Toshiba Medical Visualisation Systems (TMVS) export their software to 135 countries around the world across Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Dr. Ken Sutherland, president of DMVS told BQ about his experience of exporting and why he has no regrets.
What does your company do?
Toshiba Medical Visualisation Systems (TMVS) designs and develops software for advanced medical imaging; we take the output from scanners (CT, MRI, Ultrasound and so on) and create 3D images of organs, bones and tissues – these images are used by radiographers and clinicians to help the diagnosis of serious medical conditions.
Our software is in use in hospitals across the world. Toshiba is in the top four medical imaging companies by market share worldwide; the Medical Systems Division, of which TMVS is a part, is a $4bn organisation employing over 9,000 staff.
How long has the company been exporting?
Since it was formed in 2009
What do you currently export, and where to?
We export software, as described above, which runs in multiple medical scanners and workstations. The software is used in 135 countries across Europe, Asia, North and South America.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
Our customers are hospitals and research centres across the world, so it wasn’t really a conscious decision to start exporting. However, our success depends entirely on our ability to develop ever - better imaging techniques that improve clinical diagnosis, so to continue and grow our export success means finding new applications and continuously innovating.
Our approach to reaching overseas markets has remained essentially the same since we first developed core imaging software components; take what we’ve done to our target customers in their own territories (typically via trade shows), understand their needs, build relationships and trust, then deliver solutions that give them meet or exceed those needs.
We see ourselves as not just world class but world leading; we became part of Toshiba (in 2009) because we were the only place in the world with the technology and skills they needed.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
Researching opportunities; there is a lot of (typically free) information and support available to inform decision making and help plan entry into new geographical markets; accessing this is relatively easy, for example via Scottish Enterprise or Scottish Development international.
And the most challenging part?
Finding partners that best match your ambitions in terms of market coverage and access, service and support, sales and marketing; in most cases a compromise will need to be reached.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Inevitably, and especially as you start out in exporting, there are challenges. Finding strong in – country partners can overcome a lot of these, so is often the best option when first entering a new territory; establishing a local office then becomes more straightforward.
In our field (Advanced Medical Imaging) English is the lingua franca; also, because our software runs are scanners and workstations that are common everywhere, there is little need for customisation.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Yes, from Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International; this was very helpful, both financially and practically, in the early days.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Try it! The opportunity is huge, and the potential rewards equally so; there are challenges of course but it’s vital to grow (or risk stagnation) and exporting is in most cases a natural extension of what you do here.
Possible first steps might include: -
- Taking a Stand at exhibitions in your priority target markets …
- Raising awareness of your intention to make your products available …
- Seeking support and advice from SESDI for these activities …
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
We operate in a highly complex, and highly regulated, global market; advanced medical imaging applications are evolving to help clinicians diagnose more and more diseases, so that’s a natural opportunity to grow.
But in addition scanner technology and processing capability are increasing all the time, so our software has to adapt to take advantage; right now, running in Toshiba’s most powerful scanner, we can create images of a beating heart.
In five years’ time we might be developing software that addresses a much wider range of medical conditions, and that software will likely be accessible and available on a much wider range of devices.
We will continue to innovate since this is fundamental to our growth plans; one measure of success in this respect could be the number of patents applied for and granted. Since 2012 we have lodged fifty applications, of which 16 have so far been granted with another 4 expected this year. We anticipate all will be granted in due course.
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