Most businesses expend a lot of effort tracking where their money is going, but Ottawa software enterprise is focused on helping them better understand how they spend a resource that’s perhaps even more precious: time.
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Most businesses expend a lot of effort tracking where their money is going, but an Ottawa tech enterprise is focused on helping them better understand how they spend a resource that’s perhaps even more precious: time. Raven.ai specializes in a subscription-based platform that mines data from various sources – including equipment, management software tools and workers themselves – to give manufacturers a detailed, down-to-the-second breakdown of what employees, and the machines they use, are doing on the shop floor, when and for how long. Co-founder and chief executive Martin Cloake says Raven’s artificial intelligence software keeps “a general ledger of time” so customers can figure out the precise source of inefficiencies in the production process. The platform constantly monitors activity on the factory floor and pinpoints ways to eliminate bottlenecks and wasteful down time. Cloake says many companies know when they’re not getting the most out of their resources, but don’t know why because there are “holes” in the available data. He likens it to trying to audit your monthly spending by reading a credit card statement full of question marks. Raven’s job is filling in those blanks. “Manufacturers are only beginning to recognize how important data quality is and how important it is to understand where you’re spending your time,” says Cloake, a mechanical engineer who worked in manufacturing early in his career. Already growing at a steady clip before the pandemic, Raven has hit another level in the past three years. Since 2020, the Kitchissippi-based firm’s revenues have increased fivefold and its headcount has tripled to 60. Raven’s customers now include global brands such as Coca-Cola, Michelin and Walmart. Still, Cloake sees plenty of room for growth. The McGill University grad says many manufacturers continue to rely on old-school techniques to determine whether resources are being used effectively, such as managers pacing the shop floor or entering data into clunky spreadsheets – processes that can take weeks or longer to generate any meaningful insights. But as more and more consumers demand next-day delivery of customized products, those timelines no longer cut it, Cloake says. Shifting consumer preferences, along with labour shortages and supply chain disruptions triggered by the pandemic, have only ratcheted up the pressure on manufacturers to become as efficient as possible, he explains. “All of these methods that relied on instinct, ‘management by walking around’, engineers and managers playing with Excel to figure out what’s happening, aren’t working as well,” Cloake says. “For the last 20 years, manufacturers have struggled to drive improvement at their plants, and it’s getting harder and harder.” Cloake cites one client that discovered after using Raven’s software that broken machines were sometimes sitting idle for hours while workers waited for crews to repair them. The company realized significant cost savings after tightening up its maintenance timelines – “a problem that was relatively mundane but had huge return,” he says. Raven currently has fewer than 100 customers, but that number is poised to grow. Last week, the firm announced it raised US$12.5 million in funding from a group of investors that included foreign VCs as well as Export Development Canada, Ottawa-based Celtic House Venture Partners and prominent local angel investors such as Shopify’s Tobi Lütke and former Cognos CEO Rob Ashe. The firm plans to use the fresh capital to expand into new markets and keep building out its tech stack. Cloake says that as manufacturers increasingly adopt technologies such as analytics software and robotic equipment, Raven’s products will become even more of a must-have. “It’s not going to be the best algorithms that win, it’s going to be who has the best data,” he says. “You can have the best algorithm, but if your data is not good enough to extract (useful) insights, you’re going to be pointed in the wrong direction.” The company is also branching out into new verticals. It worked with a hospital in Nova Scotia earlier in the pandemic and is garnering interest from players in the logistics space that are eager to get merchandise into customers’ hands faster. “We’re excited about what we’re doing and how it’s applicable beyond manufacturing,” Cloake says. “The need to improve efficiency is not going anywhere. If anything, it’s increasing.”