The life of an entrepreneur is never easy. You can set out on a path where you think you have all the expertise, only to run into major challenges.
Such was the case with the development of SmartChart™, Cumulus’ new dental charting system. The idea was to speed up the time it takes dentists and hygienists to conduct and chart dental and periodontal exams – giving them back the time they need to focus on patient care. I set out with a small team of experts to develop a system that would be voice-activated, allowing clinicians to just voice the conditions, which would then automatically appear on a customized, 3D odontogram.
In theory, that sounded straight-forward. What I had not factored in was the sheer number and combinations of conditions, treatments and materials we would have to represent visually on the 3D chart, and the mega database and computer memory required to accomplish that.
This will give you a sense of the complexity. Take the process of filling one molar . There are 54 ways that molar can be filled, with five different kinds of filling materials. That’s just one tooth and one treatment. For the entire mouth of 32 teeth and numerous other treatments such as crowns, bridges and root canals – each of which has various materials to choose from — we ended up with the possible combinations being 10 to the 69th power per tooth!! For those of you who are not mathematicians, let’s just say the overall number had something like 69 zeroes in it. In terms of computing power, it would take about one megabyte to create one 3D design. So if I hired everybody on the planet, seven billion people, and I gave each a minute to create a different design and put it in the database, it would take 10 with an additional 51 zeros in years to accomplish. So we are short a few gazillion years to accomplish that.
My team and I soon realized we weren’t the only ones to have come up against this problem. Several global dental companies told me they had tried to develop a 3D odontogram but gave up when they ran into this complex issue.
I take great pride in telling you that the Cumulus team did not give up. We put our creative hats on – and solved it. The way we designed SmartChart™ means the 3D odontogram is able to show any one of those exponential combinations and permutations of conditions and treatments, on any tooth, in any material. Of course, we immediately filed a patent to protect our technology worldwide.
The big lesson in this experience for me as an entrepreneur is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Given that I had practised dentistry for 28 years, I saw a need for a better, faster charting system and thought the solution would be easy. I learned that there are surprises around every corner. And that you have to persevere and never give up. You have to turn things over and inside out and look at them from a different perspective. And even more importantly, be willing to bring people in with completely different skill sets and backgrounds who just might see things differently. The fact that this breakthrough was achieved right here in Ottawa is something all Canadians can be proud of.