Lab Operations :June 2007 LabTalk
GETTING THE MOST FROM YOUR LAB SOFTWARE
FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) Ten Most Common Questions
Having sold lab management software systems (LMS) for 13 years now, I think that I have heard most questions. Questions and answers come from in-depth questionnaires, on-site demonstrations, detailed cost justifications, countless phone calls and gut wrenching decisions that can literally take years to make. Alternately some labs purchase sight unseen based on industry recommendations and ask no questions (my personal favorites).
When asked what are “The 10 most common questions?”, I decided to turn the question around. The following may not be the most 10 common questions, but they should be!
1. Pricing, Financing and Payback
Let’s face facts it’s the number 1 question. “How much?” Actually it’s the wrong question. It does not matter how much but how fast will the system pay for itself. The purchase of a LMS should be a pure calculated, bottom line decision. However the advantages of an integrated LMS provide numerous intangibles that are difficult to quantify. The actual cash value of online job checking, better optical calculations, enhanced customer satisfaction and service are difficult to evaluate and vary from lab to lab. Every lab is unique and has different requirements. It takes time and analysis to understand each lab’s needs. However, a good integrated LMS will quickly pay for itself with lower costs, better efficiency and better customer perception.
Lower costs and freeing up of cash or liquidity include better management of lens inventory levels and reduced breakages. Staff levels can either be reduced or more commonly sales increased without adding additional staff. Better efficiency comes from timely management reporting, customized tray tracking, remote order entry and tracking, electronic messaging, single data entry for pricing and calculations and unique interfaces to other existing systems.
- Reduce your existing lens inventory by up to 30%, how much would you save?
- Increase sales by 40% without adding any new employees, what is that worth?
- Reduce breakages from 10% to 5% is a scary big savings.
- A realistic goal is 100% payback within 12 to 24 months.
2. Technical Support, Installation and Training
Although everyone wants to concentrate on price, this is the question that will make or break your decision. Without ongoing support, onsite installation and training, your system will not function correctly. This is a long-term marriage. It will change over time. As much as a lab thinks that they are purchasing software, in reality they are purchasing expertise on how to manage their business.
Initial training and installation are vital. They are the foundation of a new system. Understand what is included and exactly how it will proceed. Technical support is the biggie. No matter how good your supplier’s I.T. technical support team is, it is not enough. Every lab manufactures slightly differently. When a lens breaks it not enough to check your software settings and lens data. The discussion needs to include what lens, what index, what equipment, what tools and as well as software settings and lens data. If your support technicians do not have in depth knowledge of all functions in your lab, can they really provide you with the best answers? So ask how many technicians are available, what hours do they work and how many years of optical experience do they have?
- A lens is calculated with too much prism? What are the possible causes?
- Your thickness, power or base selection is wrong? What are your options?
- Unknown block selection? Who is going to help you?
3. Calculations, Data and Breakages
Another cornerstone question. Every lab system can calculate how to make a lens. But how well depends on the sophistication of the software, the number of built-in safeguards and options, and how good is the lens data. Does the system come with complete lens calculation data? How often and how easily is it updated? How easy is it to customize? Remember lens data comes from lens manufacturers. Their suggested parameters need to be adjusted for your lab equipment, tools, materials and preferred lens thicknesses. The results will dramatically affect your designs, breakages and your customer service, and consequently your ability to grow and to be profitable.
- How often do your operators change the work ticket on the generator? Your goal is zero and if you work with your LMS provider, this is attainable.
- What happens when your main operators are off ill or on holidays?
4. Customer Service
It takes a huge effort to get a new account, and remarkable easy to lose one. How good are the customer service features? How do you evaluate the intangibles? These include remote tray tracking and order entry, electronic messaging, and customized interfaces. These features can impress your accounts, offer options no one else has and most importantly avoid miscommunications. Stop employees from running around the lab looking for trays and spend valuable time servicing the client and moving orders through the lab. Retailers do not mind orders being delayed. They mind not knowing!
- Is “live” order tracking available?
- How are “Frame To Come” tray numbers communicated to your accounts?
5. Reporting and Forms
Knowledge is everything. A well-run lab needs information. Reports and forms need the flexibility to meet everyone’s varying requirements. Often the bigger the lab, the more important these reports become. What options are available? Can reports be custom designed?
- Review report samples and ask for flexibility in designs
6. Inventory Control
As discussed earlier, the value and accuracy of your lens inventory can be a huge number and needs sophisticated management. Far too many labs do this manually. Inventory control should include physical counts using bar codes, automated purchase ordering and receiving. How many different ordering options are available? How are orders transmitted? How easy are orders received back into inventory? How many times a year can your stock be turned? Are the UPC/OPC lens data catalogues provided?
- A $100,000 inventory reduced by 30% dead stock – immediate $30,000 savings
- Turn your inventory 6 times a year instead of twice a year
- Ordering takes 20 minutes per day instead of two hours
- Value of having the right products on the shelf – intangible improved service
7. Integration and Customization
Labs rarely run as an independent business. Everyone wants interfaces. Remote orders from Vision Web and Eyefinity. Automatic transfers for outsourced jobs. Are direct interfaces with retail software systems available? Are in-house interfaces to shipping or accounting systems provided? What about credit card processing?
- What is the cost of these customized options?
- How quickly can these be developed based on what comparable experience?
- Industry experts predict in 5 years, 80% of all orders will be processed electronically. Are you with an LMS provider investing in this area?
8. New Technology Options
Your lab system needs to grow with you. New technologies provided by the Internet and Free Form processing are classic examples. How often and exactly how are software updates provided? How many software developers and how much expertise do they have?
- Which Free Form interfaces are available?
- What new systems are under development?
9. Hardware, Cabling and Networking
A nuts and bolts question. Who provides the physical computers, printers, and scanners? What is the warranty? Who is responsible to the cabling, networking, Internet connections, and firewalls? Who do you call when it stops working? Most importantly, ask about backups. The system will become your backbone. How safe are you in an emergency?
I have saved the best for last. Nothing beats a good reference. It is extremely difficult to compare systems without using one for at least 6 months. Contact as many references as possible and ask to visit other labs using the system. There is nothing like “Seeing and hearing” to become a believer!
Written by Steve Dombey, CC Systems. Since 1987, CC Systems has been a leading provider of lab management software solutions for wholesale surfacing, coating, finishing labs, and integrated retail chains with over 160 labs worldwide. For more information visit www.opticalonline.com.