Resources: Productivity

Is Cost Holding You Back?

Managing expenses is one of the core tasks of any business owner or manager. Nothing is free, so if you want to keep the lights on and your office staffed, you need to know what’s coming in and what you’re paying out.

But to run operations profitably, you might find yourself having to prioritize your expenses. When you do that, what gets bumped up-front and what gets pushed to the back? A mistake that many businesses — especially medical offices — make is to give IT a lower priority.

In this blog, using medical offices as our example, we’ll discuss why most offices tend to place too low of a priority on their IT budget and what can happen as a consequence if they’re not careful.

Why Such a Low Priority?

Many types of businesses think nothing of dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars on diagnostic machines or specialty equipment, yet they drag their feet when it comes to upgrading outdated computer terminals. In all honesty, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise as CEO’s often have an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. After all, how often have you been to a doctor’s office and have seen a scale that looked like it was manufactured during the Nixon administration?

While imaging systems and other medical equipment offer tangible benefits to physicians when caring for their patients, some feel that if the computer system can still do what it’s supposed to be doing, then what’s the point of upgrading or expanding? Additionally, and we’re just being frank here, new medical equipment can often mean more money in the pocket of the practice, whereas giving the reception desk updated terminals doesn’t seem to offer any real profit

That being said, there are other reasons for not wanting to upgrade other than just dollars and cents. For instance, finding good hardware or software can be difficult as everything used needs to be HIPPA compliant — something that not every system can claim. As a result, upgrading can be a nightmare, especially when the current system that’s being used was installed decades ago.

The High Cost of Low Budgets

With many types of investments, including IT purchases, the less you pay upfront, the more you’ll pay in the future. In the example mentioned above of the old scale, as long as it’s accurate, it doesn’t matter how old it is since it does its job. But if you’re running older computer systems that don’t have modern safety protocols, for example, your system is exceptionally vulnerable to attacks.

While hackers wanting to steal credit card numbers is no surprise, what is surprising is the apparent value of medical records being sold inside the dark web. In last May alone, there were 28 reports of hacks stealing more than 500 records from medical systems nationwide. HHS’ Office for Civil Rights reports a 59% year-over-year increase in these sorts of attacks, with much of it blamed on outdated systems and hardware. Not only is it difficult for the patients whose privacy has been violated, but it also opens up these healthcare providers to a sea of liability.

In addition to security risks, you may also face the risk of being left behind. Patients are now treated at a higher level of service than ever before. For instance, who ten years ago could have ever dreamt of a world where you could receive your test results at the same time your doctor does, on your phone? These and many other services can be provided via patient portals, which are a major example of how the future is now alive in healthcare. A significant emphasis has been made making patients and doctors partners and the only way to do this is by easy access to information.

Lastly, modern IT just makes everything move faster. Whether it be billing, insurance claims, scheduling, or any other aspect of running a medical facility, there’s no doubt that the fewer resources that are dedicated to non-medical tasks, the better and faster your patients can be cared for.

Modern Solutions to Modern Challenges

Even with all these benefits made clear, the challenge is still in the acquisition, implementation, and upkeep of a modern IT solution that will work best for your operation. With so many options at so many price levels, it can be a major undertaking to know what will work best for you.

That’s where a quality Managed Service Provider comes into play. MSPs work well with healthcare organizations since we do all the IT work for you, allowing you to get back to taking care of your patients. We go over what you currently have and work within your needs and budget to see what will make your office run at top efficiency.

By using our experience and know-how, we cure your issues so you can cure the rest of the community.

Who Makes Your IT Purchases?

This month we’ve been discussing the value of updating your current technology. We are using Medical Offices as our example, but in reality, this information is important to all small businesses. In this week’s blog, we will discuss the pitfalls of sticking your head in the sand by being resistant to change.

Let’s assume that everything we’ve said about upgrading your technology resonated with you, and you agree 100% — now what? Well, decisions have to be made. What kind of hardware will you be using? What about the software? When do you plan to make changes, and what’s your budget? Do you plan to hire new people for this undertaking or do you plan to use a vendor? But perhaps the most crucial question of all is, who will make the final decision?

While this might seem like an odd question, the truth is that many offices don’t have a go-to person for these types of decisions. Or maybe the person who is currently in charge of this may be too busy, too distracted, or not the best person to do so.

Who is your Decision Maker?

One of the biggest problems with a lot of medical practices is that they often don’t work like your typical business. While most traditional companies might have an owner, a president, or simply a manager, this isn’t always the case when it comes to doctors.

Medical practices, like attorney firms, typically use a partnership model where they may have more than five or six doctors who own the business and are in charge of making most of the larger decisions. While it’s true they often use office managers, these position holders usually handle the day-to-day operations and aren’t given the authority to make decisions for large purchases or contracts. But even if there’s only one person at the top, the decision may still not be an easy one to make.

A Question of Qualification

There is no doubt that doctors are qualified to do their jobs. Few professions require as much education and experience before they can start their career path. Even so, that expertise does not extend to understanding technology in their offices. Why is it that someone with the skills to cut you apart then put you back together can look like a deer in headlights when confronted about server clients, cloud systems automation, and WANs? Probably because this was never a taught to them in their years of medical school.

But in defense of these physicians, there is a lot more to IT than simply understanding computers. For instance, understanding budgeting is an essential part of any IT desision. Even if you have the money, just buying everything there is does not a good IT system make. Having a thorough understanding of the specific needs — including future needs — of the office is crucial before spending a single penny.

In addition, healthcare systems are some of the most difficult to set up and manage because of strict government regulations regarding patient privacy. While there are plenty of great software programs that can help the office run smoothly, HIPPA compliance should be at the front of your mind before implementing anything. Sadly, it seems that many software programs (and even operating systems) don’t go out of their way to answer whether or not they are HIPPA compliant, so you need people who can find out that information to help you make the correct decision.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

It’s no secret that technology is moving at breakneck speeds these days, so if you’re not making efforts to keep up, you can fall behind in a blink of an eye. New solutions for storage, operating systems, and security are being developed almost daily. Also, there may be a need to upgrade systems for other reasons, such as when it’s becoming clear that your needs are growing or evolving.

Again, this process is difficult for any business but much more so in a medical environment, mostly because of HIPPA compliance. This may either lead a practice to fall out of compliance or choose to forgo upgrading in general to avoid a situation like that, even at the expense of efficiency. A major reason for this is a lack of guidance, with people having a very specific specialty being unaware or unsure of what needs to be done to upgrade.

This can cause major problems down the line as the most common solution to this problem tends to be a piecemeal replacement process. A computer here or a printer there may seem like a reasonable way to get things done, but the fact is that it ends up costing a lot more than making regular replacement of all outdated equipment at once. Additionally, it can make migrating files and systems much more complicated in the future since all these different pieces of equipment will be running various operating systems or in other ways be non-uniform.

If you find yourself in this situation, it could lead to security breaches, lowered employee morale, and downtime that will lead to a loss of efficiency. If the problem started because there wasn’t a single person taking charge, it would be a lot more difficult to resolve these issues.

A Streamlined Solution

The best way to get your office on track is to make a formal decision as to who handles IT across the board. While you may want input from the various departments, a single, qualified person should be pulling the lever on these decisions.

Since medical facilities tend to be such busy places, many have chosen to go with an outside vendor to provide these IT services, such as us. From our experience, when having a single person or group meet with us to address the needs and current status of the office, we’re able to quickly work out a solution. Not only are we able to make sure that the needs of everyone in the office are met without all the hassle usually needed to maintain such a system, but that system ends up being well within their budget.

If you find yourself being the person responsible for making these decisions, contact us to see how we can be of service. You’ll be amazed by the positive atmosphere you can create with just a few changes to your IT. But don’t worry — we’ll let you take all the credit!

Can VoIP Help Your Business

We’ve been hearing a lot of buzz lately about VoIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, which is just fancy jargon for an internet phone system. People are hearing from friends or business acquaintances who are using VoIP that, not only are they saving money, but this “new” technology has added a lot of flexibility to their daily operations. While it is true that VoIP systems will save you money over landlines or cellphones, there are even more benefits to utilizing the right VoIP set-up for your business. Let’s take a look at how this technology works, and visit some of the strengths and weaknesses of Voice Over Internet Protocol systems.

VoIP phone systems allow you to make and receive calls through the internet rather than hardwired or cellular lines. VoIP systems offer much more flexibility over standard phone lines and even cellphones. By integrating cloud technology with business phone functions, VoIP systems can handle everything you need to run your business and more. Usually an easy set-up, the typical user can switch over to a VoIP system in less than a day. If done correctly, there should be little or no downtime.

VoIP has been around since the mid-90s, and, in its early stages, it didn’t work very well at all. Most of the early troublesome issues were due to slow network speed and the inability to package and read bundled data efficiently. With today’s high-speed networks, switches and routers, those issues have been addressed. In fact, VoIP is regularly used through WIFI with little or no quality issues. It is recommended that your internal network is tested before installation to ensure your network speed is capable of handling the new equipment. Generally, there will not be a heavy drain on your network speed, but you should know beforehand if you are equipped to handle the new phone system or not. We can help with that.

