Six cutting-edge technology companies are ready to dazzle the marketplace this fall
By Geoffrey Rowan
For a handful of Canadian technology companies, the fall of '98 is show time - the breakthrough season. Fuelled by optimism, desire and promising products, some are poised to launch themselves at the U.S. market and take a shot at the big time. Others will make a first foray into North American capital markets, looking for the cash that might carry them to the next level.
Some will do both. Others will simply do what hot technology companies have been doing for decades. They'll grow at an outlandish rate until they either flame out or find stability.
The dominant theme in the sector continues to be 'the network' and every variation on it. The world has irrevocably bought the notion of computer networks. Finding different and better ways to connect intelligent machines, to shape and present the information that flows between them and to put it to productive use within the context of a business has become the industry's passion.
And who better to exploit that passion than the nationals of a country with a disproportionate expertise in communications and in writing software.
The attention probably has helped NCompass, though the novelty of a female executive was not enough to attract more than $10 million (U.S.) in investment from the likes of Intel Corp., