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  • Writer's pictureMark Valdez

🧐 What I Learned This Week...

The power of software is incredible and world changing, but leveraging that power is not a given. Software can be challenging, messy, and unpredictable. Even the most notable technologists often get it wrong [The Seven Worst Tech Predictions of All Time]. A cursory glance at the headlines can be head spinning as you hear that “Fill-In-The-Blank“[AI, Crypto, Metaverse, etc] is Changing the World!” It’s a challenge for every business to determine which new trend actually warrants your attention.

Yet, the real risk comes from ignoring these trends altogether. It’s easy to laugh and point fingers from the cheap seats when someone is caught chasing fool's gold. Mistakes in the tech game are inevitable, but the only true mistake is avoiding change. Technology is like a living organism constantly changing and evolving. The successes and mistakes alike are what inform future development and the ultimate breakthrough. For instance, in the early 1990s General Magic employed many of Silicon Valley’s brightest minds. Their vision was to build mobile computing in an era when the Internet did not even exist yet! The company was ultimately a failure, but was it a bad idea or just ahead of its time? While at the time it may have seemed far-fetched, it was a failure on a path towards future progress which changed the world as we know it. Having a supercomputer in your pocket is taken for granted today, but it required notable technological developments to make its ubiquity possible – 3G cellular networks for data transmission, Wi-Fi, touchscreens, low power microprocessors, lithium-ion batteries, etc.

An image of the General Magic Magic Link computing device
General Magic’s Magic Link Source: Blake Patterson, Wikimedia Commons

I’ve met thousands of entrepreneurs in my career, and not a single one of them is risk averse. Yet, once you’ve built a business that pays the bills, fuels your retirement dreams, and if you're lucky, sets up the next generation – rolling the dice on the ever-evolving world of tech might seem like a gamble you don't need.

Technology itself is not a panacea. Without a map to guide you through the tech ecosystem, you’ll feel like you are wandering in the jungle. Even with said map and following the well worn path, you’ll still make a few wrong turns. The goal is not perfection, but rather an iterative path of progression. We collectively have decades of experience in Silicon Valley and we still make mistakes ALL THE TIME. 

From our very first newsletter post our goal has been to provide our loyal readers with practical tech tips and insights that are relevant to their business today. But often there is no better learning than hearing what works and (importantly) what doesn’t, directly from another’s experience.

So with that as our prelude, here’s what I learned this week…

Software can’t fix a broken process

As much as we want it to and as much as our bias is to leverage software to solve problems and make workflows easier, ultimately you can’t use a software bandage to fix a broken process. For instance, at our partner company, Stokes Counseling, we have clinician data in both our EMR and HR systems, yet we don’t have the ability to integrate the two systems and both are critically important to have for different purposes. It turns out that clinician names differ on occasion between the two systems. It could be as simple as a nickname being used instead of a legal name. This makes it incredibly difficult to conjoin data from the EMR (# of patient sessions) with data from the HRIS (payroll data) to deliver meaningful analysis and insight for the business. 

With a software mindset one might consider coding a software script to successfully merge the data in an analytics database or at the very least use clever excel formulas to provide a quick fix. Those bandages may work, but the real fix is the process. We must ensure there is a protocol in place for clinician naming conventions across the entire admin team and that it’s implemented so that there is a single source of truth. 

While software bandages can work, writing code to fix edge cases will produce a brittle solution that will often fail as you scale – in this case adding more clinicians. You will likely spend more time and effort creating a better bandage rather than rooting out the real issue – lack of structured inputs. One core tenet of software is “Crap In, Crap Out.” Often the best way to ensure that software works for you is to make sure you have quality inputs rather than attempting to manipulate the outputs. Fix the process from the outset, inform and educate the team on the reasoning for making the change, and avoid making software systems do work they aren’t meant to do. This will save you significant brain damage.

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