The annual AABB meeting and CTTXPO was held in Boston, MA this week and it was hard not to see just how much technology and innovation have changed our industry.  It was interesting to witness this first hand and note the parallels between the blood center industry and (surprisingly enough) higher education, in what many consider the cradle of education. Apologies to Princeton and Yale.

Two industries, which not long ago seemed impervious to downturns, have concerns about sustainability and relevance.  Not every blood center or every school is hurting for sure, but tough times remain on the horizon for the vast majority.  Scary thought, right? 

Dynamic leadership and a focus on the customer have always been two ingredients for long term success.  Several AABB conference attendees shared that new leadership at their organizations has brought a fresh, new “business” perspective – much needed, they stressed – to their centers.  The president of a mid-sized, private university told me that the concept of running a school with the bottom line in mind was (and still is) met with disdain by his faculty, including those from the college’s own business school.  I’m not suggesting that every non-profit needs to be run like GE, but there are lessons that can be learned and applied.  Change is never easy. 

The competitive landscape forces industries and organizations to adapt.  It’s no secret that the requirements for blood products have changed over the past few years. Technological improvements mean less blood is required for certain procedures and, like higher education, hungrier competitors are fighting for the same customers.  Since the economic crisis, competition for donors and students (customers) has forced dramatic changes in both markets.  Geographic reach is stretching and, with rare exceptions, it has become more expensive and more challenging for blood centers and schools to find their desired audience.  As I heard a number of times in Boston, “ We need to find the right blood at the right time.” 

Outstanding customer service will always separate the average from the great. The non-profit organizations which have embraced technology, process improvement, and data-based decision making are providing better customer service and appear to be performing rather well.  The centers and schools which focus their operational and marketing efforts with the customer at the core, using data to make decisions, will be the ones that survive and enjoy a strong triple bottom line.