In a class to last

March 21, 2012

The set-up “The first time a network was installed in my office, I was forced to do it myself. Imagine crawling through the ceiling with computer cabling clenched between your teeth. Sound fun? It wasn’t. When I built my new facility 2 years ago, I called in the professionals. The IT department at my dealer, Goetze Dental, made the process easy. We worked together and planned the whole thing from concept to realization. It was a geek’s dream.

The set-up

“The first time a network was installed in my office, I was forced to do it myself. Imagine crawling through the ceiling with computer cabling clenched between your teeth. Sound fun? It wasn’t. When I built my new facility 2 years ago, I called in the professionals. The IT department at my dealer, Goetze Dental, made the process easy. We worked together and planned the whole thing from concept to realization. It was a geek’s dream. Too often in dentistry, I see people trying to cut corners to save a few dollars, but like that patient who gets the ‘same day’ $399 denture, the results are frequently disappointing. Hardware is what runs the digital office, and if you want it to run like a BMW you can’t put a Yugo in the server closet or in the operatory. You need good hardware and a good IT source to provide support. Many folks are shocked to learn that when I have an IT problem I call the professionals. While I could probably fix many of the problems myself, my business needs me doing what I do best, seeing patients rather than troubleshooting computer problems. As I tell the IT technicians, ‘You don’t start working in people’s mouths, and I’ll stay out of the computers.’ For even more reasons on why hardware is so important, read this article by Paul Hinman. He has some really pertinent info to chew on…”-Dr. John Flucke, Team Lead

As a dental technology consultant, I am asked a great many questions about technology products both in and out of dental. There can be just as much mystery about the latest intraoral camera as there is about what a server does for your office.

Being in this field has taught me to be an educator first and foremost. My company spends a great deal of time doing Lunch-and-Learns, project planning consultation, staff training, webinars, and seminar presentations-all with the single goal of spreading the word about what technology means for your dental business.

When a client needs to expand the computers into the OPs, replace a server or build a new office, we have to sit down and make some purchasing decisions. The necessity of servers, networks, computers and backup systems are growing rapidly in dental, but the understanding of what you are paying for is not discussed enough. By analyzing the needs and goals of the practice in the context of a given budget, the client and I will come to an agreement on how to move forward, but not without some serious education time first.

One of the guiding principles of these purchase decisions-and a very common concept presentation I do for my clients-is the concept of Business Class computer hardware. Most computer technology can be roughly categorized in one of three tiers: Home, Business and Enterprise Class. Enterprise Class technology is common in medium- to large-scale businesses, and my company leverages these technologies internally, but there is no need to get into the details of that world for this discussion.

Class warfare

Home Class computers and technology can be described as off-the-shelf computers, gaming technology such as fancy video cards, and trend-chasing products like iPods. These are great fun, but they are not built for constant use and reliable performance in a business-critical role. Most Home Class computers are built using the cheapest possible chips and components and are engineered to be disposable. Even the large manufacturers like Dell and HP have a separate product line and website to insulate the Home Class from the Business Class equipment.

Why do computer companies make these under-valued and over-priced computers? These machines have a big job-they have to pay for the brick and mortar stores and service the hobbyist and gamer consumers who wish to build their own computers for fun. There is a market for Home Class computers, but it isn’t in the workplace.

Business Class computers cannot be found on the shelf of any store. This concept is usually an eye opener for my clients. Unless you have worked in the IT industry for some time, you wouldn’t normally be exposed to the manufacturing and ordering processes that happen behind the scenes of the average business network. A built-for-business computer has a long product life cycle, standardized options, endless replacement parts support, clean room environment design process, earthquake and other vibration testing, far more durable parts and build design, internal airflow testing and heightened efficiencies, and the list goes on and on.

Business support

There certainly is no room for a homemade computer in a business network. This would be analogous to recommending a kit car made in a home garage from a few different parts stores vs. a Honda- or Ford-manufactured car model. Which would you recommend to friends as a daily driver, and for how many years could they rely on it? Where would you take such a car for service?

Currently, Dell and HP are the only companies that mass-produce computer hardware appropriate and affordable for the dental market. The warranty support is fantastic with both companies offering not only a replacement part delivered same or next day, but with a trained technician on site to install it.

