Internet for the orthodontist? Yes, thanks!


Recently, I read two editorials by Mr. Pozzi, the president of Leone S.p.A, published in “Bollettino di informazioni ortodontiche” 63 and 65. These pieces involved a critique of the internet and e-commerce. As you can imagine, I have the totally opposite opinion and now I will try to explain why without controversy and in the spirit of friendship.

In 1995 Nicholas Negroponte, one of the founders of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), in “Being Digital” was questioning why he found bottles of Evian on the tables in all his conferences in California. Ignoring the economical considerations, he pointed out the absurdity of traveling half the world for transporting water. In fact, if we were to use the barter system, what would we exchange the bottle of water with? With the gasoline for the truck, airplane or the ship which transports the water? Or the salaries of all the employees working in the production, marketing and distribution of this product? In short, the real ratio of resources used to the benefit is highly imbalanced for the community and is only possible by complex economical alchemy.

Italy is ranked 7th in the world for paper consumption. Every year 10 million tons of paper is used and yet recycling started only a few years ago. Few people recycle and waste is enormous. I am not a fanatical ecologist but it drives me crazy to find my mailbox full of advertisements, because I have to waste time in emptying it, thereby throwing away and accumulating mountains of paper for disposal. Gibran Kahlil Gibran, the great Lebanese poet wrote: “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky. We fell them down and turn them into paper that we may record our emptiness.” It is time to change, to evolve, and to pass from the atom to the bit.

How much gasoline and other non-renewable resources can be saved by simply making use of technology? And returning to the “microcosmos of orthodontics”, how much time can be saved by using the Internet in our specialty? Would it not be possible to order our products directly on-line rather than dealing with in-office visits from sales representatives who are always visiting with new products? No, this is not fiction. In the U.S. there are already three big orthodontic companies that do e-commerce.

Behind a simple click there lies countless hours of work by engineers, mathematicians, programmers, and the persons that really use the Internet – the idea of which was formed in 1964 – since its birth. Hence, it would be ungrateful to belittle the “click”.

Let us look at the economical aspect. The Internet is a revolution, we have no doubt about that. As in every respectable revolution there are the paladins of the old and those of the new economy. The first ones, like Michael Bloomberg (who has moreover been one of the firsts to bring his television channel to the Internet) tend to mock e-commerce comparing it with traditional commerce without understanding that the two are completely different. There exist sectors that are suitable for electronic commerce, others that are only partially suitable and yet others that are not suitable at all. To compare Wal-Mart’s sales volume (a large chain of department stores) with the volume of e-commerce estimated for the next 5 years is as absurd as it would be to compare the revenue of Amazon (1640 millions of dollars in 1999), the biggest bookshop in the world that only operates online, with the stationer’s shop “Zia Assunta” in Canicattì (supposing that it exists) to demonstrate that electronic commerce brings in the most.

We should not be influenced by the state of the stock exchange. We all know that there is a lot of speculation, both negative and positive, about the new technology stocks. What sells in the stock market is the hope for future profits. However, with such over-estimated prices the stock prices can plummet badly. Instead, we should wonder why in every country the so-called “new” exchange markets are opened for technology stocks with little floating. But in light of such high volatility, how many of these newly traded Internet firms will ever show profit? If you are reading this text, you are one of the 9 million Italians that are navigating through the net. But in the year 2005 your computer will be one of the 40 million computers accessing the Internet according to data given at SMAU 2000.

The security in the net: is it dangerous to give your credit card number on the net? No, it is not, if you know how to use your computer. It is very strange to note how the Internet is presented in Italy as a dangerous place full of pedophiles or adolescents searching for pornographic sites, where the pleasure of, or the curiosity for unusual things is the only reason for access.

“The number of the credit card” ….seems to be the secret of the Holy Grail, which, by merely thinking about it next to the computer, can be sucked in by the net, and with it all your money in the bank. Have you ever asked yourself how many people have access to this number all those times you use the card in a store? The cashier, the waiter, the receptionist and many other people have seen it and what happened? Nothing. Yes, sometimes it is possible to see some errors: it happened twice to me (but the Internet was not the place where the error originated). Sending a letter to customer service was enough to resolve the problem. E-commerce and on-line credit card use don’t necessarily go hand in hand. I can order the products at my Italian supplier, which I do by telephone, e-mail, web site or fax, and I can always pay with bank drafts, cheque, or cash, just like I used to before. What I end up saving is time spent with sales representatives during office hours. What is more precious than our time?

As for replying to the above editorials, it is necessary to clarify that the suppliers of the orthodontic products are not responsible for teaching orthodontists. This is the duty of primarily the universities and secondarily the professional associations. However, the orthodontic suppliers are responsible for creating new reliable and safe products that meet the demands of the orthodontic professional. This is sometimes more important than satisfying the operational needs.

How will this be achieved in the future? How will millions of professionals know with just a “click” in a few seconds what products are available and how these will benefit them? How will they contact the supplier directly to acquire more information at not cost? The Internet exactly!

There are many managers who feel responsible towards their employees who in turn have responsibilities towards their dependents. They find themselves bound by a form of traditional commerce for satisfying a network of antique trade, thereby limiting their ability to test new innovations, which are inevitable. Even if I appreciate the social side of the problem these people are facing, it is necessary to remember that also in the business affairs the selection of the species of Darwin will run its course and save the most efficient and not the most nostalgic ones. One must be prepared for the changes in technology by investing time and energy in the optimization of trade systems. By introducing one’s staff to information technology allows planning for the future which includes the highest possible developments, unification of Europe, and to globalization.

Historically, every new means of communication has been opposed to and fought against by the traditionalists and the fear of the “new” which relentlessly advanced. However, just as the fax machine has reduced air travel for signing contracts, a bright monitor will let two people many miles away from each other meet face to face on the Internet and order a box of brackets …. for the time being it is not possible to shake hands, but you will see … it will come 😉