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Resources: Productivity

artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence: Better Living (and Working) through Automation

Artificial intelligence, also referred to by the simpler term AI, has long been the holy grail of futurists, science fiction authors, and fantasists alike. Even before we established the concept of computer science, the notion of mechanized entities capable of learning, thinking, and acting on their own was a popular subject for science fiction. This is especially true of cautionary tales. 

While AI stories predate this work of art, the earliest popular demonstration in the common zeitgeist is the silent film Metropolis. Released in 1927, this movie is almost 100 years old. It deeply explores the idea of intelligent technology and its impact on our society. It also explores the ethics involved in creating machinery that is capable of awareness. 

We’re not here to discuss science fiction robots that can think and feel just like people. We’re not even going to discuss the menacing software displayed in the Terminator or Matrix franchises. Although, these are very interesting concepts. A discussion about the repercussions of AI does merit a conversation, but we’re not there yet. Not by any stretch of the imagination. That’s called the singularity, and it’s going to happen someday soon. What we’re here to discuss today is AI as we currently know it. 

Demystifying Contemporary AI 

You’re not aware of it, but you experience AI every day. Talking to your phone, Siri, and Alexa, or searching on Google or other search engines, AI tracks you. AI directs your searches based on your past search history, as well as what you’re inputting. It compiles data from users and learns their interests and habits. It then uses this info for marketing and other purposes. 

AI also exists in the business and consumer sectors. But AI in the sense of what people think of in science fiction movies certainly does not yet exist. So, what exactly is it that we have that we’re calling AI? 

 AI, or Machine Learning, is any form of software or hardware technology that is capable of learning from input and results. It then uses the ability to make intuitive predictions based on what it has learned. This includes abstractly solving problems based on past tasks. It will then adjust its approach to tasks and become more efficient and effective at making decisions. It is clever, but not conscious. 

AI can be powerful. You might be wondering exactly how this business automation like this can help you. Keep reading to find out! 

Tireless Workers 

With AI capable of basic accounting functions, administration, and CRM, you can eliminate a lot of redundant tasks. Over time you’ll have less unnecessary staff and less overhead.  

Arguably, AI isn’t quite smart enough yet to handle dealing with an angry customer on the phone or in a chat, as anyone who’s tried to talk to these so-called bots will attest. But they are very well-suited for simpler tasks. 

AI can learn customer habits, allowing it to be a handy assistant to CRM, PR, and customer service employees. AI can recall information about customers, and instantly suggest go-to solutions that make sense. Efficiency is the name of the game. 

Redundant tasks, such as appointment setting, cold calling, or pesky reoccurring jobs, can also be handled by AI. This frees up skilled employees to deal with people directly as they are trained to do. 

Artificial Intelligence can be useful for business planning and logistics management. It learns from markets, business climates, and current events. It is capable of making accurate predictions and connecting relationships that analysts may not be able to notice. This makes AI programs excellent tools for business analysts, traders, and marketing experts as well. 

AI Versus Outsourcing 

Outsourced work is often of subpar quality, as reflected in the reduced price associated with it. AI responds instantaneously to notifications from customers and provides personal replies. It prioritizes deadlines with no emotional opposition nor fatigue associated with it. AI works 24/7 and doesn’t need breaks or time off. It learns from operating and repetition. While a little bit of patience may be necessary when AI is put into place, it learns remarkably faster than people. This is not because it’s smarter than people, but because its “brain” is designed specifically for the tasks at hand. 

AI doesn’t need holidays, vacation pay, or anything of the sort. It never stops. It never gets bored, and it provides a far better, less emotionally charged customer experience.  

This Has Potential, Where Do I Start? 

If the prospect of a tireless, intuitive business automation tool like this sounds intriguing, your next step is to figure out what your business needs are. Do a little research. Read up on how Artificial Intelligence works, and compare platforms you’re interested in. Get a feel for what this technology is and where its prime applications lie. Look into where it’s used now, and notice the day-to-day things that are powered by AI. You’ll be surprised by how prolific it is. 

