Software Development Must Be Overhauled to Drive Growth in the Medical Device Industry

To out-innovate and out-executive in the market, device companies must create a standardized approach to software development that leverages all the available resources at their disposal.

May 3, 2013

5 Min Read
Software Development Must Be Overhauled to Drive Growth in the Medical Device Industry

Medical device companies have traditionally been in the business of manufacturing hardware products such as x-ray machines, ultrasound machines, and surgical equipment, but a significant market shift is underway. Software development and associated products, long considered an onerous burden for medical device makers, will account for the most growth in the industry over the next several years.

This is a paradigm shift that will require changes in the way device companies evaluate, implement, and manage software development. Accenture addresses this trend in a new report titled “Product Software Engineering in the Medical Equipment Technology Industry.”

New Sophistication in Medical Devices Driving Movement to Software Development

The increasing importance of medical product software stems from a new sophistication in medical device technology. Software has become a central piece of technology, with more customers demanding mobility, cloud, and analytics capabilities in their medical equipment.

This rapid and widespread infusion and integration of software is one example of how convergence is impacting the medical device industry. As a disruptive force, convergence is a threat to the unprepared. But it is a tremendous growth opportunity for companies that can out-innovate and out-execute their competitors, leveraging software under dramatically new marketplace rules.

To out-innovate and out-executive in the market, device companies must create a standardized approach that leverages all the available resources at their disposal, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel with each new development effort. These resources must be directed at critical software applications and aligned with the needs of the modern customer.

Aligning Software Development Operations with Corporate Strategy

With the medical equipment industry, tying corporate strategy to software development ensures products move beyond the conceptualization phase to offer real-world value. Making this connection has traditionally been difficult due to different business strategies requiring fundamentally different software development strategies.

To achieve alignment, companies must move one step ahead of emerging trends by selecting new and innovative software technologies that track where the industry is going. The general trend for Web-based solutions, applications, and cloud-enabled programs requires radically different software architecture.

Once priorities are identified, companies must build a workable business model around them, establishing targets, financial assets, timelines, key performance indicators, and reliable operations. These controls will lead to a more productive medical software development process.

Restructuring Software Development Processes

Building a business model centered on product software development is a complicated and detailed process. Companies must strike the right balance between quality, time, costs, and access to resources. To strike that balance, they need to do the following:

Choose a Software Development Methodology. There are two approaches from which to choose. One is the classic Waterfall Model, in which software development content dictates the timeline and costs. Although a good approach for quality control, overspending and delays can occur. Under the Agile Model, timeline and budget considerations are key, and content is used in a supporting role. It’s a much more flexible approach—great for projects in which requirements change over time, such as the creation of a Web site. But it’s not a complete safeguard against overruns. Companies should consider the pros and cons of each approach and pick one that most effectively fulfills their intended goals. Blending both approaches often provides preferred results.

Add Clearly Defined Requirements. Defining software development requirements produces better software. To curtail confusion, these requirements should be narrowly defined within a set structure, then prioritized according to releases. Traditionally, these companies would release a new software version each time a new requirement was incorporated. Instead, they should realistically group common sets of requirements for each release. While a much more efficient approach, it requires close collaboration between business and technical leads within these companies.

Create an Operating Model. An operating model enables software processes to be implemented according to their original intent. In a medical equipment industry where technology and volume constantly change, maintaining the course is difficult. Options include software factories that add rigorous management and discipline to the software development process. If resources are unavailable internally, a company can outsource that expertise through a contracted professional or established business collaborator.

Embrace New Software Development Models. A sound first step in creating new revenue streams is being open to innovation. Medical device companies should study trends defining the industry’s landscape and see where software adds value. Popular trends now include open-source software, cloud-based solutions, and modular software packages.

Open-source standards can lower development costs and draw talented software developers to the industry. Cloud-based analytics powering clinical studies offer opportunities to make new medical breakthroughs with great financial return. Software plays a key role facilitating it with privacy and security.

There is also module care, a single innovative and virtual idea of how device companies can gain additional revenues by focusing on software solutions and more effectively selling them to existing clients. Module care is a cloud-based store where medical equipment customers can buy customized software and have it downloaded into their clinical systems or streamed to mobile devices. These companies need to find those ideas in order to be successful.

Conclusion

Accenture recently released its 2013 “Technology Vision” report, in which it identified several key business and technology trends in the digital world, one of which centered on software. The report indicated that software has the potential to change companies’ business models. The power and reach of converging IT trends means that business leaders need to understand the implications of a software-driven, connected-everything world.

Software-defined networking, where the network is managed through software instead of hardware, is a giant leap forward in enterprise flexibility. Leveraging this network, medical device companies can reconfigure the connectivity of systems without changing the physical characteristics, making it easier for businesses to manage change, integrate cloud services, and get more return from their network investments.

Armin Meissner is a global managing director for Accenture’s electronics and high-tech group. He leads the group’s medical equipment technology practice and can be reached at [email protected].

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