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Vancouver Coastal Health
& Silverback Systems

Procurement Pain & Pandemics

Triggered by the surge in demand for PPE during COVID-19, Vancouver Coastal Health took swift action to improve the delivery of supplies to community sites on the frontlines. The results surprised everyone.

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH)‘s Contract Management Office faced an overwhelming surge in demand for PPE from the 780 point-of-care sites under VCH’s purview. To keep community frontliners supplied in the fight against the virus, VCH’s leadership took bold steps to centralize community-focused procurement and distribution. This plan included the adoption of a smart ordering and supply chain solution called Silverback Systems. The payoffs of VCH’s efforts were: 1.) Rapid, efficient distribution of PPE to community sites, 2.) Real-time reporting & data-driven forecasting, and 3.) Improved command & control over the entire supply chain


"This story shows how change can happen when different groups come together with one goal."
Amit Sobti
Senior Director Contract and Operation Services Commercial Initiatives Vancouver Coastal Health

Key Highlights

Supply chain 2.0: From a world of faxes, emails, spreadsheets and helpdesks, VCH switched to an intelligent, online ordering system called Silverback Systems. The above screenshot gives a glimpse into the information-rich, feature-rich experience enjoyed by a supply chain manager.


During the early stages of the pandemic, the surge in demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies overwhelmed VCH’s existing distribution methods. At the start of the pandemic, VCH point-of-care sites covered by Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) would individually request PPE supplies directly from the PHSA. However, without any centralized coordination, disparities occurred where some point-of-care sites had too much PPE while others had none. Some of VCH’s sites – and hundreds of other community sites not supported by PHSA – even resorted to third-party vendors to acquire PPE supplies; resulting in higher costs with less assurance of quality. Managers lacked the necessary tools to answer basic supply chain questions, such as “How much PPE do we have on hand at each individual site?”. The situation – perhaps only frustrating during normal times – was untenable as the pandemic swept over the province.


Adrian Dix (BC Minister of Health) and Bonnie Henry (Provincial Health Officer) faced an onslaught of media interest and faced an anxious public that demanded answers as to how the province was dealing with the ballooning pandemic. The responsibility on them to effectively and accurately communicate to the general public naturally trickled down as pressure on provincial health authorities to provide timely reports on various matters; including current PPE inventory levels, forecasted needs and the requisite distribution plans. Without a centralized procurement and ordering system, the reports demanded by politicians and health leaders were extremely labour intensive and, in some cases, impossible to produce.


To address these reporting demands and to ensure equitable access to PPE across VCH, a more organized and coordinated system was required. The safe decision would have been to throw more money and people at the problem, but VCH’s leadership pushed hard for a more elegant approach. The Head of the VCH Contract Management Office collaborated closely with PHSA to streamline PPE procurement for the entire organization. They also supported the Regional Emergency Operations Centre (REOC) in acquiring offshore PPE when necessary. Additionally, VCH explored partnerships across British Columbia to potentially repurpose local manufacturing for PPE production.


As part of their efforts, VCH struck up a partnership with Silverback Systems; a SaaS company based in British Columbia that provides order and supply chain management solutions for the public sector.  Silverback Systems designed and implemented a centralized ordering and inventory system for VCH that significantly improved the distribution of PPE to individual point-of-case sites. Silverback’s “Smart Ordering System” is similar to the ‘Amazon marketplace’, but one that can be customized for organizations in which greater control is a critical requirement. For example, health authorities such as VCH value the ability to only allow authorized people to order a specific product approved for use at their site.

"Our approach was to start at the outcome and then reverse-engineer a solution that was not only effective but fiscally responsible."
Gwen Martin


VCH worked with Silverback Systems to develop a solution that was significantly more streamlined than the standard workflow typically found in a healthcare supply chain. The objectives for the new solution were three-fold:

  1. It needed to address the critical operational need to quickly and efficiently distribute PPE to hundreds of point-of-care sites; particularly those dealing with an active COVID-19 outbreak.
  2. It needed to have the capacity – without tying up staff time – to meet a whole new level of daily reporting expectations demanded by provincial and federal health ministries.
  3. It needed to provide the oversight and the flexibility to manage a tight supply chain (i.e. the balancing act whereby supply chain managers strive to supply a site with enough ‘on hand’ PPE to meet their needs while not tying up cash in oversupply).

These objectives were practically impossible in a paper-based distribution model and required 6 times as many seconded[1] staff as Silverback System’s more streamlined solution.

[1] Definition: Staff pulled off other duties to work on another.


