Software – what is a platform and why does it matter?

Photo - Amazon Alexa

Software – what is a platform and why does it matter?

It’s why you’ve bought Pearl

The word ‘platform’ has become a pivotal part of the technology nerd’s vocabulary. But what does it mean?

Lets first start with a simple analogy about a familiar little device –  Amazon Alexa.

Alexa is one of the most popular ‘virtual assistants’ on the market. It has many features allowing you to make [‘phone] calls, play music, set reminders, find the latest news and weather, do quizzes, and much more. Alexa also allows you to control ‘smart devices’ around your home, meaning you can turn your lights on and off, answer your door, change your thermostat and other appliances and much many more. All with just the power of speech. Alexa interprets your spoken commands and initiates the appropriate action by another system.

Photo - Amazon Alexa
Amazon Alexa - one of the most popular 'Personal Assistants' - is a familiar example of a 'platform'.

And THAT is what makes it a platform. It doesn’t just do stuff itself, it also tells other things to do stuff, how to do it, and then collects information about what the other things are doing.

Excepting that it’s less likely to be a great entertainment source, that’s what a practice management system like Pearl does: it provides information to other systems, and gathers information from them that can be applied to (targetted on) the patient record. Simple.

Why does this matter?

Platforms have always been part of computing. In the earliest days, computers had their own languages, and every program was written specifically for that computer. ‘High-Level Languages’ such as COBOL and Fortran started to appear in the 1950s and 1960s. These allowed a software application to be developed that could be used on many computers from different manufacturers. But the platforms were still the computers themselves. The applications had to be ‘compiled’ so that the specific model of computer (sometimes the individual computer) could interpret the instructions.

Even the introduction of computers such as IBM’s System 34, System 36 and System 38 ranges – introduced in the late 1970s – couldn’t run each other’s applications. But at least programs written for a System 36 would run on any computer within the System 36 range. The same was true for other manufacturers such as DEC and PR1ME as they created operating systems that were common across their product ranges. The platform, therefore, became the operating system.

The operating system as a platform became a bigger idea in the 1980s with the popularisation of the UNIX, MS-DOS and Windows operating systems. These finally gave independence from computer hardware manufacturers. Any software application (in theory at least) written for UNIX would run on any UNIX machine. And the same for MS-DOS and later Windows.

Photo - IBM System 36
The IBM System-36 was an early 'scalable' computing platform

As Windows became more powerful and more widely adopted, and as PC-type computers developed, Windows became the dominant ‘platform’. Until recently, and the rise of ‘Cloud Computing’.

Pearl is the platform

Cloud computing architectures don’t really care about such mundanities as hardware and operating systems. If you pick apart modern computer systems built in this way you’ll probably find applications built 25+ years ago in COBOL (don’t change it if it works), BASIC running on Windows, and modern HTML, JAVA, PHP and C++ on all sorts of devices. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that something is organising and managing your data. And in a Dental Practice that something should be your Practice Management System or PMS.

A PMS built on a cloud-based architecture, such as Pearl Dental Software, is designed around managing patient records. It links the to patient details, to diaries, to UDA reporting. If knows which radiographs belong to which patient. It can tell other systems that you need to refer your patient to a secondary care specialist and send the appropriate information.

Photo - Unique Device Identifier
Unique Device Identifier - coming to an instrument near you ... SOON

As more and more of the dental practice is digitised, this ‘platform’ idea will be even more important. The introduction next year of UDI (Unique Device Identification) is a precursor of linking the use of individual devices to individual patient treatments (likely to start in secondary services on the next couple of years). Stock control, purchasing systems and scanners to record instruments will need to link data to the patient record.

So our question to you is simple. Is your platform ready for the digital dentistry challenges of the next decade? Do you have the technology to cope with these developments? Or will you be left struggling with disparate systems and piles of paper records?

Find out more

If you would like to know more about PMS platforms for digital dentistry, or to book a demo of Pearl Dental Software, please contact us by emailing or calling 0116 275 9995


Ben Baker