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Toshiba reenters multivendor market with third-party maintenance group


Firm to offer alternative to other OEMS’ programs Toshiba America Medical Systems’ brief respite on the sidelines of the multivendor service competition didn’t last long. Just months after breaking off its multivendor relationship

Firm to offer alternative to other OEMS’ programs

Toshiba America Medical Systems’ brief respite on the sidelines of the multivendor service competition didn’t last long. Just months after breaking off its multivendor relationship with COHR, TAMS jumped back into the fray with a new internally developed multivendor service and asset management program that will be based in Arlington, TX.

Toshiba announced on March 3 that it plans to offer asset management and multivendor service again starting May 1. The Tustin, CA, vendor has formed a new business unit, Toshiba Healthcare Technology Solutions, to spearhead the effort. The unit is hiring engineers and developing the expertise to service equipment manufactured by other companies. It will offer such services as monitoring and maintaining all the electrical equipment of a healthcare enterprise, including medical imaging, clinical engineering, biomedical, telecommunications, and computer systems.

The new program differs from Toshiba’s previous stab at multivendor service. That program was based on a 1997 agreement inked with independent service organization COHR of Chatsworth, CA. Under the partnership, Toshiba offered COHR’s multivendor service and asset management programs to its customers (SCAN 4/30/97). The deal enabled Toshiba to test the waters of multivendor service without committing to building its own in-house program through acquisition or internal development, as some other vendors have done.

The agreement began to sour, however, as COHR was beset by a host of distractions that began in late 1997 with the departure of chairman and CEO Paul Chopra. COHR subsequently saw the departure of many of the executives responsible for arranging the Toshiba relationship. It experienced an on-again, off-again divestiture program that culminated this month with the sale of COHR to an investment firm that has taken it private.

Throughout their partner’s troubles, Toshiba executives continued to abide by the deal, but at the same time quietly began to examine other options. Toshiba began to get serious about building its own multivendor service program in early 1998, according to Brian Turnbull, vice president of TAMS’ Technology Services business unit. By October, the COHR relationship was dead (SCAN 2/17/99), and Toshiba moved forward with developing its own offering.

Toshiba has been hiring service engineers for the past six months and is spending millions on acquiring management information systems software to support the multivendor program. The company settled on Arlington as a headquarters for the HTS business due to its central location and easy access to airport facilities, a crucial consideration for shipping parts quickly. Toshiba will offer the program throughout the U.S.

In addition to location, another advantage of Arlington is the large number of well-qualified service engineers available in the area, Turnbull said. Arlington was the headquarters of InnoServ Technologies, one of the last major independent service organizations before it was acquired by GE Medical Systems last year. Several InnoServ veterans, including former executive Bruce Cree, are helping Toshiba set up the business.

In fact, the recent acquisition binge that saw OEMs building their multivendor service operations by buying up ISOs was a major factor in Toshiba’s decision to set up its own organization, Turnbull said. With the exception of COHR, there are no more nationwide ISOs available to buy, and Toshiba wasn’t interested in renewing its involvement with its former partner, he said.

Although Toshiba is arriving late to the multivendor party, Turnbull doesn’t see that as a disadvantage. Toshiba deliberately chose to wait as long as it did to watch how the market accepted multivendor service and to learn from the mistakes of other companies. Toshiba believes there is dissatisfaction among customers with how other vendors run their multivendor programs and that Toshiba will be able to offer an alternative.

For one thing, Toshiba’s multivendor program will differentiate itself from those of the other major OEMs by growing at a measured pace rather than by chasing giant national accounts. The company will probably focus on large accounts, but will avoid taking on any accounts worth more than $2 million, at least in the early days of the program, according to Turnbull.

“We are going to take on customers on a select basis. We are going to be very methodical, very careful,” he said. “We are not going to take business for the sake of taking business just to grow our operation.”

Toshiba will also refrain from offering technology assessment services, in which vendors evaluate the equipment needs of their customers and then offer recommendations such as new scanner purchases. This is akin to putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop, Turnbull believes. To maintain an impartial relationship with customers, Toshiba will farm out technology assessment responsibilities to third parties.

“We are withdrawing from the technology assessment side of it,” he said. “We want to deal with the selling of equipment to customers on an even playing field.”

Toshiba’s multivendor program will also offer remote diagnostics capabilities, based on the company’s InnerVision remote maintenance software. InnerVision already enables Toshiba to remotely diagnose its own equipment, as well as CT and MRI scanners manufactured by other companies. The company is working on expanding InnerVision to support other modalities manufactured by third parties.

Toshiba HTS will report to Turnbull, who is based in Tustin. Eventually the company will hire a general manager for the business. Look for more news as Toshiba builds the HTS subsidiary over the next several months, details its plans, and announces new customers, Turnbull said.

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