As Miovision Technologies Inc. works on its solutions to deal with transportation gridlock, it is finding that its work is being noticed.
"These are still early days for us, but we are seeing lots of opportunities throughout Canada and the United States. And we believe that there are similar opportunities in Europe, the Middle East and Australia," says Tony Brijpaul, chief operating officer of the Kitchener, Ont.-based company and one of its three co-founders.
Managing traffic is a key challenge for the increasingly urbanizing areas of the world. And Miovision, with its focus on automated traffic-data gathering, can help planners design their traffic systems.
"For us, the immediate opportunity is in modernizing outdated infrastructure by connecting traffic intersections to the cloud."
Miovision was always intended as an export-focused business, Mr. Brijpaul explained.
It was founded in 2005, conceived by Mr. Brijpaul and co-founders Kurtis McBride and Kevin Madill after Mr. McBride spent summers as a University of Waterloo student counting cars at intersections.
The founders thought that was a crude way to gather data for smart cities of the future – manual, time-consuming and not always particularly accurate. Inaccuracy could have implications for city planners trying to design new roads to cope with increasing gridlock in their communities.
With about 600 customers in about 50 countries and a sales satellite office in Cologne, Germany, Miovision is focused intensely on exporting its technology, which gathers traffic data using sensors and exports it to computer clouds.
Miovision manufactures and exports hardware and software based on two products, Scout and Spectrum.
Scout is an all-weather recording device that shoots MP4 videos of traffic at intersections, which can either be counted by traffic managers from afar or fed into larger databases to analyze traffic patterns.
Spectrum, a communications interface that looks like a router, works with GPS systems to let traffic managers look, in real-time, at what is happening at different intersections.
It can tell them if there is excessive congestion, see whether the lights are timed properly or determine if a signal is burnt out or broken.
It's exciting but still challenging to sell a promising Canadian technology in export markets, Mr. Brijpaul says. It requires new thinking from both the seller and the buyer.
"Innovation, by its very nature, can be challenging to sell because it requires a disruption of the old way of doing things. When you take that innovation globally, you need local offices and people to push through customer objections," he says.
That takes money. "Extra resources are required to run global offices, but the opportunity is that you can close [deals with] foreign customers and stave off competitors," Mr. Brijpaul adds.
It's also important to keep open two-way communication with customers and prospects.
"You have the ability as an organization to adopt the best customer ideas in your product regardless of where those customers are located geographically," Mr. Brijpaul explains.
"For example, we found that our German customers were using a traffic report that was better at visualizing traffic data than the reports in North America, so we made the German report standard across all geographies."
Miovision's technology can help planners design their traffic systems and become quicker to address those frustrating problems where one traffic light seems to take forever while another doesn't let more than one or two cars make a left turn.
"We're a classic Internet of Things company, where there are devices in the field, cloud-based software and analytics," Mr. Brijpaul says.
"The reason traffic keeps getting worse is that cities and engineering firms lack good data and they lack the communications to do the analytics and manage the data to change the traffic network. We glue all this together through software and analytics."
While transportation gridlock is a huge problem in Canadian regions such as southern Ontario and British Columbia's Lower Mainland, Miovision depends for its growth on U.S. and overseas exports and considers itself primarily an export firm, Mr. Brijpaul says.
The company's work force of about 80 people is mostly based in Kitchener, and its office in Germany has five people, who focus on foreign sales. It's important to have those people on the ground overseas, Mr. Brijpaul says.
"When going to market globally, there are challenges understanding how infrastructure dollars are spent and implementing different technology standards. From a product perspective, you can't support all the technology standards immediately so you have to prioritize," he says.
"You want to choose the standards that give you the biggest bang for the buck."
Language can be a challenge but it can be overcome.
"We learned that it is best to sell along language or cultural lines. Germans like to buy from Germans or other German speakers. The French like to buy from other French speakers. Potential customers want to know that even though you are a North American or Canadian company, you are committed to their market over the long term," Mr. Brijpaul says.
"We have found that we can sell direct from Canada to Australia, the United Kingdom and the Middle East. Although language and cultural differences can be challenging, the use of English in the business world is common."
The company is pleased with its growth in Europe, where it says revenue went up 100 per cent in the first half of last year. The important thing is to be where you want to export to, Mr. Brijpaul says.
"We looked at a distribution model for selling our products and services. We always had challenges since we started, so we said, we just need to go there, set up an office and start selling into these markets."