Internet Protocol, commonly known as IP, is a set of rules that define how data is delivered over the Internet. IP works in conjunction with the transmission control protocol (TCP), which divides network traffic into smaller packets for a means of more efficient transport through the Internet. Together they are referred to as TCP/IP.

The way VoIP works is, voice information is sent digitally over the internet through your existing network. These phone systems really took off when Cloud storage was introduced because the endless amount of storage is just what VoIP needed to transfer the growing amount of data. Basically, a series of packets of digital information carries your voice data from your IP address to the IP address of your destination. The system at your end converts your voice to data packets, those packets are routed through a cloud-based Private Branch Exchange, then, at the other end, they get converted back to your voice for the listener.

VoIP gives you the ability to work from anywhere and still have the ability to answer calls from the same phone number. You’re no longer tethered to your home or office. And you don’t have to give everyone a series of different phone numbers where they can reach you while you’re traveling. As far as your clients know, you’re always in your office right next to your phone. And that reliability means a lot to your reputation.

One complaint that used to be fairly common from VoIP users was poor audio quality. Issues such as jitter, echo, or static are still sometimes reported by VoIP users, although these issues are being addressed with upgrades regularly. The root cause of the majority of audio issues is usually related to your existing network not being up to current standards, or it may be too old to handle the speed required of the new technology. Contact us and we’ll check your wiring, network switches, Firewall, IP Addresses, Internet Circuits, and everything else that might impede the speed of your network. Then, if needed, we’ll let you know what it will take to get everything up to spec.

Some people ask what happens to the VoIP phones if the internet goes down. Since the phones rely on the internet, if the service goes down the phones go with it. But there are solutions in place. One safety net that is a Virtual Auto Attendant that, in an emergency situation, can forward calls to voicemail or designated cellphones. Calls can also be routed to another location, like a home or a second office. Another option, if you’re a larger company with a lot of daily business on the line, would be to invest in duel internet providers; one as a primary and one as a back-up. Generally, this is overkill, but if you’re afraid of power or internet outages affecting your business you may want to look into this option.

Old, analog phone lines are stable and reliable, but everyone knows they are way overpriced. And they lack the flexibility most businesses require. Plus, how many of us are still relying on hard-wired analog phones to run our business? Most of us rely on our cell phones for daily communication because of the remote capabilities. But, as we all know, cellular plans are also overpriced. It’s clear that VoIP is the wave of future communication. It’s inexpensive, flexible, adaptable, and will grow with the ever-changing technology.

If you are interested in finding out if a VoIP system can help you, please contact us anytime.

Something Good: A Note to Small Businesses

At a business lunch a few months ago. Someone told us about a technique he likes to use during his daily employee meetings. At the beginning of their meetings, he has all attendees take turns telling everyone something good that happened. It can be something personal, professional, a joke, anything that shines a positive light on something worth sharing. They started this tradition long before the woes of 2020. It has become even more important recently as it starts off every meeting on a positive tone. We don’t need to tell you that this year hasn’t been the best one yet. We also don’t want to focus on that. While brainstorming this week’s blog topic, we thought, why not expand the tradition and share a positive note for small businesses. So, here’s our “Something Good.”

Backbone of America

Statistically, more people work for small businesses than corporations in America. We are truly the lifeblood of the economy. While it may feel like we’ve been taking a beating between being closed/restricted for COVID-19 purposes, and now, in many places, to protect against riots and looting, small businesses will be needed to bring the nation’s economy back. The first half of 2020 likely didn’t live up to your optimistic strategic plan, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for the year. Now is the time to begin digging-in and preparing to make something of the second half of the year, no matter what comes down the pike next.

Treat this as an Opportunity

Recently, we blogged about the 9 things you should do while your business is down. Those are all still relevant, but we want to dive in a bit more on one of these: determine your next offering. There has never been a better time to reinvent yourself.

  • Expand Your Target Market: No industry is truly recession-proof, so narrowing your business focus to one or two markets can be devastating if one of those targets tanks. Research who else you can serve. While we don’t recommend creating a wildly different product line in an area that you don’t have experience (this is a recipe for an expensive disaster), see where your current or a related offering may be beneficial to a new group of people. This will open up a whole new audience for your services.
  • Introduce a New Product Line: Alternatively, you could bring a new product to your existing customers. Sometimes this is easier than getting to know a whole new group of people. Interview your customers, determine what their major pain points are, and design something that alleviates that pain. Learn about competitors, test the solution, and go to market. Your customers already trust you, so this is likely an easier sell. That being said, make sure you have effective customer service and account management lined up. While a customer may give you a little grace with a new product hiccup, that grace isn’t unlimited for anyone.
  • Redefine Your Industry: The COVID-19 crisis forced many changes to businesses that thought they were doing the best they could. Fast Food restaurants typically had a drive-thru as a convenience, but now that is the life-blood to keeping the restaurants open. Another change that hit us, with many employees working from home, weak spots surfaced with the technology needed to communicate with them. Look for solutions to our new problems.
  • Drive Yourself and Competitors Forward: Is there is a tool you’ve created that everyone in your industry could utilize? For example, IT expanded over the years by offering products to their competitors that helped make their business better; i.e. dashboarding, training, streamlining processes. Rather than look at your competitors as enemies, how can you make them your customers/partners?

