in the lab :July 2005 LabTalk
The Savvy Lab Technology Purchase
Technology is a basic component part of our lives. You cannot ignore it. An efficient lab needs the correct technology solution just as it needs the right mixture of employees, materials, pricing, quality, equipment, facilities and customers. The purchase of an integrated lab management software system should not be complex, confusing and uncertain. With the right research and knowledge, the decision should be straightforward.
Understand what you are trying to achieve. The answer is not as simple as software. Every lab has different needs and the solution will vary with those requirements. Lab software systems offer different options, variations in flexibility, and an assortment of add-ons. Decide where your priorities lie. Requirements can include optical expertise, hardware set up, configuration and support, specific operating platforms, customization and interfaces, onsite or remote training, installation, ongoing support and upgrades, lens data, networking and cabling, Internet service providers, firewalls and upgrades and lastly system pricing terms and financing. Remember that every solution will process 90% of your production. It’s processing the other 10%, rife with problems and headaches, which differentiate the different solutions.
Budget for a complete installation. The cost of your new software system is only the beginning. Appreciate who will supply the computer hardware, cabling and networking. Remember if you decide to save costs by sourcing hardware or networking locally, most software suppliers will not support any issues or problems caused by equipment not supplied by them. Is it really worth the savings and the inevitable finger pointing? Every installation should include training, onsite installation and ongoing support. Find out how much training is included, who will provide the training and where it will occur. Discuss exactly how the onsite installation will take place. Ask how will the switch between your existing set up and the new system take place. Question how many support technicians are available. What are the regular support hours? What about emergencies? How experienced are the support technicians? Typically problems need to be deciphered between the software, hardware, networking, Rx prescription, lens type and material, the lab machinery and the lab operator. Does the supplier have the expertise to distinguish between these conflicting areas? Lastly, remember your own sweat equity. At the end of each installation, your in-house labor costs to implement a new lab management system will always represent your greatest investment.
Production is the basic role of every software solution. Examine how lens fabrication, Rx calculation, and optional tailoring will occur. Insist upon providing a list of your current lab machines to comprehend which can or cannot be interfaced. Variations in your machinery’s internal software versions can affect their ability to be interfaced. Order entry is the face of your new system. Get a hands-on understanding of how closely it resembles, improves or changes your existing methodology. Remember to consider the big picture. if a new system provides three steps forward for every step backwards, is this sufficient to meet your needs? 3rd party interfaces such as WebMD, Eyefinity, Vision Web, lens and frame suppliers, and 3rd party coating companies are an integral part of your life. Appreciate exactly how these parties will be integrated. Accounting may or may not include automatic invoicing, pricing and discounts options. Lab lens pricing options and discounts are often used as the great differentiators between you and your competitors. Different lab departments require specific solutions. Selecting a new lab management software system is the ideal time to review how your lens selection and picking, tray tracking, quality control, inventory ordering and receiving, and shipping procedures. Recognize what methods and options are important to you. At the end of each day, it is the subtle differences that delight or exacerbate each user. Labs make money by efficient volume processing. Each minor system improvement directly impacts the bottom line.
Knowledge in a good lab management system contributes to its success. From basic reports that cover costing, sales and usage trends to examining production job flow to lens spoilage / breakage monitoring. Customized reports can provide the edge over a competitor. Is your lens stock room overstocked? Why? – because you lack the knowledge provided by an inventory control system specifically designed to match your needs. Removing the unnecessary dead stock from your lens and frame departments can typically pay for a new lab management software system.
Communication is the key to many of your existing problems. Problems occur every day in every lab. Whether it is a missing PD or a broken lens, the solution is simple communication. Just how efficiently the communication takes place depends on the solution. Electronic messaging by email or fax to your customers should be quick, simple and incredibly fast. Faxed end of day WIP reports, “live” Internet job tracking, remote order entry with or without a frame tracings and 3rd Party Vendor Reports are examples. Unhappy customers are not concerned by an order being late; they are concerned by lack of communication. With today’s technology, there is no excuse.
Internet access is available in every corner of the country. Examine how new technology can increase your sales, lower your costs and improve efficiency. Remote ordering either with or without a frame tracer is now an entrenched option every lab should be offering. Supplying a customer with the software and a frame tracer can cost less than a dollar per order. Compare that to the cost of couriering a frame, data entry, handling costs, lost patient-own-frame sales, and faster production times. Labs are eliminating 75% of job checking telephone calls by offering free “live” job checking service across the Internet. WebMD, Eyefinity and Vision Web are processing more and more volume every day. Customers are slowly but surely switching from faxes and phones to email. Lens suppliers are offering co-op dollars to labs that can electronically file monthly usage reports. Every option adds to your bottom and helps to justify a new lab management system.
References are your best friend. Lab owners and managers are a not known as a shy bunch. There is no reason for you to re-invent the wheel. Onsite visits to existing installations and detailed reference checks will answer you concerns. The choice to purchase a lab management software system is a clinical business decision. Do your homework and you will be delighted with the results.
Written by Steve Dombey, International Sales Manager of CC Systems. Since 1984, CC Systems has been a leading provider of integrated optical software solutions for wholesale surfacing and coating labs, retail chains and ophthalmology dispensaries. For more information visit www.opticalonline.com.