Or, if the whole thing is confusing for you, drop us a line. We specialize in business technology and are avid proponents of business automation. We can even provide you with advice on how to integrate Artificial Intelligence with your current staff. After all, we want to help you grow your business, not find ways to lose valuable employees. Contact us today to find out more. 

touchless business

Touchless Business: A New Era

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected individuals and businesses across the globe in a manner that rings with permanence. Many businesses that were previously successful are now left baffled as to how they should adjust their business models. To work effectively in this new age of touchless business, we need to adopt to new systems and organizational methods. 

How do I even begin to mobilize my business in light of current restrictions? 

The top priority for businesses that haven’t done so already is to establish an online presence. And they should get online fast! Establishing an efficient online storefront is the first step to attracting customers who shifted to shopping online during this pandemic. If a website is already part of your business model, then some tech solutions may be needed to handle more sales. Make your website functional enough to be a solidified option for those at home. IT solutions, such as adding a shopping cart or transitioning a POS terminal, can help adjust your online presence. 

For businesses who deem their online presence to be adequate but struggle with restricted capacity, touchless payment options may be the answer to your problems. What businesses have found to be convenient and successful is the installment of computer tablets as hubs for touchless payments. The prevalence of consumer tech solutions such as ApplePay, Samsung Pay, and Google Wallet have established a safe and easy way for customers to take advantage of digital tablets in physical business locations. 

 

How do I maintain effortless communication between coworkers and employees? 

Another struggle many businesses face in this period of touchless business is, how to effectively communicate with employees and coworkers. Scheduling business meetings in person is not exactly COVID safe. Luckily there are alternatives for maintaining a solid and reliable communication link. Platforms such as MS Teams, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, and many more have streamlined the ability to connect individuals virtually. Business meetings have, in a sense, never been easier to achieve. By cutting out the commute time for many employees, you can provide more time for scheduling important business meetings.  

An additional way to streamline communication efforts is to construct a working online business network. You can do so through new platforms, like Slack, Microsoft Teams/Office, and Google Hangouts. Making sure remote employees have a designated business computer to utilize during work hours is essential. It assures the success of online performance, as programs are only as good as the diligence of the employee checking them.  

 

Now that I have a working website, how do I continue to make sales and service my clients? 

Maintaining a business during a pandemic is one thing; soliciting new business and sales are a whole other feat. Establishing a working website is not enough to ensure the success of any business or private firm. It is merely the first step in the process of creating an engaging and attractive online presence. Not all customers you want to attract are as tech-savvy as you probably are. Being prepared to help them transition to an online client is something you can do to make this process easy for them. Older clientele may want to do business with you but aren’t sure how to use Zoom. Being able to assist them, or hiring someone who can, is a reliable way to bridge this gap and continue growing your business. 

Making sales during such a confusing and evolving business era can be intimidating and uncertain. Small to medium businesses are currently struggling more than ever to keep their doors open. For many, it is tough making sufficient sales to sustain the company and its employees. With every business transitioning to online services, how do you make your business stand apart? The next step for facilitating sales is to engage with your customers and their concerns. You should have a dedicated customer service person with reliable tech solutions for answering emails, fulfilling online orders, and facilitating responses to customer questions promptly. Being responsive to this kind of online interaction is essential to keeping and attracting customers. If you aren’t making the online process easy for the customer, the competition will. 

A Summary of How to Mobilize 

The touchless era is a difficult time in which to mobilize your business. But it is not impossible. Creating an easily accessible and efficient online platform for customers to enjoy and engage with, and maintaining a strong online presence is essential to moving your business into a successful space. Finding different IT tech solutions–like installing online video chat programs to continue communication–will help affirm employee accountability as well as customer satisfaction. Finally, bringing all these aspects together to create a comprehensive and well-oiled touchless business model will assure your business has the best chance of survival and success possible. 

If you have questions about setting up online services or getting your employees to work remotely, please contact us at any time. 

Automating Business Processes – How Can You Be Better?

If last year taught us anything, it was that small to medium businesses need to adapt with the times if they want to stay open. Social distancing and crowd restrictions drove all of us to figure out ways to retain our clientele without dealing with them face-to-face. Online business transactions, telecommuting, and third-party suppliers became the norm. In this new ecosystem, how can we automate business processes and stay ahead of our competitors? 

