Choosing the Right Technology for Your StartupUsed properly, the right technology can help to differentiate your business in the eyes of your customers, automate repetitive tasks, reduce paperwork and generally make your life just a little bit easier!
Sometimes though, it can seem like a bit of a minefield navigating all of the options that are out there. This simple guide (which is product agnostic, incidentally) will help you to minimise the impact on your budget and help even the most ardent technophobe make the right technology choices.
Budgeting is key
Technology is a significant financial investment for a business, and with high prices and a constantly changing range of options, you really need to understand your personal business needs before your purchase. Think about how much you can realistically afford to spend, bearing in mind that in the early stages of a startup, costs can quickly snowball when you take into account marketing, equipment, transport, insurance, and many other unforeseen factors.
Creating a clearly defined budget that covers all the bases is key, so be sure to fully consider not only the cost of the devices, but all of the associated costs. These can include software (i.e. Anti-Virus Software, Management Systems), Data Storage and the plethora of accessories that you can now buy, such as chargers, digital dictation, cameras etc.
Assess your needs
Once you know how much you have to spend, be clear and realistic about your actual requirements. Do you really need a shiny new iMac just to type up notes? Probably not. Think about your environment and how tech could fit in to it currently. If you always work out of the same location, you can consider larger, more bulky tech. If you’re out-and-about, you’ll need lightweight devices that are easier to transport.
Renting vs Buying
Due to the significant costs involved with technology and the rapid rate at which it can become obsolete, one serious consideration to make is whether to rent or buy. If you don’t have the funds, equipment leasing can be a viable option. This allows you to rent a piece of equipment for a fixed monthly cost, giving you the option to purchase or upgrade at the end of the lease. You can usually adjust the payments and lending period to suit your needs, and arrange flexible agreements that allow you to make early payments.
Compared to buying, renting does offer a lower initial outlay and a lower risk. Keep in mind though that keeping up with payments is a must, and that you do not actually own the item until the last payment is made. Failure to keep up with payments could lead to repossession or affect your credit score, so consider this option fully before you pursue it.
If you’re looking to rent, companies like Photolease can help you select the right product or payment plan. If buying’s your game, shop around on price comparison sites to get the best deal.
Your Tech Options
The technology market changes very rapidly, you only need to look at a phone from a few years ago to see how quickly a device can become archaic. With this in mind, I won’t go into too much detail about specific models, but for 2013, these are your basic options divided into very broad categories:
For the technophobic, these are generally just referred to as “computers”. Their large size and shape mean they have to stay in a fixed position, and are generally more powerful, have more functionality and storage, and are more expensive than their counterparts. If you are to spend a lot of time typing and have a fixed location such as a clinic, then these can be your best bet.
They are generally very similar to desktops, but easily portable, so ideal if you are constantly moving room or clinic location. They generally have the same functionality as desktop PC’s, but are cheaper, smaller and more lightweight. Unless you plan on attaching a mouse, most cursor gestures on a laptop are driven by a “trackpad” next to the keyboard, so ensure that you are comfortable with this.
Whilst tablets have the portability of a laptop and are generally cheaper, they do not allow as much freedom when it comes to installing software, and storage is typically limited. Their touchscreens however open up a world of possibilities for apps, and can be a very valuable tools for use with clients. The benefit of these tablets is that they usually have everything built in, such as a camera and microphone, negating the need to lug around loads of equipment.
Smartphones are typically smaller versions of tablets, but with the obvious added ability to call and text. Whilst you may already have a personal one, you might also want to think about having a work phone to help you delineate between your work and home life. You’ll need at least the functionality to text and call patients, but you can also look to use other communication and organisation apps depending on how “smart” the phone is. Similar to tablets, in-built functions such as the audio and video recorder mean that you can snap sound bites, images and videos on-the-go at a high enough quality to mean that you don’t need to shell out for additional tech.
Other Bits and Pieces
By no means is the range of technology restricted to typical “computing” devices, there may be a number of other options that can enhance your practice. Satellite navigation systems, mileage calculators and recording devices may also be useful, but in many cases, these can be inbuilt apps or bits of software inside computers, tablets and smartphones.
If you’re looking to expand the mechanisms by which you take payment, you can always invest in a card reader to allow instant payment through chip and pin.
When you start out, I would suggest you start with one device and then see how you go. It’s always easier to invest at a later stage when you have the requirements and the funds, than to have to sell later on due to lack of use or financial reasons.
Different types of device run different “operating systems”, which determine how they function. If you’ve used a typical desktop PC or laptop, chances are this will have run “Windows”, on which certain programs such as Microsoft Word can be run. Apple devices such as an iMac or Macbook run “OSX”, which gives them an entirely different look and feel, and allows different software to be run. For example, the Apple Word Processor (which looks similar to Microsoft Word) is called Pages. The same goes for smartphones and tablets, where Apple devices run “iOS”, and others generally “Android”.
For your Private Practice needs, the operating system you choose will determine what native applications you can run on your machine. Software written for Windows does not work on a Mac (and vice versa) unless a specific version has been created.
If you choose cloud-based software in your practice (covered later), all you need is a web browser and an internet connection to use it. All the popular web browsers are available for all the main operating systems, so in this case it doesn’t really matter which operating system you choose.
In an ever connected world, your ability to get onto the Internet can be critical. In a fixed location, a high quality wireless broadband connection is the most secure option, and means that you can connect multiple devices simultaneously. When you’re on the go, devices that function on 3G and 4G may be essential to allow you to access your apps when you don’t have a guaranteed WiFi connection. If these are not suitable, it might worth exploring the use of a mobile “dongle” that plugs directly into a PC or laptop, or a small portable WiFi hub. Bear in mind that different types have different data consumptions and fair use policies, so you need to estimate what your internet usage will be and plan accordingly. Pulling lots of data over pay-by-unit connections can lead to large bills, so if you’re unsure, have a chat with your network provider.
Storage, Backups and Cloud Computing
Whatever your device, one of the key considerations is around how you are going to store any of your data. Typically, software that is “downloaded” to your device means that any information is held locally on that device. This brings with it a number of issues, such as the potential that that that information could be irretrievable if the device malfunctions, or that sensitive data could fall into the wrong hands if the device is lost or stolen.
Your best best, especially if you plan on using multiple devices, is cloud computing. “Cloud” or “web-based” software is accessed through your Internet Browser (i.e. Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer), and does not need to be downloaded to your device.
This brings with it a number of benefits:
Your data is available anywhere, anytime, to anyone you grant access
There is no software to install, so generally you do not need to worry about storage and it will run on any/all of your devices
Backups of data are handled by the provider, so you know your data is safe and won’t be lost
Updates to software are automatically handled by the provider
Secure connections with the host servers, preventing anyone else from accessing your data
If you’re using cloud-based software to manage your Practice, all information is backed up automatically for you. If you do decide to hold information on your device, such as photographs, videos, audio files and notes, you can look towards backup apps like iCloud and Dropbox to store that information in the cloud. This reduces the need to have lots of storage on your device, so you can afford to invest in tech with cheaper specs.
If you’re a clinician on-the-go, a combination of smartphones, tablets and laptops can be key in helping organise your day. One thing to bear in mind is how your devices will cope as the day progresses. The increased complexity of smartphones and other devices mean that battery life is consequentially shorter, and may run down within the space of the day. Portable chargers are a must, and you can seek in-car solutions if you are driving to appointments. Many phones and tablets can also charge off a USB port from a PC, so keeping these cables and a wall-to-USB plug may save the day.
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