The Office of the Future

Scientific American has an interview with Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) research fellow David Biegelsen who has been at the lab since the beginning.  It is a really interesting look back 40 years at “The Office of The Future”.  If you are unfamiliar with PARC (as I was) from the article:

Xerox established its Palo Alto Research Center (better known as Xerox PARC) in June 1970 as a West Coast extension of its research and development laboratories. PARC researchers proved wildly successful in pioneering many contemporary business technologies—the PC (the first was called the “Alto”), graphical user interface (GUI), Ethernet local area computer network (LAN) and laser printing, to name just a few. Xerox, however, was considerably less successful (and less interested) in commercializing much of PARC’s technology itself, leaving the door open for Apple, IBM, Microsoft and others to capitalize on PARC’s innovations.

This is a good reminder for me that being right is not enough.  These folks were ahead of the curve by a long shot and, they were on target about how and what technologies would develop and become useful.  (Image for a moment having email a regular part of your day in 1970).  The thing is that a lot of areas had to catch up before they could capitalize on it.

About 10 years ago, I remember speaking to a vertical market analyst who told me that most of the time, companies when pursuing vertical markets over-estimate short term results and under-estimate long term results.  That rings true here as well.  Having a clear vision of what the future holds may mean that you have to keep pressing for a very long time before you will really see the fruits of your labor pay off.  Just because you are not seeing the results over night, it doesn’t mean your vision is wrong.

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Paper Medical Records Are Here to Stay

Seems Permanent . . .

About 14 years ago, I got involved with automating medical claims. For those not familiar with the process, as it turns out doctors still lick stamps and send paper medical bills (or claims) to health insurance companies for payment. Sure they can submit electronic bills as EDI, but many don’t. There are a couple big reasons (and a million small ones) that lots of paper claims are still out there:

– Loose Standards (837 the EDI format is implemented in lots of different ways)

– Addressing / Delivery (imagine a doctor needing a separate phone line for every payer – while it is not quite this bad, it certainly isn’t like dropping an envelope in a mailbox (or sending an email for that matter) and knowing it will get to an address despite the fact that you have never talked to them)

So while the above could be overcome, it is easier in lots of cases to just keep doing what you are doing. When it comes down to it, there is a utility to paper that is hard to beat in the short term. This is a common theme to PaperInbox, but in this case I want to discuss how it applies to Medical Records.

Whether it is industry news or even mainstream news covering the new healthcare bill, people talk a lot about the EMR or Electronic Medical Records. EMRs are slated to give us all kinds of great efficiencies from better care due from access to patient history at point of care to huge administrative savings that come from eliminating clerical work. These are pretty great things and somewhat inevitable in the long term. In the short term, I think something quite different will take place. Continue reading “Paper Medical Records Are Here to Stay”

What To Outsource

PART 1: Background

For years now, companies in corporate America have been turning to outsourcing to help improve margins and make their organizations more competitive.  The thing is that the successful stories – the ones that truly deliver on the promise – are the ones we hear the least about.  Conversely, the biggest disasters are told many times becoming modern versions of the warnings to mariners of sea monsters or the edge of the earth over time.

Why hide it?

Well as it turns out, large companies in America have lots of competition looking to tighten the belt just as much as they are.  When a company outsources successfully a particular part of the operation, the only people they would want to tell about it might be shareholders or potential shareholders.  Then again, if it is successful enough, the better numbers should speak for themselves better than any details of their process ever could.  As such they would be only giving their competition a roadmap to re-level the playing field.  In addition, outsourcing can have negative connotations with some customers regardless of the positive overall effect on the product or service they are purchasing.  Better to keep the best stuff under a hat overall in most cases.

As it turns out, there are huge amounts of information available on successful cases of outsourcing things as varied as IT Services, Call Center work, Tech Support, Data Entry, Manufacturing or any number of others.  The problem is that this information is usually generated courtesy of the company providing the outsourcing services.  Predictably they are going to give “case studies” that proffer stories that might as well include cutlery jumping over celestial bodies (ibid Neal Stephenson).

So how is the busy COO or President to know what is best to pursue and what things should be avoided?  My approach to almost all problems in life is to reduce them to their primary and build back up from there.  I’ll try to be brief since most readers understand the background, but the point needs to be made.  Outsourcing is a modern way of expressing a very old concept: economic specialization.  Without economic specialization, the modern world could not exist.  If each of us had to grow our own food, build our own shelter, weave our own clothes, provide our own healthcare, etc. we would have little time left to concentrate on designing efficient engines, packing more transistors on a wafer of silicone or making a beautiful sculpture.  Today’s modern communication and transportation have simply allowed us to take advantage of varied conditions in further away places.  The answer to WHY outsource lies in the very same roots as any economic specialization.

NEXT POST: The 2 Areas Not to Outsource

Weighing Tech Benefits

Heavy Features
Bigger might just mean more expensive

There are reasons I enjoy my work in a technology related field.  One of the most fun is the whole idea of better, faster, cheaper that I get to see new examples of every day.  If you think back a bit, in 1980 if you bought a VCR it was about $500 (in 1980 dollars), the size of a refrigerator, had no remote, no auto-tracking, no stereo audio output and broke if you rewound tapes too much.  Just before they stopped selling VCRs a couple years ago, you could go into a Walmart and buy one with a remote, produced a clear picture automatically, stereo output, was only maybe 4 times larger than the tapes themselves and cost $39 in 2006 dollars!  It was better in every imaginable way and way cheaper to boot.

Continue reading “Weighing Tech Benefits”