Yesterday evening part of one of my back teeth broke. No pain, thankfully, but a prompt visit to the dentist required.
Making an appointment this morning was not easy. "The system is down" I was told. Although a somewhat vague assertion, I think we could all guess that this meant that the computerised appointment and practice management software was unavailable to the staff due to a technical fault.
Eventually, I was told to turn up at 11:00 and wait until someone could fit me in.
I was quite content in the waiting room as I had the latest version of The Economist to read on my Android app. But I did notice the sighs of exasperation coming regularly from behind the counter. I also had to listen to the same explanations and apologies being endlessly repeated to other patients as they came in.
After a short while, I spotted a perspiring young man almost running up the stairs carrying a large black aluminium box. "That'll be the server" I mentally noted. Whatever, it was not back online by the time I had returned to the waiting room after my treatment. Exasperation was still the mood of the day.
To bring my little story to a conclusion, when I offered my debit card to pay, the girl told me that they were unable to process cards while "the computers were down". Since I had rushed into town and was not carrying cash, I left with the promise to pay next week instead (which of course I will).
Driving home, I pondered how things could have been so different for my dentists.
They clearly had an on-premise server, running installed software over an old-school, wired LAN. They also, clearly, had no on-site technical support staff (why would they?) and therefore needed to rely on a third party company to respond to their emergency and fix the problem for them.
If only they had been using a SaaS appointment and practice management service. No need for on-premise hardware, software or expertise then - instead experts and a controlled environment in the cloud. In this scenario "the system is down" becomes "we have lost our internet connection" - something altogether more manageable and easily fixed.
As for me not being able to pay by card, there are solutions out there that allow for the taking of credit card payments using the mobile phone network. And Barclays in the UK announced yesterday their new Pingit service, which should accelerate the use of mobile payments everywhere.
The technology exists to have prevented the pain and suffering in my dentist's office today, had they chosen to adopt it. Perhaps, following this experience they will.
For once though, it was nice not to be the one on the receiving end of the pain and suffering.