The Build Up: Choose the right lab management software for your lab

April 5, 2012
Renee Knight
Issue 3

This is an important decision.

This is an important decision.

If you choose the wrong lab management software, you may end up costing yourself a lot of time and money. That’s why when it’s time to buy lab management software, you have to look at all the options to determine what’s best for your lab, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest option. You need to take the time to look at what the software offers, how flexible the software is, are upgrades available and for how much, and the company’s reputation, among other things.

Seem a bit overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. We recently talked with Alan Barnes, founder of Coaching For Service and the Barnes Group, for advice on what to consider when choosing lab management software. Here’s what he had to say.

Q: What should labs look for when choosing lab management software?

A: A lab needs to look at what their present needs are and what their projected growth patterns are going to be. You want something you can grow into but not grow out of. Make a list of what you need: do you want bar coding, do you want to send out letters to your doctors, do you want something that’s easy to change if you have a fee increase and can you do that internally or do you have to go back to the company that wrote the software? Then look at maintenance fees. Is there a yearly maintenance fee as well as a monthly fee, and how much does it cost to upgrade? You could spend more money on upgrades than on the initial system.

Talk to friends and colleague and make sure the company is reputable and that their turnaround times on making changes are realistic, and that you’re not going to be stuck for a long time waiting for changes. How are the support services? Ask the company for three or four references and don’t be afraid to call each one of them.

Q: What do you mean by something you can grow in to?

A: Look at what your capacity is today and project where you’re going to be three years from now. Will it be able to handle the amount of work you’re going to be doing? If you’re at 100 units a day and 3 years from now you plan to be at 175 units a day, make sure the software can handle it.

Implementation of new software is one of the most difficult periods. Make sure the company will give you enough tech support to help you get the software installed properly. You don’t want to spend months implementing your software. If the company gives you good technical support it will be to your advantage, so go with the company that offers the most support.

Q: How long should it take to implement the software?

A: It should take four to 8 weeks to implement it into your lab. Remember, you need to make sure you have the right personnel that know how to enter data. Data entry is very important. Don’t try to take one of your best technicians and turn him or her into a software expert. Get someone well versed in computer technology and teach him or her what a dental lab does rather than trying to teach a lab person all about software and computers.

Q: What are some common mistakes labs make when choosing software?

A: You can’t just look at the software with the lowest price. You want something that will function for your needs, not that has the lower price, to get started because you could spend a lot more money trying to tailor it to your needs or it might never meet your needs. Not buying enough of the services that you currently need is another common mistake.

I would go to a lab that currently is using the software. One of the nice things about our think tank is a member lab can go to another lab and look at their system and they’ll share everything. You want to network with people who will share things with you.

Software should be seen like a porcelain furnace. You change that every few years because of new technology, and it’s the same thing with computers and software. Don’t think your initial investment is your last investment. It’s important to keep up with the times. The needs change and the capabilities of the systems change. You need to have something that’s flexible. Make sure the company you’re buying from is well versed in the dental lab field because it’s a lot harder to tailor something to the lab field. You want something that’s already been designed for dental labs.

Another mistake labs make is they neglect to run two systems simultaneously. So the first few weeks run your new system and your old system as a back up. You don’t want to lose valuable data that you may find later that you wish you had. Run both systems parallel to one another until you’re positive that everything is there and functioning the way you want.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t hit on?

A: The thing I’d like to emphasis is make sure you get all the references you can and follow up on each one. Get in writing contractually everything they’re going to do for you, and at what cost so there aren’t any surprises later.

Finally, if you purchase new computers on which to run the software, keep in mind that more is always better: larger memory capacity can handle sophisticated programs, and more programs at one time without bogging down the system; check to see if that can be easily upgraded. Speed is important as well; get the fastest available. And be sure to back up your data regularly, at least once a week, to an external hard drive. It will save countless hours of frustration if you experience a crash.