The solution created by VCH and Silverback Systems yielded numerous expected and unexpected benefits.[1] Besides the large efficiency gains, the new solution was also easier to use, not just for supply chain managers, but for the staff at the point-of-care sites whose job it was to procure PPE. This user-friendliness reduced the need for training staff and sped up system adoption. By design, Silverback Systems incorporates technology familiar to anyone who has shopped online or ordered through a food delivery app: order status notifications, out of stock warnings, product pictures, order history, etc.

[1] See APPENDIX: PAINS & GAINS for a more thorough list of problems solved and capabilities gained

Like Amazon, but for healthcare: This screenshot shows the ordering page where an authorized staff member at a point-of-care site could order/request supplies. The experience would be familiar to anyone who’s shopped online.


Supply By Category: The above report shows a live inventory of supplies (in this instance, PPE) broken down by product category and subcategory. It includes key data on what’s currently in stock, what’s on back order and what has been shipped.

One of the greatest benefits of the Smart Ordering System for health authorities was the accurate, real-time reporting. These reports provided VCH – from those at the very top to those with day-to-day duties – with transparent, operational oversight of its entire supply chain. For instance, the new reporting via Silverback Systems could now instantly and accurately answer the aforementioned question “How much PPE do we have on hand at each individual site?”.

Here’s a deeper dive into some noteworthy reports found with Silverback Systems.


The Order Summary report summarizes order data by distribution channel, for example, health regions or medical departments. It provides useful information such as shipping type, fulfillment status, and SLA (Service Level Agreement) status. By identifying rush orders, supply chain staff can prioritize urgent order requests or can investigate potential outbreaks simply based on a site’s ordering behaviour. If a particular site is not dealing with an outbreak, but is consistently rushing their orders (and therefore incurring higher shipping costs), supply chain staff can intervene and help that site reduce their rush orders.


Many stakeholder groups relied on VCH for accurate PPE supply data during the pandemic, but each group had different needs. For example, the Emergency Operations Centre’s (EOC) reporting requirements differed from the Regional Emergency Operations Centre (REOC). Some groups needed reports produced once or twice daily; others needed reports on-demand. Silverback Systems was able to satisfy these custom reporting requirements without having to consume hours of staff time every day.

To look at one specific example, the “REOC PPE Supply Report” summarized orders based on shipping priority (standard, rush or emergency) and region. In the specific case of VCH, any approved “emergency” orders were outsourced to same day 24 hour delivery service Apeship Courier & Freight and were delivered within 4 hours from the order being created and approved. Just like the Order Summary report, this report can identify individuals or departments who are “always in a crisis” and who may need additional monitoring or intervention.

Overall, Silverback System’s reports allowed VCH supply chain staff to understand ordering patterns and the associated costs from a global level all the way to a specific site level.


The “PHSA Order Calculation” is a powerful report that enables supply chain officers to accurately predict supply requirements using real-world usage data. With a user-friendly “minimum on hand days” slider, it quickly provides the answer to “How much should be ordered to maintain sufficient supplies for a specific number of days?”. New functionality in Silverback System now allows for site staff to key in how many remaining items they have on hand. The system then takes usage data, predicts their ordering needs and drafts an order for a manager to approve.CU

Optimal ordering: This screenshot from the Order Calculation report highlights the “min on hand days” slider that allows a supply chain officer to rapidly conduct what-if analysis, for example “What if I wanted each site to have 7 days of supplies on hand?”.


In the 3 years since VCH adopted Silverback Systems, over 16,000 individual orders have gone through the Smart Ordering System. That’s approximately 5,400 orders per year and represents an astounding 1.8 million units. These numbers speak to the system’s reliability, but they do not speak to the payoff received by Vancouver Coastal Health in return for the investment made in Silverback Systems.

In the case of VCH, the return on investment on Silverback Systems can be measured in concrete results; such as greater efficiency, less staff required, tighter cost controls, faster fulfillment, predictive ordering, etc. There are also intangible benefits; such as the ability to quickly satisfy a health minister’s demand for a daily inventory report or the advantage of using real-world data to perfectly forecast supply needs. The most crucial intangible benefit may be greater organizational resilience; the fact that VCH is better prepared for the next crisis.

The most interesting takeaway is not about the technology or its benefits, but rather about the problem-solving people at VCH who would not accept the status quo during a pandemic. They are living and breathing examples of VCH’s values of “learning everyday and caring for everyone”. Those of us under their shield of care are all the better for it.