Future growth trends point to business automation in every department, contactless deliveries and transactions, and more remote employees and supply chains. To stay competitive, these are the directions we need to focus on. 

The good news is that the future is here! Many large businesses are already fully automated, and their innovations are easily adaptable to your needs. Let’s take a look at some of the new “Everything as a Service” trends to give your team ideas of where you can take your business. 

Automate Business Processes through AI 

According to Google, AI supports three critical business needs: 

  • Automating business processes 
  • Gaining insight through data analysis
  • Engaging with customers and employees

Whether or not you’re aware of it, AI is tracking and compiling your data and dispersing it to companies that want to use it. Right now, it’s mostly larger companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft, because they can afford to develop it. Their innovations mean you can use the same technology for your business. 

Optimize Your Sales & Marketing

Sales and Marketing tasks go hand-in-hand, so it’s only natural that they work together to maximize customer data. Automated customer-relationship management (CRM) programs gather customer information through engagement and actions. This data helps streamline your sales process, and can also be used for marketing purposes. The compiled information helps track business trends, customer preferences, top-selling items, and a whole lot more.  

 Automating this process can also result in better lead generation. And the best news is that this efficient system can run at or below your current budget. Once you optimize the customer experience, you’ll be able to streamline the areas that bring in the most money. And that’s good for any business. 

Automate Pricing & Billing 

If you’ve been relying on one person to handle these tasks, and your business is growing, it may be time to look into an automated process. While pricing is usually an internal decision (supply and demand, shipping costs, holding costs, display and web promoting, etc.), billing has been outsourced for years, especially in the medical field.  

Outsourcing medical billing has been around for decades. And it makes sense. Doctors went to school to help save lives, not to check the insurance eligibility of their patients. And the HIPAA Privacy Policy makes everything even more complicated. Billing automation lets medical professionals focus on what they need to do. Automating or outsourcing will help you too. 

Outsource Service & Support

If you’re running a bakery or book store, chances are you’re not open 24/7. On the other hand, have you ever considered that you might be missing sales when someone tries to contact you during your off-hours? 

Besides businesses that require 24-hour support (Medical, Automobile Towing, IT Managed Services, to name a few), now is the time for everyone to establish a 24-hour presence. Do a little research and you’ll discover that a 24/7 answering service will cost you less than a full-time employee. And that person who answers your phone is only working 40 hours a week, minus vacation, sick time, and paid holidays. It’s worth it to make sure you never miss a call. 

Create a Virtual Storefront

Every business has a website, but can your customers purchase your goods and services directly from your homepage? Without a strong web presence, you are limiting your business to local customers only when you can potentially have global customers. The internet never sleeps, and neither should your business. 

Adding a Storefront to your current web site is not difficult at all. If you offer products or services that anyone can use, stop limiting yourself to the same group of customers. If the thought of expanding your reach makes you feel like you’re being pulled out of your comfort zone, remember that your competition has already done it. Follow the trends or you may be left behind. 

Automating Business Processes Leads to Scalability

You may not be taking advantage of your workforce scalability. There has never been a better time to hire the best employees to work remotely, from just about anywhere. Here are a few of the benefits you’ll get from scaling your employees to your business needs: 

  • Hire staff per project
  • Use the best people possible
  • Set time limits on projects
  • Get tasks done around the clock
  • Reduce your office space

The biggest benefit you’ll see from this system is gaining control of your budget. By expanding and shrinking your employee pool you’re not wasting money in-between projects. This allows you to streamline your office staff and ramp-up as your projects require. Give it a try! It may be something simple to implement that creates great results.  

It’s too early to tell if this year will be as challenging as the last one, but even if it’s not we still need to prepare for the worst. If you’re not sure how these business trends can save money and grow your business, remember that we are here to help. As a Managed Service Provider, we can show you some of the latest business developments and solutions that just may be the answers you’ve been looking for. Contact us today and let’s talk about your future.  

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!