Viewpoint: Becoming Small Business-Minded

Gary Schnitz
Chair, Journal Management Board

Gary Schnitz photo

During the past few years, we often have heard sobering news about some institutional biomed departments being scaled back or eliminated completely. As healthcare reimbursements have declined, research grants have eroded, and Federal and state funding have decreased, some of our service departments, educational resource units, libraries, and teaching programs have experienced increased pressure for more accountability. Budget constraints, less staff, improved efficiency, and profitability have been frequently mandated to us.

Today many of us have extraordinarily difficult work environments with many obstacles placed squarely in front of us. Despite this, many have re-engineered their departments and departmental workflow, and to their credit have survived...  some have even thrived.  More and more unit Directors and Managers have had to think of themselves as running small businesses. This concept, once foreign to our subsidized institutional departments, now has become commonplace as charge-backs and cost recovery methodologies have been employed.

How did those unit managers, who have survived, achieve their success? What did these colleagues do to enhance their accountability and profitability? While I certainly do not claim to know all the answers, I do have a few ideas about how this may have been done.

Embrace Technology - At the root of any modern small business success story, one will usually find a balanced reliance on technology. This technology will drive new business, improve efficiency and workflow, and provide our valuable customer base with an improved awareness about our product or service.  Web-based departmental service requests, email confirmations, e-progress notes, and electronic billing mechanisms all improve customer interaction and customer confidence in what we do.

Develop a Marketing Strategy - News releases relevant to new departmental services, departmental tours, software demonstrations and training, and efficient project completion will not only promote a unit’s overall products and services, but help increase institutional recognition. Mr. Guy Kawasaki, CEO of Garage Technology Ventures, often has said, “Turn your customers into evangelists.” Becoming more customer-focused keeps your customers happy, and this will ultimately drive new business to your door.

Submit Activity Reports - Routine reporting of activities and projects to one’s supervisors invariably enhances communication, prevents misunderstanding, and promotes trust. Because of the nature of our work, our biomed units usually have their finger on the clinical and research “pulse” of our institutions. Alerting your administration about the level of involvement that you, your photographers, illustrators, videographers, and producers have in the day-to-day life of your institution is worthwhile.

Perform Outcomes Measurements - An accurate and unbiased measurement of a department’s workflow, processes, failures, and associated costs will provide a strategic and clear picture of what works and what doesn’t. Determining what production steps or processes work best in a particular production situation will only enhance subsequent projects and make them more cost effective. Only by measuring outcomes (both good and bad), can we establish true success and streamline any outdated workflow processes.

Request a Capital Equipment Infusion - Departments that have fallen behind the times relevant to new or replacement equipment face a significant financial hurdle.  Working with old and outdated equipment represents a costly dilemma.  How does one maintain or attempt to improve efficiency with less than adequate equipment and hardware?  An honest assessment of what equipment is needed, avoiding hardware duplication, is necessary for any preliminary or formal financial request.

Assess Your Departmental Space Requirement - A significant restructuring of one’s physical space may become necessary to improve workflow management.  This is usually not without cost, but may be considered in certain situations. Reconsider any unused space. By giving up a portion of your space (for instance that old vacated darkroom) in exchange for institutional capital equipment grant may be beneficial and rewarding to all parties involved. This reclamation of institutional space may be invaluable to your administration, and offering this space back to your institution will show that you are a team player.  Your administration may, in turn, be more understanding of a future capital expense request.

Consider Professional Association Membership - Professional membership in the ABCD, AIMBI, AMI, BCA, or HeSCA is one of the most important keys for success. Encourage each of your staff to become a “joiner” and take advantage of the many educational workshops, plenary sessions, presentations, and technology demonstrations that occurs at each of these respective annual meetings. These memberships promote camaraderie, enhance professionalism, improve customer service, and may even provide advancement opportunities for them.  Attendance at an annual meeting will not only provide a unique educational opportunity, but it will “recharge” professional batteries in the process.

Take Responsibility - Finally, it is important that we assume some personal responsibility for keeping our institutions strong and financially prosperous. At the same time, we also need to keep our own departments and our biomed small businesses thriving.

Here’s hoping that we can do both of these successfully.

Gary Schnitz

Copyright 2008, The Journal of Biocommunication, All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents for VOLUME 34, NUMBER 1