Appendix A: Pains & Gains

Staff had to request PPE supplies by phoning, emailing or faxing a PDF to a helpdeskStaff can now request PPE supplies through an online portal 24/7. If approved, the order is ready to ship from the warehouse the next business day
No data to track what PPE was coming into the warehouse or what was going to sitesIntegration with VCH’s warehouse management system provides complete transparency into what PPE came into the warehouse and what site it is being shipped to
No lot tracingLot tracing
No version control or ability to “lock” cells on fillable Word documentHas version control and restricted access (user registration and approval required)
Fillable Word document was out-of-date the moment a product was added or removed; new versions had to be disseminated via email to almost 800 sitesDigital product catalog with dynamic SKUs is easily updated with no need for dissemination
Requested orders would have to be vetted by medical professionals and supply chain staff to ensure that a specific site was allowed to order what they wanted to orderAutomated rules based on Site, Role or Product prevents prohibited orders from occurring in the first place. Orders that require manual approval are lined up for rapid processing by authorized managers.
No inventory managementReal-time inventory management allowed admin staff see live “on hand” inventory
No forecasting toolPredictive ordering based on usage data enables supply chain staff to optimize ordering (not too much, not too little)
No ability to withhold or grant ordering privilegesAdvanced administrative controls allow VCH to place Sites on hold (i.e. withhold ability to place orders) or grant temporary access for emergency orders
Limited, slow and time-consuming reportingReal-time reporting helps to optimize procurement, prevents waste and saves hours of staff time. All reports are exportable to Excel and PDF.
No cost center trackingCost center tracking
Stockpiling riskStockpiling is prevented through automated/manual approval workflow
No ability to tie communication between supply chain staff and end-user to a specific orderUser communication (e.g. inquiries, responses, urgent requests) are all contained within a specific order page. Internal and external order confirmations keep VCH staff and other partners updated on the status of an order; eliminating unnecessary inquiries.
Lack of order consolidation will tie up finance personnel with low-value admin workIndividual orders could be combined into one order for VCH to submit to PHSA
Supply chain staff had no ability to trade-off speed vs. cost of shipping serviceStaff can easily select a lower cost shipment or opt for faster delivery for urgent needs
No tracking IDs meant staff were in the dark about when to expect deliverySite staff can easily anticipate delivery via tracking status updates
Duplicate orders were possible, resulting in oversupply and deadstockTransparency on a Sites orders minimize duplicate orders
No ability for Site staff to enter on hand inventoryAbility for Site staff to input current inventories
User experience was slow, time-consuming and lacked transparencySimple, intuitive user interface is similar to the experience of ordering on Amazon (product pictures, profile with order history, tracking order status, etc.)
No ability to track SLA and fill ratesEasily track SLA and fill rates
No integration with WMSDirect integration with WMS
Manual system powered by staffed helpdesks, faxes, spreadsheets and emailsFlexible, affordable pay-to-procure SaaS model provided advanced capabilities that improved ordering efficiency and performance

Appendix B: FAQs

What does Silverback Systems cost?

To obtain an accurate quote for Silverback Systems’ Smart Ordering System, please contact us via to arrange a conversation with a Silverback Systems executive. After gaining a better understanding of your situation and needs, we will prepare a precise quote with transparent pricing information. For your general information, Silverback Systems’ solution operates as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model whereby the Smart Ordering System is customized to fit your organizational needs and is priced to scale with your business. Customization, onboarding, training and ongoing technical support will be included in your quote and SLA.

How can I learn more about how your solution works, its features set, what the total cost of ownership is, etc.?

Who are Silverback System’s clients?

We have provided ordering & supply chain software solutions for BC Cancer, Vancouver Coastal Health, Provincial Health Services Authority, BC Ministry of Health, BC Food & Beverage Association.

Who are Silverback Systems’ top executives?

Gwen Martin

CEO, Silverback Systems

604-940-2228, extension 229
Connect on LinkedIn:

Ben Martin

President, Evolution Group of Companies

604-940-2228, extension 228
Connect on LinkedIn:

Why should we consider Silverback Systems over the status quo or other solutions?

To effectively establish whether there’s a fit between your organization and a Silverback Systems  solution, we first need to have an honest conversation of inquiry and understanding. However, we generally cite three reasons why a health authority or another organization can count on Silverback Systems to deliver good results:

  1. PROVEN CAPABILITY: We’ve done it before. Connect with your colleagues at Vancouver Coastal Health or BC Cancer to learn more about the impact our Smart Ordering System had on their efforts to battle COVID-19.
  2. THE RIGHT EXPERTISE: Drawing on our unique blend of know-how and experience in fulfillment, technology development, integration and change management, we deliver a fiscally-responsible solution that benefits stakeholders at every level.
  3. CROSS-INDUSTRY INNOVATIONS: We bring fresh ideas from the private sector and other industries that are ahead on the innovation curve (think: ecommerce, food delivery apps, etc.). With decades of experience in third-party logistics and technology development, Silverback Systems makes these same efficiency-gains accessible to any Health Authority who’s fed up with the status quo.

Take one step towards a better supply chain