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GE'S EFFICIENCY DOCTOR IS IN

Plastered across the walls of Thomas E. Dunham's office at GE Medical Systems in Waukesha, Wis., chart after chart shows statistical variances and performance measurements of the business. Featured are such common engineering statistics as mean time before failure, which engineers at GE's aircraft engine division, for example, would use to judge the reliability of a jet engine.

Those are the kinds of records for tracking efficiency and productivity that get prominent display in most manufacturing plants. But Dunham is not at a factory. As vice-president and general manager of service for GE Medical Systems, he's a leading warrior in the quest by GE Chairman Jack Welch to increase the company's service revenues, while improving quality throughout. And having spent two decades in GE's industrial units, he brings a manufacturing mind-set to the task.

That means Dunham is applying GE's near-maniacal quest for efficiency--and its bent for statistical measurement--to the often squishy task of boosting services productivity. GE's numbers-driven managers believe that every process can be broken down, measured, and improved. Now Dunham is using the same techniques. A few years ago, he heard a talk by a GE manufacturing exec on using matrices to improve performance among a handful of factories. ''By golly, I found I could apply that concept to services,'' he recalls.

So Dunham has developed matrices that track problems among GE's imaging machines before scheduled maintenance. Dunham can even track how quickly local units respond to calls.

Analyzing the data, Dunham ferrets out the causes of discrepancies in service levels in different regions--and even individual service people. He concluded, for example, that 10% of service calls involve ''pilot error.'' That means a hospital is not using equipment properly. So GE is improving training. And it is offering sophisticated remote diagnostic software to head off problems. GE automatically tracks coolant levels inside scanners, for example. When they fall to a certain level, electronic sensors send a message.

Over the long run, the changes should make for happier customers as costly service calls are cut. And with GE bidding for many contracts on a flat-fee basis, it's betting on making money by driving costs down and productivity up. ''Every dollar that we take out of the process drops to the bottom line,'' he says. To a precision-minded manager like Dunham, that's the best measure of all.

By Tim Smart in Waukesha, Wis.


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Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
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