Ottawa’s IMI releases AI platform targeting worker fulfilment in warehouse industry

Rudi Asseer
Rudi Asseer, president and CEO of IMI. Photo by Caroline Phillips

An Ottawa-based company looking to ride the global wave of e-commerce demand is hoping its new artificial intelligence persona will help workers in the field feel a bit more fulfilled on the job.

IMI works with the likes of Amazon and Walmart to fit up warehouses across North America with technology such as robotics and conveyor belts to help automate the shipping and fulfilment process. The local company’s team of technicians is the force that transforms an empty warehouse into a well-oiled machine that can get a customer’s online purchase off the shelf and onto a truck in a manner of hours.

IMI claims to be the largest mechanical installation company in North America, averaging around 2,000 workers on its payroll annually. The company has operations in Grand Rapids, Mich., Nashville and California.

IMI’s headquarters are here in Ottawa, however, where president and CEO Rudi Asseer oversees a team of nearly 50. In addition to its corporate oversight role, Ottawa also serves as the development site of Rhonda.ai, the company’s new AI platform.

Asseer, a previous Forty Under 40 recipient, says Rhonda’s development began on a lark five years ago, before he had even taken over the top job at IMI. He was having a conversation with IMI founder Diana Cuttell about what the company’s priorities ought to be in the years ahead when he suggested making an investment in IMI’s digital transformation.

A few conversations later and Asseer had already set out to build Rhonda, an AI to facilitate more regular communication between management and field workers, with a small team at Invest Ottawa. That quickly ballooned to a workforce of 14 as Asseer began incubating the burgeoning startup inside IMI itself.

Shortly after Asseer joined the company in 2016, Rhonda quickly took off. The digital persona surveyed field workers on how their weeks were going, using a simple one-to-five rating scale. IMI was then able to capture valuable insights into worker satisfaction: triaging poor reviews, tracking morale over time and even evaluating the effects particular managers could have on their teams.

Asseer calls Rhonda a “constant pulse” on the health of IMI’s workforce. With this AI tool, he believes the 22-year-old company is in a stronger position than ever before.

“By creating this internal startup within the organization, what it actually did is it transformed the entire company,” Asseer says.

Now, IMI is looking to commercialize the Rhonda platform and sell it to its clients. Last November, the company hired Anastasia Valentine, a former Versature executive just coming off a stint with Startup Canada, to lead those efforts.

Asseer believes the Rhonda platform could play a pivotal role in helping companies in the fulfilment industry address what he sees as a growing talent gap. As employers in the trades fight to attract and retain workers, a tool that works to keep employees satisfied on the job could be critical to the long-term stability of the industry, Asseer says.