IT Visionaries: New England Biolabs’ CIO on Building Connected Customer Products

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Our latest installment of the continuing “IT Visionaries” series features New England Biolabs CIO Ken Grady. Based in Massachusetts, the 300-employee company produces and sells enzymes that are essential to DNA research done in the scientific community. Over the last year, NEB has also evolved into a technology company. Keep reading to learn how and tune into the free On Demand Webcast, “Building Next Generation Apps with the Salesforce1 Platform,” featuring Grady.

 

Sidebar-KenGrady1. Customer connections are a major emphasis for NEB. Why is this?
 

As one of the oldest biotech companies in the world, founded by scientists, for scientists, we really feel deeply connected to the research going on everywhere our products are used. We developed a model several years ago where we were putting freezers of our DNA research products out at our customer sites. But those freezers and our inventory never interacted with us. We didn’t know what products the scientists were using until they called us to reorder it.

2. Why did you see a need for a connected product? 


We were looking for ways to connect deeper with scientists to understand how they were using our products, what research they were doing, and what we could do to better support them. Our customers are scientists and we are right there at the bench with them, helping them with their research. You’ve got to be engaged with them at every step of the way. In 2012, we went to Dreamforce and listened to how others were using the Salesforce1 Platform to not only connect to their customers, but also to their products.

3. What did you decide to build? (And what did it have to do with Diet Coke?)


I went back to my hotel room during Dreamforce. I was looking at my mini bar and was thinking: Imagine what that mini bar tells someone about my buying patterns. That’s when the lightbulb went off. We went back and looked at our freezers and thought about how we could connect them into our customer and product information to gain great new insights and a whole new level of engagement. The Salesforce1 Platform offered an adaptable foundation that we could use to create a mobile app built into a touchscreen on the freezers.

4. How did you roll this new technology out as an IT organization?


We asked our ISV partner, Ionia Corporation, what they could do in 100 days. Then we went to some customers that we've had a longstanding relationship with, and said, “Hey, if we gave you an early prototype, could you give us feedback?” We gave them our first working model, which was really just a smart tablet strapped onto the front of a freezer, loaded with a custom Salesforce application. The app let scientists login and select the products they wanted to use so that we could track both usage and inventory. 

5. What has iteration been like for the application?

Every time we’ve been able to take feedback from customers to develop a new user interface and develop new ways of thinking. Today’s freezers stay locked until a scientist logs in and there’s now a barcode scanner mounted on the front to make checking out products easier and faster. This helps us not only know more about our products’ end users, but it also allows our team to keep track of inventory, as it’s all connected to actionable data inside of Salesforce. It also created automatic reorder workflows to ensure that these freezers never go empty.

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6. Have you benefited from getting rid of your old IT infrastructure?


What’s exciting for us about the Salesforce1 Platform is how quickly we’ve been able to move from a legacy and siloed environment of different applications that didn’t talk to each other, to something that’s unified and helps us see our customers in the same way they see us. Since we built the freezer app directly on Salesforce with Heroku, using the available development libraries to access and leverage our Salesforce objects in real-time, the freezer app is truly Salesforce. There's no other infrastructure needed.

7. Any idea what your IT return on investment will be?


The percent change in IT costs has been minimal for NEB. Because we leveraged the existing Salesforce1 Platform, we were able to design a solution that leverages our existing skills as well as architecture. No new resources were needed. And that made our development approach much quicker, cheaper, and easier. It’s safe to say we'll achieve return on investment in less than twelve months, quite comfortably.


Hear much from New England Biolabs’ CIO Ken Grady by tuning into the free On Demand Webcast, “Building Next Generation Apps with the Salesforce1 Platform.” You will also learn: Best practices for connecting to next generation products, apps, and devices, how to use Salesforce to create a inventory and distribution app, plus ways to leverage Salesforce to automate your business, faster.

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