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Rajesh Lalla DDS, PhD; Professor of Oral Medicine
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has plunged almost all sectors of the global economy into crisis, and dentistry is no exception. How has Amann Girrbach fared over the past few months?
Reim: The crisis has not left us unaffected. Interestingly, March of this year was the month with the highest turnover in our company’s history to date. However, in the last week of March, we experienced our biggest slump in incoming orders—a decline of 70% to 75%. At that point, the scale of the crisis and the fact that it could result in a turning point in the industry became clear to us. We needed to act, and so we introduced a number of measures—such as pushing our employees to work from home and initiating a range of activities regarding digital collaboration. In addition, we put our strategic focus on digital transformation of most aspects of doing business and, for example, introduced the first virtual trade fair stand in our industry with great success.
What do you think the medium- and long-term effects of the crisis will be?
Reim: The materials business has proved to be relatively stable in the pandemic. However, capital goods have been particularly affected, owing to laboratories being hesitant to make major investment decisions during the crisis. We are noticing a slow recovery concerning capital goods—especially in the German market—and are closely monitoring developments worldwide.
We see a significant risk for the future in those countries, however, where patients have to make high out-of-pocket payments for restorations, such as the US. Here, it remains unclear as to how much patients will be willing or able to pay for elective restorations, for example, and this will likely affect us negatively for the coming two to three years.
But there are also positive effects from this crisis. We believe that the market penetration of digital workflow processes is now being accelerated. This will tend to support a company like ours and accelerate growth. We are focusing strongly on this aspect through our innovation pipeline and have already invested heavily in two areas: research and development and digital transformation.
“This wider structural change was already underway before the crisis—the pandemic has simply accelerated its development and further paved the way for digital transformation”
―Dr Wolfgang Reim, CEO of Amann Girrbach
Amann Girrbach had already taken up the cause of digital transformation before the coronavirus outbreak. What has changed with regard to the company’s strategy, and what goals are you now working towards?
Reim: We have started a relatively drastic transformation in the last six months. In our opinion, this wider structural change was already underway before the crisis—the pandemic has simply accelerated its development and further paved the way for digital transformation. We want to support our customers in this transformation.
We have been focused on the digitalisation of dental workflows since the early stages. In recent months, we have further refined this strategy, fully gearing our internal structures and product development towards digital transformation. During the crisis, we have recruited experts and begun new collaborations that will play a major role in the transformation of how we serve our customers. Thanks to, among others, the investment in Amann Girrbach by the Berlin-based investor group Project A and our partnership with the e-commerce specialist Spryker, we have a number of highly professional partners at our side. Together with Amann Girrbach, their know-how and network of software experts are now paving the way for a new digital ecosystem—AG.Live—which aims to make our interaction with laboratories and dental practices even more efficient and to generate a superior customer experience.
Dental technologies are constantly being developed to simplify workflows and digitise an industry that used to exist on a purely analogue level. How does Amann Girrbach take this development into account?
Reim: The digitalisation of dental technology is an unstoppable development that is not purely industry-driven, but also relates to technological progress in itself. All developments indicate that the future will bring fewer haptic workflows. Because of this, we have long aligned our product development and internal processes with digital outcomes.
In terms of our core business, this means that we remain a hardware manufacturer and developer. However, we believe that this alone is no longer enough for the future; we must also digitise our interaction with customers and help them to work more efficiently in their process environments. With AG.Live, we are developing a virtual platform that makes it easy for our customers to progress in digitalisation by providing them with wide-ranging transparency, more efficient processes and greater customer service.
The digital revolution in dentistry will accelerate, and we aim to be front runners.
Amann: The transformation of Amann Girrbach is a huge commitment. We take the philosophy of digital change very seriously, and we are actually making fundamental changes to the company. We are very resolute in taking this step—especially now—and the changes that are being made are not partial or superficial, but holistic, in nature.
On that note, it must be said that the entire production process in the laboratory of today is already digital, but that laboratories stand alone in this respect. Patient management, as well as the communicative and interdisciplinary steps in between, is for the most part still handled as it was in the 1960s. The decisive second half of digitisation is still missing, so to speak. It will take several more years before the next steps in this process are taken, but when they are, we will remain at the forefront by supporting our customers on their way through digital transformation with definitive and practical solutions.
What advantages does AG.Live offer to your customers?
Amann: Strategically, AG.Live is one of the biggest projects that we have ever undertaken. We are striving to solve the conflicting priorities of interdisciplinary end-to-end communication. In addition, we are moving into the areas of e-commerce, customer relationship management, remote support and digital training. We don’t want to create conventional isolated solutions that are then laboriously linked. Instead, we are focused on creating an integrated system that is clear and easy to use for the customer and which brings real added value.
Reim: Ultimately, the focus of the entire development is on improving the patient’s restoration and the efficiency of the laboratory. AG.Live will enable us to provide consulting services for materials and procedures as well as targeted offers based on user profiles. Perhaps we will be able to tackle these goals as early as 2022.
“From our point of view, under the current circumstances, it is not possible to ensure safe and meaningful participation in IDS for the exhibitor”
―Patrick Amann, head of marketing at Amann Girrbach
What are your plans for the upcoming IDS, which is scheduled to take place in Cologne in Germany in March 2021?
Reim: We have been following the development of the pandemic and IDS closely, and we do not believe that large trade fairs will be possible in the near future. IDS thrives on full stands and personal interactions centred on the products on display at the booth; this is not conceivable under the current circumstances. On top of this, international travel will continue to be limited.
Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that our participation in the forthcoming IDS should be cancelled. We nevertheless remain open to the digital offerings of IDS, as our product development pipeline on the hardware and consumables side is full, and the products are scheduled to be presented in spring. Either there will be a suitable digital platform for this with IDS, or we will use our own digital platform. We can well imagine presenting the products again in the context of a virtual trade fair stand as we did at the beginning of the pandemic, in order to try to simulate the feel of a fair as far as possible.
Amann: From our point of view, under the current circumstances, it is not possible to ensure safe and meaningful participation in IDS for the exhibitor, nor would our participation be responsible with respect to our customers and employees, as the risk of an infection with SARS-CoV-2 is too high.
In addition to new products, we will be breaking new ground next year with non-haptic products as well as digital themes in order to tap into new target groups, so IDS will still be an important event for us. However, I am doubtful that the event organisers can roll out a technically flawless platform offering on such a broad basis for the entire industry. Participation at IDS must also be worthwhile from a financial perspective, and we currently do not see the considerable investment that we make in the fair every two years as being justified in 2021.
Even if not a replacement of IDS, but an augmentation, we envisage organising smaller local events with our partners in order to give customers the opportunity to see the innovations on-site and not only on a virtual basis.
Editorial note: This interview was published in digital—international magazine of digital denistry Vol. 1, Issue 3/20.