The Cloud is here... but some software vendors refuse to change

While dental practices are embracing The Cloud, some software vendors aren’t open to making the change.

I was contacted a few weeks ago by a specialty dental group that was looking at software for their specialty. They had spent quite a bit of time researching some options and decided upon one vendor that seemed to meet their needs. The specialty software they were looking at was traditionally deployed in a local client/server environment. This meant that the server and the application would reside in the office and the group would need to support this locally. This is the typical model that most dental groups have employed in the past.

The reason the group came to me was because they knew I was familiar with cloud-based technology, having been involved with numerous data center rollouts for both medical and dental software clients. The question they asked me was if the specialty software they are interested in could be deployed in a cloud-based model. In other words, did they really have to invest in their own servers, make regular backups, figure out how to protect against security breaches, troubleshoot if there were server issues and pay IT folks a lot of money to make sure their servers and applications were consistently and efficiently up and running. After all, they were a specialty group and wanted to devote their time I’m running the business and then patient care, not on IT.

This was a reasonable request and given the growing popularity of software being hosted at remote data centers I thought that it wouldn’t be a problem for the vendor to meet their needs.

Being familiar with some of the best healthcare HIPAA-compliant data centers in the country I thought that my job would be to bring the specialty software vendor engineering staff together with the engineers at the data center, there would be a “kumbaya” moment and I would feel good knowing that I helped the software vendor offer a cloud option for its customers.

Boy, was I wrong. My contact at the specialty software vendor told me that they did not work with data centers and proceeded to tell me all the “technical” and “support” reasons why they just don’t do it even though some of their customers would benefit by this model. Having been in IT for 30 years the reasons just didn’t make sense to me. The pushback didn’t seem to have a technical basis, and it appeared to me that they just wanted to keep business as usual.

So, being sensitive to the vendor’s position I suggested that they at least talk to one of the top engineers at the data center to discuss the vendor’s requirements and see where the state-of-the-art in data center hosting was today. You would think that the vendor engineers would be interested to at least have the technical conversation. But, I was wrong again, as I was told by the vendor that they just don’t work with data centers, it was something they were thinking about for the future, and that at this point in time they weren’t looking at providing this to their customers.

This was truly déjà vu as I saw the same attitude with medical software vendors a number of years ago. Some of them were resistant to offer cloud models for their customers until they saw the writing on the wall in the medical market and realized that if they didn’t they wouldn’t be competitive. And, over the years, most of them came around until today most of these vendors do offer cloud options to give their customers all the benefits of using a remote data center to host their applications.

Now, I’d like to make something clear. A true cloud-based software model is accessible through a web browser and some vendors just haven’t designed the software to use a browser. However, in this case with this particular specialty software vendor, I was just asking them to take their normal client/server software and host it in a data center for my client instead of forcing them to locate all the technology within the office. This shouldn’t have been a problem as many software vendors have worked with healthcare data centers over the past few years.

When trying to understand all the reasons behind this refusal of the vendor to offer alternative hosting models for their clients they originally talked about compatibility with the data center technology. But also upon further discussion what I realized was that in this particular specialty market there were only a small handful of vendors. And none of their competitors offered cloud or data center-based solutions. So no reason to offer a cloud option from a competitive standpoint. It was kind of like a monopoly for these vendors in this particular niche dental specialty market. Conversely in the general dentistry software world there is a lot of competition and because of this I have seen a lot of innovation including cloud or data center based models.

At the end of the day it is unfortunate that this particular specialty software vendor chose not to even explore having its product hosted at a data center because basically it didn’t feel it would lose any customers by not having this option. Just as the medical industry pushed its software vendors into providing innovative solutions over the past 10 years, the onus is on dental groups and practices to demand dental software vendors move into the 21st century so our software solutions meet industry standards and best practices.

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