A rant about the Internet of Things hype.
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Checklist for acquiring a technology product or solution
'The Checklist Manifesto' has applicability to buying tech for aging. I just finished reading "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right" by Atul Gawande, a surgeon who developed a checklist to improve surgery safety for WHO and his own operating room. Which brings me to the question of whether caregivers and organizations with caregiving responsibility -- like families, home care organizations, senior housing, GCMs, doctors, non-profits, etc. -- have a checklist they follow when purchasing a product or service? So here's a proposed checklist which needs revision, I'm sure. Input is most welcome!
You're considering buying tech -- first do an assessment. The first part of this checklist should clarify why, for whom, and what changes are implied by introducing technology.
- Clearly define the problem's true nature. At the problem end of the spectrum, some take on a new degree of urgency for professional or family caregivers following a discharge from a rehab or when an individual has fallen repeatedly. But what may appear as a risk of falling is really a problem with medication non-compliance and low blood pressure. And on the opportunity end, perhaps a non-profit senior center wants to enhance the quality of life of center visitors, but could also help fix a budget shortfall.
- Clarify the broader context around the solution. Organizations may want to implement a tool connecting caregiving aides to management to verify start and end times of visits, for example. While that problem may be well-defined, is there an opportunity to link in family members and provide them a status about- or a communication from the care recipient? Would that be a differentiator and even an upsell opportunity?
- Document and gain advance agreement on new processes. Bought-and-not deployed is a characteristic of purchases since the dawn of technology optimism (defined as 'a solution exists, we need that, let's buy it!'). The biggest barrier is managing behavioral change to incorporate new tech into a day-to-day process. A rule of thumb -- expect 5 times the cost to fully deploy across a multiple person organization. If you're a family caregiver, of course, the only behaviors you need to change are those of siblings and care recipient. But if you attached a cost to that effort, no doubt it would be 5 times the cost of any tech you purchased. Just one scenario, who sets up the new solution, who is notified when there's a problem, what if they are not available, then who will be notified? If notified, what happens? Whose responsibility is it to do any of this?
Now you are scanning the market for alternatives. So the prerequesites for considering technology are all met and you or assigned organizational staff are looking out in the marketplace. What are your criteria for including an alternative in your search?
- What solutions exist to solve the problem or seize the opportunity? Trade shows and consumer events, advertising, and web searches may turn up a number of choices in a particular domain. Ideally, there are multiple choices because vendors recognize a viable market they want to enter. But is the price (if it is visible) a reasonable fit with budget and expectation? How do you set an expectation of cost in an emerging market? (Answer, with extreme difficulty). Does the cost match the scope of the problem (think smoke alarm, for example) or opportunity? Does the required infrastructure match the existing environment (wireless network, broadband, landline phone, computer operating system, etc.)?
- Is the manufacturer or solution provider reputable and competent? This is particularly vexing in a lengthy referral chain -- Organization A uses Organization B to source technologies, who in turn buys from Distributor C, who acquires technology from Manufacturer D. Or a family caregiver receives a recommendation from Doctor E about a product. In this multi-tiered world with no likely 'Consumer Reports' to verify quality, you're left with indicators -- consider robustness and recency of web content, the prior track record of executives, chats with call centers, proven product pilots, quantification of sales success, and best of all, verifiable references.
- Is the customer service for the solution or product adequate? For those who have tried to get support for 'free' e-mail or mobile tools, it may be exclusively found in online support forums -- no one to call, no one else to ask. But for purchased technologies or services, there should always be staff, integrators, customer service personnel, or someone at the other end of e-mail or phone support to help buyers or first-time users.
- What are the payment options? I always have a sinking feeling when I hear about solutions that cost multiple thousands of dollars per unit, where products are intended to help frail seniors who may be the neediest because of their chronic disease or frailty. Can these technologies be leased directly or through an intermediary for a defined and renewable term? Tried out with option to buy? Re-used for others than the initial recipients? Recycled as with cell phones? Terminated as a subscription service? Is the process for this well-documented or explained?
The product or solution has arrived or the subscription has begun. Meeting expectations is the next phase of the checklist, regardless of whether it is a business relationship, the product is delivered, or individuals are signing up for a new subscription to X or Y service.
- Test to make sure that it works as described. Aquiring a technology solution or service should not be an unwelcome surprise, whether it is the packaging, the ease of startup and implementation, or the user experience. The good news is that initial research and process documentation identified who to call when a product or service doesn't match expectation.
- Verify ongoing support processes or individuals. For any uncertainties or ambiguities, invoke the support processes identified in the solution research phase and verify that someone (or something) can help smooth out any problems or misunderstandings. This is even more critical when an organization is now in the business of reselling tech products to family members or seniors.
- Communicate your experience to others. You've done the research for yourself or on behalf of an organization, you've acquired solutions and you're very happy (or not). Make sure that you communicate your experience back out and up to the sources that referred you -- it's absolutely vital as a resource to help others make similar selections.