Home Class computers and especially homemade computers cannot provide you an exact replacement part after about 6 months because the technology market dumps “old” parts for new ones very quickly. This means that downtime for your computer or network is much more likely in the event of a part failure. All this, and Business Class computers can often cost less than Home Class and especially homemade computers pound for pound.

Non-stop computing

Business Class computers and servers are tough machines built to run non-stop day in and day out for one reason-the only way to get the most out of your technology and employees is if your business is up and running. Downtime for your business costs more than any computer or server. With only so many working days in each month, any outage can be devastating when you are trying to hit your production goals hour by hour. To protect the practice management and image data is to protect the survivability of the entire dental practice.

Key in this task and one of the main features of Business Class computing is the use of servers. There is a lot of misunderstanding out there about what a server really is. In short, a server is a combination of ultra-durable hardware, a Windows Server operating system and redundant hard drives. To make an automotive analogy for servers and differing classes of computers, a Home Class computer is a hatchback, a business workstation is a light duty pickup, and a server is a construction-grade dump truck. That truck needs to work hard all day every day and take anything you throw at it in stride. It is essential for business continuity, and your practice deserves one.

If you are going crazy trying to reboot everything, reconnect network drives and constantly call out for support, you probably need a real server put in place to manage your data and your network. If you are making the move to digital sensors, chairside intraoral cameras or anything resembling a paperless office, you should start with a Business Class server.

Backup essentials

When consulting with a client on a project we must also discuss the higher risk lurking behind down time. There are stats out there that indicate a loss of just 10 working days of data access will put most companies out of business entirely within 18 months. What happens if the data is lost entirely in a single drive crash? The result is usually tragic. Once we can accept that 100% of hard drives will fail eventually, we can move forward with the proper protection in place.

A business needs a server for many reasons but the very first thing I put in place for all my doctors is a server technology called RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks). This is a technology that you will find in nearly every business in America, but I am continually surprised to find it missing in so many dental offices. Simply put, RAID is a system of three or more hard drives that work as an overlapping team to ensure that when any of your server hard drives seize and crash, your business will not go down.

The server and your practice continue on as if nothing has happened, and the failed drive can be replaced with an exact replacement part within 4 hours under certain warranties. RAID is not a backup. A backup is like an emergency parachute-critically important, but not a desirable method. RAID is a second or third engine on the airplane. You can lose an engine, but the flight will complete successfully and the plane and passengers will not be lost.

Like everything in technology, there is a range of products from oddly inexpensive to seriously pricey. RAID controller cards can be anywhere from less than $40 to more than $1,200, all claiming to do the same thing. When comparing technology products, the oddly inexpensive product is always worse than if you had spent nothing at all because you will invariably be disappointed and have to spend the money all over again on the right solution. When it comes to protecting your business critical data, this is no place to look for a bargain. Without that list of patients, appointments and open treatment times, your practice doesn’t have much hard value left.

A proper RAID card comes from a major server manufacturer like Dell or HP, can handle three or more hard drives (not just two), and should be rolled into the total cost of a decent production-quality server. This way, the RAID hardware is covered under that same warranty as the server. RAID is not a technology that can be just added into a workstation to achieve a proper result, although many beginner computer hobbyists may think that is good enough to run a business on.

Foundation for everything

To get the most out of a dental dealer purchase like a camera or sensor, your office must have a stable and managed computer network in place first. Having a trusted computer support company to help guide you through the necessary Business Class products and strategies is critical if your business is going to embrace and fully use the wonderful features these new technologies can bring to the table.

If your network and data delivery are suffering, then the money spent on that camera, sensor or cone beam unit will not be able to provide the ROI you need. Business Class computing can save you many thousands of dollars on labor by being fast and efficient, but it also can create a better system of patient recall, treatment presentation and chairside imagery, as well as sales, practice metric reporting and many other process improvements software suites such as Dentrix, SoftDent and EagleSoft bring to the table. None of these tools can begin to work for you and pay for their price tag if you do not have a proper platform in place first.

Your dental technology consultant can help light the way to an efficient and dynamic computer network that is ready to handle the best of what is out there now and be ready for everything to come.

About the author

Paul Hinman is President of Liptak Dental Services and has been performing and managing network support as an on-site consultant for 10 years. He has managed the complete IT landscape for hundreds of small to medium-sized businesses and believes dental practices deserve just as much computer performance, data security, and business survivability as every other small business receives. More information on Paul and Liptak Dental can be found at liptakdental.com.