For some companies, the global COVID-19 pandemic has been an obstacle. For others, it’s been an opportunity. So it is with MAJiK Systems of Kitchener, whose Visual Factory software allows its clients in Canada, the United States and Mexico to remotely oversee factory operations. Was there ever a better time to deploy remote shop-floor supervision?

MAJiK’s Visual Factory allows real-time analysis of equipment performance for improved optimization. Visual Factory is typically installed on computer systems on-site, but the four main team members at MAJiK envisioned a cloud solution, whereby data from multiple sites could be aggregated and analyzed, all remotely. Thus, a company with multiple industrial sites could gather and analyze data from all sites in one dashboard. But how to test whether Visual Factory could scale with the new cloud-hosting architecture?

The CENGN testbed resident at the Communitech Data Hub in Waterloo turned out to be just what the team needed to work their magic. CENGN – the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks – is a federally and provincially funded organization that brings together the advanced networking industry, academia and government, to support small/medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Canada’s information communications technology (ICT) sector. The multimillion-dollar CENGN program operates four data centres in Kanata, Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo, making experienced personnel and advanced equipment available to SMEs that have a hardware or software solution they are ready to commercialize. CENGN also trains professionals and students through its CENGN Academy.

MAJiK CEO Michael Tatham first heard about CENGN through Communitech and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE). He said that the CENGN fundamentals course “was a super helpful crash course to get the lay of the land and then get thrown right into a really powerful testing framework.”

MAJiK needed to see if Visual Factory was scalable to multiple factory locations. Tatham says that due to the pandemic, there has been demand from various industry sectors to keep plants running with minimal on-site staff, but their expert teams still need to access plant data to monitor production and respond to plant pain points.

MAJiK began its testing last winter. The system had to be rejigged and brought back to be tested again. “We had a pretty ongoing interaction for a handful of months there.”
The CENGN opportunity was “. . . perfect timing for what we were doing: trying to design, build and deploy this solution in a pretty compressed timeline. This new cloud deployment strategy let us get up and running quicker and easier and across more sites at once, and made it more possible to do this remotely as well, which is very important in these times.”

For Lisa Klimstra, Business Engineering Manager for CENGN, MAJiK is a good fit with CENGN.
“They had developed a multi-tenant cloud offering and they wanted to validate that their cloud migration and platform’s functionality at scale would work with all the features while supporting multi tenants, and that was something that they were able to do on our infrastructure.”

From the testbed, MAJiK “can determine what type of resources would be required once they hit scale, from which they can extrapolate what their cloud operating expenses would look like,” Klimstra said. Knowing how costs will accumulate with scaling is essential with SMEs, she says, “because it’s not linear what resources will be needed.”

Klimstra says CENGN will assign resources of staff and infrastructure as needed. “We definitely are not limited to Waterloo Region’s data centre for Waterloo Region SMEs. Whatever they are trying to determine, we are happy to help them really validate and verify.”

Although the normal test period is eight to 10 weeks for a minimal viable product, with 4 contiguous weeks on the actual testbed users can ask for extra time, and OCE matching funding of $50,000 is available for up to 52 weeks, to allow for pre-test workup and post-testing adjustments.

There are other CENGN supports: project planning, collaboration on the test planning, guidance and trouble-shooting, and writing the final report and project outcomes.
And there are the Communitech supports of coaching, mentorship, advocacy and connection to the local tech ecosystem.

“We at CENGN enjoy a synergistic relationship with the Communitech Data Hub,” Klimstra says. “Having a common goal of advancing companies and the ICT sector as a whole within Canada – our services and programs are the perfect pairing.”

For Mauro Rossi, Director of Advanced Technology Platforms for Communitech, MAJiK was a prime candidate for the scaling test. “When you start scaling up your company to be able to deal with on-premises equipment that you have to maintain and manage, it really puts a strain on a small startup team. Being able to go to a cloud platform is really required to allow them to scale up to larger customers.

“They had to change their architecture and this testbed allowed them to do that and . . . even pivot when they saw opportunities to achieve better performance. They could adjust their architecture to come out with a better product.”

And, with the CENGN experience under their belt, MAJiK can “go to their clients, and they can say, I can give you this and here is a third party that can validate that for you.”

Rossi says that the CENGN program runs up until March 2022 and companies at any stage of their life cycle should consider CENGN: “This program will help the later-stage companies with scale-testing their applications on the testbed. Earlier stage companies – this program will help them understand what it takes to create a scalable architecture through the various services such as mentorship/coaching and training.”

For MAJiK, this has been a big year. The company has evolved to a channel partner resale strategy, selling its software solution in partnership with other companies in other geographic locations: “Given the current circumstances, it’s getting pretty hard to get out there . . . so the ability to do all that remotely has been an absolute game-changer for us.”

What’s next for MAJiK? “Things are really playing out really quickly now,” says Tatham. “We have a couple of really big opportunities on the table and they are being completely driven by this technology that we built through this program. Whether it’s onboarding new customers rapidly, being able to support new partners on a North America to global scale, being able to maintain this large implementation base with a lean team – this has all been totally enabled by this cloud technology.

“Really in this day and age, if you’re going to have cutting-edge technology, it needs to have the capacity to get that much data in the cloud and enable anyone to access it anywhere.”