We’re Here to Help

Many of our clients rely on us to help with their business growth goals through technology and strategic planning. As you’re determining your next move in driving forward or re-inventing yourself to fit the new world order, we are ready to assist, whether you’re looking for hardware, software, business advice, or a listening ear. Together, let’s make this the best comeback year anyone dreamed possible.

Five Tips for Working in the In-Between

We’ve reached an in-between status of this quarantine. Businesses are starting to open back up (with restrictions), but a lot of employees are finding themselves in an awkward spot between working in the office and remaining at home. Doctors are utilizing video and tele-conference appointments but are holding office hours to see patients and perform “elective” surgeries. Companies are requesting that their employees work from home, if possible, but they’re relaxing requirements for coming back into the office. Other organizations are welcoming people back from tele-worker status to full in-office expectations.

With “in-between” operations, we’ve helped our clients through a few technology hiccups and wanted to help you avoid them too. Here are the top five things you need to know when working from wherever you’re expected to be.

The Power of the Web App

The majority of business applications have some type of web version. You don’t have to have the software installed on your system to be effective. While you may not be able to use every aspect of the software (higher processing functions may be limited to the desktop version), test out online versions. This is particularly effective if you’re trying to use a laptop or device with a much smaller hard drive in a remote working environment. For example, you can get to your current emails without storing your past five years of email history on your system’s limited disc space. When using a web app, install two-factor authentication wherever possible to maximize security.

A Note on External Hard Drives

First came the punch card, then tape and the floppy disc; now if you want portable physical data storage, it’s all about external hard drives (USB). They are a fantastic way to easily transport data from one place to another, but there are two precautions:

  • Hackers love to stash USB drives places just hoping that people will pick them up, get excited, plug them in, and then infect their computer and network. Moral of the story only trusts USB drives that you are familiar with.
  • If you are transitioning between a Mac and a Windows system or vice versa, there is a very high likelihood that your external hard drive will not work on both. Hard drives are configured to be read on one type of device, and you usually have to delete the drive to re-configure it to work on another type of system.

Maximize the Cloud

We firmly believe in the cloud for document storage, backup purposes, and accessing line of business applications. When it comes to document storage specifically:

  • Selective Sync Will Save You. If you already have large files stored in your Dropbox/Anchor/Google Drive/SharePoint, you don’t want your system trying to sync all of it to your hard drive for space, time, and speed considerations. Select only the folders that you’ll be using on a regular basis. The rest of the data will be accessible in the cloud. The online-only feature is also particularly helpful.
  • Follow basic sharing rules. Pay attention to read-only or editable sharing links. If you want someone to collaborate, make sure you give them the right to edit. When sharing, you can share a file or a folder. If you share a folder, bear in mind the recipient will have access to everything currently in the folder, as well as everything you add to it later. Never delete files that you did not create. It’s entirely possible that you delete the file for everyone while attempting to simply delete it from your system.

Security

Your safety is our biggest concern whether you’re working in the office, at home or a mixture. In order to remain secure, invest in:

  • Enterprise-level security: Install an enterprise-grade firewall, anti-virus, and monitoring system on every computer.
  • Two-Factor Authentication: Like we mentioned above, enable two-factor authentication wherever possible.
  • Complex Passwords: When you’re utilizing multiple systems, you may feel tempted to simplify your passwords because you’ll be logging in numerous times. Instead, store your credentials in a password vault to protect all of your passwords, and rotate your passwords regularly.

Backup, Backup, and More Backup

We have seen a surge in interrupted power and Internet connections, particularly with people working from home. Nothing is more frustrating than losing all of your work right in the middle of a project.

  • Install a battery backup on any mission-critical system (AKA anything you’re using for work). This will kick over and maintain power in case of a surge, and keep you running for hours in the event of a longer outage.
  • Ensure that your laptops remain fully charged. The myth that you can overcharge and shortcut long-term battery life is completely false. Most laptops today have lithium-ion batteries and have an internal circuit to stop the charging process when full-charged. Charge away!

Deploy an effective network-wide backup solution so that you can restore data whether you lose a single file due to an employee mistake or lose a significant amount of data in the case of a disaster or breach.

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