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How to keep up with practice technology

How to keep up with practice technology

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By Stewart Bell ·
January 05 2023

How to keep up with practice technology

Op-ed Back when I was a schoolboy, I landed back in England with my Aussie accent still as fresh as a Hobart morning; I had an English teacher with a flourish for a certain type of literature.

Amongst readings of Betjeman and Hardy, he decided we’d have a crack at Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner — all 625 lines of it.

Now, three decades and a bit later, all I can remember is one line… “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink…” I’m reasonably confident Coleridge didn’t mean it to apply to practice technology in 2022, but it fits, nonetheless.

In my 2015 book Finnovation, I briefly questioned why — despite all the real-world operational inefficiencies faced by practices — there were so few tech-minded types doing their Silicon Valley best to solve them. What a difference seven years makes.

Today, the number of tech options offering solutions to practices to (try and) solve all manner of issues from document production to data management, client engagement to workflow tracking and more could make an infographic look like a roadmap of London.

Yet, still the question is whether it’s getting easier to make tech work for your practice, or harder. When I started my journey as an independent business coach/consultant, I was only too happy to share all manner of tech solutions from far and wide. I was like some spice trader pulling into town with unknown insights from climes unknown, and it earned me the opportunity to speak at a number of events.

Now, I find myself holding back when asked to talk about the best or latest apps, widgets, extensions and tools, concerned that sharing all that is available can do more harm than good. It’s easier than ever to spend time you don’t have looking deeply at technologies that don’t solve the problems you need solved.


That’s not to say there aren’t some incredible solutions out there — the standard is improving (though never quite as fast as we’d all like) — but the issue is one of fit for purpose. Your purpose.

You could buy me the most amazing pair of ballet slips money can buy, but if I need something to play rugby in, it’s not going to help.

So, how do you as a practice owner keep up with technology and make sure you don’t fall into the trap of buying a solution that isn’t what you need?

Here’s four key questions I ask clients whenever the topic of keeping up with tech applies.

1. What exactly is the itch? One of my favourite bumper stickers ever simply reads, “DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK.” I can fall in love with a good idea like a teenager at a school disco. This phrase reminds me to allow the first blast of “WOW! This is AMAZING!” to settle before asking whether this is addressing a real need in my business. Would I have gone looking for this if it hadn’t found me first? It may be lovely to have a tool that produces the perfect Statement of Advice in seconds, but it you’re only writing one or two a month, is it really a game-changer? Having a tool to use with clients in my initial meetings might send my inner nerd into gurgles of joy, but is the lack of tool really my issue there (or is it something more analogue)?

2. How will it make things better, easier or faster? A friend of mine in M&A once closed a big acquisition deal for his firm, only for it to come to light once complete that they’d bought a lemon. The punishment? He was appointed the Chief Operating Offer and tasked with unlocking the synergies that the purchase price had promised. Similarly, that technology you’re considering implementing in your business is going to need you (and your team) to work out how to use it and make it work with your current set-up. If you can’t pinpoint clearly how this is going to measurably improve things before you dive in, it may be time to pause and think.

3. What else have you considered? The only thing better than a great piece of technology is the better one that comes along shortly afterwards. It’s an unfortunate fact that just when you’ve finally finished bedding down your shiny new thing, it’s inevitable another even shinier thing will show up boasting the functionality you didn’t even know you wanted. This is where undertaking a weighted analysis of all the options can help take some of the “five-year-old-on-Christmas-morning” out of the decision-making process, and add in some objective analysis in its place. If you don’t know what the other options are, ask someone who may have a wider view of lay of the land than you (your PDM, BDM or me, for example).

4. Is it a must-have? We’re all in a hurry to get where we’re going. We want things to work a certain way now, not then. It’s a core attribute of a business owner. In truth though, the faster we try and get there, the more likely it is we create loose threads that will need to be fixed before they get out of control. Parking that amazing new tech solution on ice for a few months usually results in the realisation that either the need was a passing phase, or alternatively, an even clearer rationale as to why it is needed and how to make it work.

Stewart Bell, business coach and founder Audere Coaching and Consulting

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