How AmerisourceBergen Built its Mobile App Strategy


Note: also see the more recent video in App U where Mike Baca talks about AmerisourceBergen’s Mobile Journey.

AmerisourceBergen (NYSE: ABC) is a company committed to innovation. And that commitment has enabled them to maintain their position as a top global healthcare solutions provider offering value to everyone along the healthcare supply chain. Today, it boasts 26 distribution centers in the U.S. and nine in Canada, ranks No. 28 on the Fortune 500 list and is also the largest company based in Pennsylvania in terms of revenue.

How has AmerisourceBergen managed to be so successful and keep innovation a top priority? Most recently, they’ve recognized mobile’s significant business potential, and have put a comprehensive strategy to work in order to boost efficiency, reduce costs and improve patient care.

Embracing the Mobile Center of Excellence

When the notion of a “Mobile Center of Excellence” (MCoE) first emerged a few years ago, some tech and business pundits snickered at the term. Unclear on what it exactly meant for an organization to “go mobile,” many companies were hesitant to create a dedicated group for providing mobile development skills and guidance.

But with mobile devices quickly becoming the preferred channel among employees and consumers, for today’s smart organizations the idea of an MCoE makes a lot of sense. For Mike Baca, the director of the MCoE at AmerisourceBergen, it was the ideal way to achieve their immediate and long-term business goals.

“Mobility is more than making an app or putting a website on a mobile device,” Baca says. “Mobility adds a new dimension. Mobility brings wireless so you can access tools from anywhere. Mobility brings a camera, letting you supplement text with images and video on the spot. It has the ability to know whether you’re moving—if your device is in motion, it knows and can perform certain actions. For what it’s worth, it can tell whether I’m standing on my head while looking at a website. In short, the mobility paradigm lends meaningful context to what the user is doing. Traditional computing can’t do that.”

AmerisourceBergen opened its MCoE in 2013 with Baca at the helm.

“Our leadership was very forward-thinking in establishing the MCoE,” Baca says, “But it aligned with our overall emphasis on innovation.”

Going Cross-Platform
As Baca began building apps in-house, it quickly became apparent that maintaining separate code bases for each mobile operating system would be too costly and also negatively impact user value, as feature sets on each platform would inevitably become out of sync. After some research, he decided to invest in Appcelerator’s cross-platform development technology to develop native mobile apps for multiple platforms using a single code base. Appcelerator’s suite also provided cloud services, performance monitoring, analytics and automated testing to meet his team’s full software development lifecycle needs. Now AmerisourceBergen can bring these solutions to market much faster than with a purely native approach without sacrificing performance or user interface quality.

Now with several apps successfully deployed using Appcelerator and more in progress, Baca and his MCoE team have fully stepped into their role as evangelists for mobility at AmerisourceBergen. The team focuses on explaining to leaders across the company why mobile is so unique.

Getting internal stakeholders to come along for the ride can often be easier said than done, so Baca spends a lot of his time educating business leaders, who simply aren’t close enough to the technology on a day-to-day basis to understand why mobile isn’t just another channel to add to the lineup: because it holds the potential to transform the typical way of doing things. This kind of guidance is where the real value of a MCoE shines through.

Supporting Independent Pharmacies
It’s a competitive world for AmerisourceBergen and its customers. Up against very large pharmacy chains like CVS, the company’s Good Neighbor Pharmacy network of 3,200 independent local retailers must constantly innovate to keep its edge.

Recognizing that a web presence alone wouldn’t cut it for consumers, Baca and his team developed My GNP, an iOS and Android app for customers to refill prescriptions, receive push notification reminders, locate nearby stores and check pharmacy hours with the tap of a screen. My GNP also serves as a content hub for health-related news and monthly product specials.

By providing patients with convenience and easy access to important information, AmerisourceBergen’s pharmacy network has been able to open new channels for patient interaction. Future enhancements will look to improve patient care and increase medication adherence, with the goal of boosting both customer acquisition and retention.

Reinventing Everyday Work
In addition to its consumer-facing app, AmerisourceBergen set out to reimagine legacy internal processes. As an example, Baca’s team observed that sales reps in the field were grappling with information overload. Constant email, text message and voicemail notifications made it challenging for on-the-go employees to manage their individual workloads while also keeping tabs on updates to product information and company-wide policies.

To consolidate information and reduce inbox chaos, AmerisourceBergen created a knowledge management tool for the iPad that allows quick access to the most up-to-date information on company programs and offerings. Baca’s team also built offline functionality into the app, because the company’s sales reps often meet with customers in locations that lack internet connection, like hospitals (which often have tight restrictions on usage).

Now that the company’s sales and marketing teams are using the app, they say they can’t imagine doing their jobs without it. “Employees were wondering why we hadn’t done something like this before,” Baca says.

Another mobility initiative focused on streamlining the sales coaching process. Baca’s team integrated a third-party, cloud-based forms system with a custom mobile app that provided the best of both worlds: an easy-to-use forms creation portal for the business and a robust mobile app that could take those forms and optimize them for the sales manager’s iPad.

Now, Baca says, their sales managers no longer waste valuable time or endure the agony of “pinching and zooming” cumbersome PDF forms on their iPads as they complete coaching reviews while on ride-alongs with their direct reports. The result is a better-prepared salesforce.

The results of these two employee-facing apps alone have validated AmerisourceBergen’s investment in the Mobile Center of Excellence, demonstrating mobility’s capacity to transform workflows and drive tangible business impact. As he looks further into 2015 and beyond, Baca has several new projects in the pipeline, including some innovative and strategic initiatives for both customer and internal audiences.

“You Can’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good”
So what can other companies learn from AmerisourceBergen’s mobile journey? According to Baca, the answer is simple: act.

“Rather than develop detailed architectural and governance models first, we elected to get apps out there,” Baca says. “This space has changed and is changing so quickly. You have to accept some risk. Vendors and technologies come and go. Our leadership gave us permission to fail, but to do so quickly and move on. You can’t let perfect be the enemy of good if you want to keep pace.”
Once he got mobile apps out there, it was easier to formulate and implement the right governance and process controls, since both IT and the business were better informed, having already gone through the experience of developing and deploying apps.

Championing Mobile
At AmerisourceBergen, mobility has begun to show promise not only in “doing things better” but in challenging the business to consider new perspectives enhanced by context and personalization. Under a comprehensive mobile strategy guided by the MCoE, the company is challenging “business as usual” and demonstrating how mobile technology, when understood and applied strategically, can keep an organization at the top of their field.

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