CENX taking on the world out of downtown digs

Jim Watson might not know everyone in the nation’s capital, but it often seems like it.

Yet even the mayor, who has crossed paths with thousands of Ottawans – including his fair share of business leaders – in a political career spanning a quarter-century, had to concede he’d never heard of one of the city’s fastest-growing software companies until he was recently invited to tour its facilities.

“Every day is a new day of discovery for me in terms of discovering these great success stories scattered throughout the city of Ottawa,” Mr. Watson said earlier this week after checking out CENX’s downtown R&D headquarters on Cooper Street.

Although the company might not have been on the mayor’s radar, CENX is quickly gaining a glowing reputation among its main clients, communications service providers. It operates in the fast-growing field of lifecycle service orchestration, helping mobile, wireline and cloud data service providers manage reams of big data to provide more reliable services more quickly to their customers.

It’s a lucrative niche, as CENX’s rise demonstrates. 

Just three years ago, the U.S.-based company employed only about 15 people in the capital. Today, that headcount is 183 and rising steadily, and the firm now occupies more than 16,000 square feet of space on two and a half floors at its Centretown office. 

Overall, CENX employs 230 people, with rest mostly working in sales and service in the United States, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Singapore. In 2015, CENX placed 18th on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 list of North American companies.

“You’re never sure when you start to enter a new market how quickly it will grow,” said chief financial officer Kim Butler, who also assumed the role of acting CEO when former chief executive Ed Ogonek retired in July. 

“We knew we were in the very early stage of a high-growth market. I think market acceptance is occurring at a bit faster pace than we thought, which is good.”

Ms. Butler says Ottawa, with its deep pool of data and IP networking talent, is an ideal spot for a company that specializes in big data analytics, workflow automation and cutting-edge visualization software technology.

“There’s a really super-strong core base of technology in the city,” she said. “I think having access to that, as well as the emerging technologies from some of the data analytics type of expertise is really the two things that are really important to us. That’s the talent we need.”

Most of CENX’s major customers are international players, including Hong Kong-based telecom provider PCCW Global, Ericsson of Sweden and CoreSite, which delivers high-performance data centre solutions in the United States.

Mr. Watson, who often heads up trade delegations that promote Ottawa to world markets such as India and China, said firms such as CENX are proof that local companies can compete with the best the world has to offer when it comes to producing leading-edge technology and selling it around the globe.

“I try to take what I’ve learned here or boast about some of the things I’ve learned here in speeches that I give to different places to attract business to come to Ottawa,” he said. 

“What we can do is offer a good quality of life, a good transit system, affordable housing. Then it really is up to the genius of the private sector to sort of take a company like this that started with 16 employees and now is almost 200.”

The mayor said local firms need to expand their horizons if they want to make their mark on the global stage.

“A company can’t survive just selling to people in Ottawa,” he said. “It’s got to go beyond our borders.”