in the lab :September 2005 LabTalk
The Realities of Remote Lab Ordering
Remote ordering technology has been kicked around in the optical industry for as long as computers have existed. Some countries are already electronically transmitting over 90% of lab orders. Some countries haven’t even started. In North America, it exists; it works; yet it is only used by a small percentage of ECP’s.
What is remote ordering? Simple — the electronic data transfer of a lab order. In it’s simplest form, an ECP data entries a lab order, the lab receives a fax and re-enters the order into the lab’s management software. Not a great deal of help! In it’s purest form, remote ordering ensures all data in every order is verified for accuracy, prompts for a frame trace, eliminates out of range data, confirms no missing data, offers up-to-date customized lens data applicable to each lab, is simple and quick to use, seamlessly transfers the information across the Internet directly into the lab’s management software, automatically acknowledges receipt of the order back to ECP and provides a complete history for reorders and remakes. A complete end-to-end solution allows the lab to process lab orders without any intervention. It can be fast, simple, and deadly accurate.
Experience counts. To be successful, remote ordering needs to offer a complete end-to-end solution — no glorified faxes. The hardware required by the ECP has to be inexpensive and the software easy to install and set up. Typically the ECP only needs to provide a Microsoft Windows computer and a connection to the Internet. The software required by the ECP should be self-installing with minimal supervision. Experience has proven that an ECP can be set up and trained by phone, thousands of miles away from a lab, without any on-site visit. The data entry required by the ECP has to fast, simple and accurate – faster than by phone. No one is suggesting remote ordering should cover 100% of all lab orders. Interaction is sometimes required. The only limiting factor should be whether the finished product could be overnight delivered back to the ECP from the lab. The goal of 90% remote ordering is achievable today.
How it should work. An ECP either enters the minimum data required in a separate software program provided by the lab or directly interfaces its existing practice management software with the lab’s management software. The ECP decides whether or not to include a frame tracing. Lab orders are automatically transferred over the Internet to a central web site. The lab’s management software seamlessly picks up these orders, prompts the lab to select a tray and automatically acknowledges receipt of the order back to the ECP. The lab can process the order with no additional data entry. The order has already been verified for accuracy. Labs are providing same day service for any electronic order received by 3:00 PM. For ECP’s who cannot interface their practice management software with the lab’s software, remote ordering can be simply used to electronically transmit the frame shape while manually transmit the lab order. This avoids any double data entry by the ECP and allows the lab to match the manual order with the electronic trace.
Frame tracing has come a long way. Today they are simple to use and maintain. Labs and manufacturers will dispute this but any modern tracer will work! As long as the tracer is regularly calibrated, it will provide sufficient data to edge a lens with 98% accuracy. The most important aspects in selecting the right tracer are which tracer can the lab support blindfolded and which manufacturer provides the best local support. Tracers are typically being installed at the ECP by their local lab, which take responsibility to train the ECP and support the tracer. The good news is that the price of frame tracers is dropping dramatically as the labs purchase tracers in bulk and manufacturers realize the benefits of volumes sales to retailers rather than as specialty items to labs. The logic everyone really needs to understand is the psychology of fitting a finished lens into a frame. No lens fits perfectly (the horror!). This is not putting a square brick in a square hole. Fitting a lens in a frame is an art form. The accuracy of the finished product depends on the fitter’s experience and what each individual fitter considers to be an acceptable fit. The benefits however are tremendous: same day service, no delays in moving the frame, no frame breakages, and no more lost sales because of “Patient Own Frame” orders.
Different scenarios that ECP’s and labs have successfully implemented remote ordering:
- Edged orders — Including a frame tracing eliminates the need to courier a frame to the lab, improves customer service and allows patients to keep their old frames while new lens are processed.
- Uncut orders — Today many ECP’s have edgers. Remote ordering uncut orders that include a frame trace greatly improve the lens thickness. However even without a tracing, uncut remote ordering is fast, simple and accurate
- Smaller labs — One hour superstores, finishing and smaller surfacing labs are using remote ordering to transmit orders to larger wholesale labs for out of stock (or range) or specialty lens that they do not carry in-house. Remote ordering thereby allows them to offer a greater range of products to their customers.
- Lab to lab — More and more wholesale labs are co-operating to transfer orders internally between them. E.G. “Lab A” may send all glass orders to “Lab B” using remote ordering, thereby eliminating any data entry by the receiving lab.
- Practice Management Software — Numerous ECP’s are using practice management software that can be directly interfaced with lab management software. Remote ordering technology provides the link between the two systems without either party having to re-enter any data.
Who pays for remote tracing and how do you justify it? That’s a good question and there is no simple answer. The answer is totally dependent on volume. The more remote ordering is used by each individual ECP, the more likely it is that the lab will absorb all costs. However if remote ordering is seldom used, saved for rush orders or patients using their own frame, the lab will likely pass all costs onto the ECP. The costs include the tracer, the software and any support required — typically around $150 per month based on a five-year lease. Let’s examine two scenarios. The ECP uses the remote ordering software and the tracer provided by the lab to send an average of five orders a day. The lab will often absorb all the costs in order to electronically receive a hundred orders per month. Even at $150 per month, that’s only $1.50 per order. Cheaper than paying for the frame to be couriered! The cost can drop to $0.25 cents for uncut orders not requiring a frame tracer. Alternately, the ECP uses remote ordering once a week to save a rush order or a patient using his or her own frame. The lab will typically pass all costs onto the ECP but the ECP has saved four extra sales a month. Some labs use lens coupons to offset the costs. The lab may invoice the ECP monthly for the cost of remote ordering but provides an equal value in lens coupons. Other labs see such benefit in remote ordering that they offer instant rebates to the ECP for every order transmitted electronically. Remember remote ordering saves the cost of the courier to pick up the frame, the cost of data entry, the cost of data entry mistakes, the cost of handling frames and breakages, provides faster service, superior lens thicknesses on uncut lenses, superior edging techniques, competition to larger labs, increased volumes and general goodwill.
Bottom line is remote ordering works. The technology works and the results prove it. The only issue left to resolve is the marketing of remote ordering. Very few labs in North America have been successful. Even some of the huge multinationals have failed to spread remote ordering technology. Why? Change takes time and it takes effort. However there are a handful of labs, which have embraced the technology, are already receiving 50% of lab orders electronically and have every intention of raising the bar to 90% within one year. They market and support remote ordering at every opportunity. They include handouts with their lenses, invoices and statements; actively promote the technology from their websites; offer free software demos from their websites or free CD’s to prove how simple and easy it is to use; regularly attend trade shows and education seminars about remote ordering; encourage their order entry staff to discuss the option with ECP’s that still phone in orders; provide comprehensive training, support and user manuals; and have sales reps that constantly preach the benefits. Have you ever called a lab and been left on hold for two minutes? Did that lab play snazzy elevator music while you waited or did it play prerecorded promotional information about remote ordering? There’s nothing like leaving an ECP on hold for two minutes to prove the point!
Remote ordering technology works. Now the labs can either go out and sell it or wait for ECP’s to demand it!
Written by Steve Dombey, International Sales Manager of CC Systems. Since 1984, CC Systems is a leading provider of integrated optical software solutions for wholesale surfacing and coating labs, retail chains and ophthalmology dispensaries. Since 2001, CC Systems have seamlessly processed over 750,000 remote lab orders via the Internet. For more information and a free demo visit www.opticalonline.com.