Competition winner: GE Healthcare India (A), (B) and (C)

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This case series won the Outstanding Case Writer: Hot Topic Competition at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2016.
 
The case series

Who – the protagonists

General Manager Priyank Sharma and the Maternal Infant Care (MIC) Team of GE Healthcare, involved in the development and manufacture of devices used to care for women and their newborn babies.

handWhat

India has the world’s highest number of neonatal deaths (750,000 in 2013 alone) and the mortality rate in rural areas is higher by 50% compared to cities. Many of these deaths are associated with hypothermia. Newborn babies have a limited ability to thermoregulate because of the absence of muscular contraction and shivering. Maintaining a normal body temperature is critical for newborn survival, particularly in premature infants. Baby warmers and incubators are used to treat newborn hypothermia.

Why

hand GE Healthcare sold two brands of baby warmers in India – the premium brand Giraffe and the performance brand Lullaby Warmer – the biggest seller in terms of units. Lullaby Warmer had been developed in 2008 for the emerging markets based on an existing GE product and did not carry any of the extra features found in the Giraffe. By 2012 GE Healthcare had sold thousands of Lullaby Warmer units and hailed the project a success. The media were equally enthusiastic and cited it as a great example of ‘frugal innovation’ that would help governments in developing countries win the fight against infant mortality.

Nevertheless, the sentiment at the MIC headquarters was less celebratory. Lullaby Warmer had not managed to effectively reach the low-resource customers based in semi-urban and rural India. The team discovered that the profile of these customers raised unique product development, marketing and sales issues. Management decided to take on the challenge and launched a new product development project: Lullaby Warmer Prime.

When

In December 2013, GE Healthcare unveiled Lullaby Warmer Prime. A product based on extensive field research and designed from scratch. It carried the latest innovation at a fraction of the cost of existing models. Could Lullaby Warmer Prime have an impact across India’s 50,000 semi-urban and rural healthcare facilities?

Where

GE Healthcare India is one of the largest healthcare companies in the country. MIC engineers are based at the John F. Welch Technology Centre in Bangalore and develop products tailored to the needs of customers in emerging markets, including India.

babyKey quote

‘We have built the right product in what has been an outstanding example of cross-functional collaboration. But, product innovation is only half of the story. We will not be able to reach these customers and make a big difference unless we come up with commercial innovation. This is our next big challenge.’ – Priyank Sharma

What next?

To enhance adoption of Lullaby Warmer Prime, MIC experimented with a number of commercial prototypes (what we refer to as fast commercial prototyping), which included a redesigned distribution network, new sales channels (online and over the phone selling), flexible payment options and public-private partnerships with aid organisations and governments.

Lullaby Warmer Prime has seen early success in reaching customers in tier II and tier III cities in India and several other Asian and African countries. It also started making inroads into rural areas and the public healthcare sector. The MIC team continues to fine-tune its go-to-market model and increase adoption.

 
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GE Healthcare India (A), (B) and (C)
Ref IMD-5-0800, IMD-5-0801 and IMD-5-0802
Teaching note
Ref IMD-5-0800-T

The authors

authors

Wolfgang Ulaga and Athanasios Kondis

Wolfgang and Athanasios discuss their winning case series and why raising awareness of the issues explored is so important to them.

Deeply honoured

We are deeply honoured by this award. It allows us to draw attention to the hurdles faced by many Western manufacturers that want to serve what we refer to as low-resource customers, who are found in many parts of the Eastern hemisphere. It also helps to raise awareness about the big social problem of infant mortality in developing countries. Having been in the field in India, we encountered a sobering reality in many rural areas.

babyTeaching plan

We planned to write a case series from the start because of the variety of issues at play and the fact that we had an executive education audience in mind, which tends to prefer shorter cases.

We recommend that all three cases are taught as a series because each case raises an important question at its end leading into the next, producing a rich and thought-provoking discussion in the classroom.

Telling the storydoctor

Case A sets the scene by describing the problem of infant mortality, GE's 'low-cost, high-value' innovation strategy for developing countries, and the unique challenges in serving low-resource business customers. It culminates with the realisation that there is a tremendous market opportunity, which the company decided to explore.

Case B addresses GE’s novel approach to product innovation. By creating a new infant warmer, the company employed original and unconventional principles for product design and development.

Case C discusses how GE adopted fast commercial prototyping to diffuse its innovation in India and other emerging markets.

‘Meeting the East’

We were fascinated by the formidable marketing challenge faced by GE Healthcare India and the company’s willingness to rethink its approach to product innovation as well as its go-to-market model.

We also believe that there is a broader issue for Western manufacturers when they decide to ‘meet the East’; many companies appear to be unfit to serve certain customer groups in an effective and profitable way. As we went deeper in our field research, we realised that the successes and setbacks along the GE journey offered three key lessons for B2B companies across industries and markets.

About the authors

Wolfgang Ulaga is a Research Professor of Marketing and Co-Executive Director, Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University.
e Wolfgang.Ulaga@asu.edu

Athanasios Kondis is a Research Associate at IMD.
e athanasios.kondis@imd.org

 
The protagonist

Priyank SharmaAn insider’s view: Priyank Sharma, General Manager Maternal Infant Care, GE Healthcare, India

Rewarding experience

It was a very rewarding experience to participate in the creation of this case series and I would certainly recommend organisations to go for it. Wolfgang and Athanasios brought a different perspective to the team as we revisited our journey of developing products for a low-resource environment.

Unbiased viewhealthcare

They brought the academic as well as a non-healthcare view that was interesting to learn. The unbiased questions and discussions provided great insights and helped us reflect back on the work we have done so far and the opportunities that lie ahead. I believe such engagements help organisations to take an external unbiased view and also learn from the great work happening in the academic world.

 

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