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”

A Timely Technology Solution

Now picture 7.3 million of these
Now picture 7.3 million of these

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting headline: Massive Effort To Save Mortgages.  The article went into how JP Morgan was planning on targeting 400,000 loans for modification of terms on top of what they were already doing.  It also mentioned some other banks such as Bank of America’s efforts to modify the terms of existing loans in lieu of foreclosure.  The article points out that “…7.3 million American Homeowners are expected to default on their mortgages between 2008 and 2010.”

As you might expect, when banks transact business with other banks, things can be done in a largely electronic environment generating minimal amounts of paper.  Since individual homeowners don’t have systems that hook directly into lenders the process of modifying the terms (mod) of a loan is done almost exclusively on paper.  Things like pay stubs, tax returns, letters of hardship are used to determine what can be done for each loan.  This means that even simple mods may carry 20-40 pages of faxes, mail, etc. inbound to the lender.  Multiply that by say 7 million and you have yourself a mess of paper.

So many times I see companies in Corporate America spending money on technology for the sake of technology instead of a solid Return on Investment like cutting costs.  In this case however, I came across a service that is specifically targeted to handle all the paperwork related to the workout options for these loans.  I put a copy of the PDF for the service on my website if anyone is interested in an overview (full disclosure: I have worked on various projects with this company for over ten years and am not a totally disinterested party).  It is exciting to see how technology can be used to effectively address something that is urgent, timely and expensive without being overcomplicated.

The service is particularly appealing to lenders because they really don’t have large capital expenditure budgets floating around right now.  Instead of a long drawn out implementation and large amounts of money down, they “pay by the drink” if you will.  It gives lenders who are under pressure to mod loans an option other than throwing more bodies at the problem and hope they can keep ahead of the tide.  Essentially it is a way for them to focus on the decision making aspect of the process rather than the menial, clerical and repetitive tasks.

This is technology and efficiency at its best and it is great when it happens.  Do you have any positive / timely technology examples?  Put it in the comments and I will do my best to address it.

Making Your LCD Monitor Investment Pay Off

When I took the test as a Certified Document Imaging Architech (CDIA) over ten years ago, there were a lot of questions and calculations involved with figuring out things like pixel pitch on displays. It was very important to invest in expensive monitors so that scanned images could be accurately displayed for the user. Today’s modern LCD wide screen monitors offer unparalleled clarity when working with scanned images alongside a line of business application. Many organizations are investing in dual monitor or large LCD monitors for their employees in these environments. When brightness and contrast are set properly, the worker not only has access to all the information they need on one screen, their eyes do not fatigue as quickly as more expensive monitors from just a few years ago. This makes for a productive environment and worker. Often though, one user preference is overlooked. Continue reading “Making Your LCD Monitor Investment Pay Off”

Dealing With Red Tape?

How will lenders cope with increased oversight requirements?

How will lenders cope with increased oversight requirements?

The reaction to recent developments in the mortgage lending world seems to dominate the headlines. Each morning, the front page of Wall Street Journal brings news of yet another lender closing their doors or “suspending” operations. Meanwhile, various opinion pieces are calling for new government regulations.

Whether we see new requirements from the government or simply change to appease frightened stockholders, the coming months and years are sure to add complexity to an already cumbersome process. The companies that remain as lenders will likely see huge volumes of loans even if the overall number of loans decreases simply by taking volume that might have been distributed to those who have left the industry. These volumes are likely to be sustained since it will be very difficult for any new players to raise money to enter the market.

Traditionally, lenders have added headcount to address up ticks in volume. Continue reading “Dealing With Red Tape?”