really well intended, and suppliers try to help meet our need for all the right reasons. But we had to scale pretty quickly that people that were able to screen those opportunities for us, so that we were able to have, frankly, me be able to vet things and the rest of the team, not just the few folks that usually are very expert oriented in this space. So there’s a lot of changes there. And I think you saw the evolution as we, as the government, and others learn more and more about the disease and the way it was transmitted. For the virus itself, the recommendations continue to shift to change. And so you have that element, you also have FEMA playing in there and gobbling up certain supply sources. And then, you know, it’s really just been a really eye opening experience. And we feel stronger as an organization because we’ve been able to thrive through it. But that’s not something that I think all my peer organizations can say. And I’m really thrilled that with the team and their performance this year, and their ability to to really meet the needs of the organization, despite all of these things. Yes.

It’s truly such an accomplishment. You know, I know right now, it’s so challenging and difficult, but I think the policies and in some of the issues we’re facing now, will have a better effect down the road in the future. And I think we’ll look back and end up saying, you know, what, I’m glad that we did that, even though it was really difficult during that time, has been eye opening for a lot of companies on changes they needed to make for many years, but COVID has forced them to do so. And really what this goes to show is that supply chain has been brought into the spotlight, which it may never really have in the past. So as a leader and what you’ve experienced, you know, how can you use this new voice and really make a change?

That’s one of my favorite questions. Right now I, I use this as a barometer for how well supply chain is understood. My parents now understand for the first time ever, what I do, and why it’s challenging what supply chain is, frankly, and that is a level of understanding that frankly, you just don’t normally have in the general population. And I think it’s really important to use this platform, if you will, to the advantage of supply chain for our own ongoing development. And and frankly, the recognition that supply chain in and of itself could be a risk but more positively is the differentiator if done well. It is an organization No strategic differentiator for Intermountain Healthcare to have the supply chain that we do. And I don’t think that that’s always something that’s been understood by our leadership or by the community, or by my parents, you know, my by anyone else, because they just didn’t understand it. And I think all of the attention on the masks and the, the realness of that to an individual person outside of just coming to the hospital, or, you know, seeing it in health care has been really enlightening for a lot of people. And I really feel like now’s our opportunity to shine. And we have to take advantage, frankly, of this window, that we have to have a voice, a greater voice, and to try and improve our supply chain, you know, to the next level, in preparation for what we don’t know come I

completely agree with you and and to expound upon that you are a Gartner master or supply chain, and also a very recognized leader and have made a lot of difficult changes within your organization that you’ve seen success in, you know, based on what you’ve been through, talk to me about some of the wins some of the innovations that you’ve put in place.

You know, it’s interesting, because we’re obviously very proud of our Gartner master status. But when we talk to the team, one of the wins that I would say is, we’ve been able to position this not as a plateau, this is not an achievement, that we just get an award and we put it in a trophy case, and then we move on, the reason that we’re awarded is not because we are perfect, or even maybe exceptional in certain spaces, when compared outside of healthcare providers, there’s a lot of, you know, really innovative supply chains that we aspire to be more like, I would say the biggest win is that we’ve been able to position this with the team and our leaders here, that the reason we’re recognized is not because of a stagnant achievement, it’s because of our relentless pursuit of what’s next after that. So it doesn’t matter where we are. Now, it doesn’t matter where we got to admit us that we continue to keep going. And it’s that culture of continuous improvement and change that, frankly, differentiates us, I think the most from so many other health care provider organizations. So it’s really interesting when we talk, we’re just in goal setting mode right now, about what are we going to work on this year. And when you look at all the things that we still need to tackle and that we still need to improve or optimize? I think there’s always a sense from the team, like, Are you suggesting we’re broken or that we’re not doing a good job? You know, because it feels like, okay, we’ll do this this year. And we’ll work on that next year after we’ve completed this foundational work. And really, what it becomes is, you know, it’s that relentless pursuit without, there’s no destination, it will go on forever. And that’s the point. And I think that’s probably the biggest message I would share is that it’s not about getting to a point, it’s about the journey, and that you continue on the journey, for as long as you’re in that role. And that’s probably our biggest win from a supply chain perspective here.

Yes. And I love to hear that, because I think that’s what a lot of companies are struggling with right now. You know, their main focus is, how do we just make it through the pandemic, once we get past that point, we can go back to normal, but that’s not the idea. You know, even after this, we need to constantly still strive, adapt, innovate, to really make sure that not just the supply chain industry, but industries across the board continue to improve. So as you mentioned, you know, even though you’re still setting new goals and new changes that you’re going to make within the organization, it’s because you’re continuously educating yourself and knowing that you can do better, and constantly strive to be really a mentor for other companies that we see out there. So congratulations to you and and everything that your team has done. And now in terms of leaders who are in a similar spot to yourself any final pieces of advice that you have for them.

Whoa, that’s a tough one. There’s a lot of advice. I guess the the one thing that I feel like has had the most traction with my leadership team, here and with the entire team, frankly, especially as you think of some of the changes that we’ve made to a full time telecommute overnight, basically, of the workforce and sort of virtual teaming is the spirit of transparency. That’s probably if you ask my team, my theme word or my keyword that. So we’re transparent about things that are going well. And we’re really honest, when things aren’t going well. And it’s comes from a place of place, excuse me of facts, not opinion or emotion. And I’ll share with them when it’s bad news. And I’ll be really honest, if I don’t know the answer, or that we don’t know or that I also am disappointed in the way that you know, something has panned out. But I really feel like it’s enabled a lot of trust, that when we say things that they believe us and there’s not a sense that we’re not being transparent and then also I think it evokes a sense of team spirit. That, you know, we’re in this together, and I’ll be transparent. This is not my strength area. So I need you to really step up here and help us as a team. And so if there’s one takeaway from this, I think the the strategy of full transparency, even when it hurts is probably the biggest leadership lesson learned, that I’ve taken from this leading through all of these changes.

I couldn’t agree with you more. And you know, I like to think to our CEO, when when this first hit last year went in with the same mentality of, you know, giving us the complete honest answer, even if it wasn’t what we wanted to hear right away being in the events industry. But you know, once that happens, we trusted there on out every single thing that he said, and knew that we had that support system in place. And I think that’s so crucial for you and your team to know that they can always come to you, they can trust you and that they’re never going to have in the back of their mind that what they’re working on. Is it making a difference. So I think that’s a great piece of advice for leaders everywhere, that hopefully they will all start to implement, you know, not just now but continually for years to come. So thank you so much, Alison, you’ve provided incredible insights for everyone today and thank you to everyone who has joined us as well. If you have any final questions or comments there will be a discussion forum underneath this presentation. Thank you again everyone for joining be safe and healthy and enjoy the rest of the show.

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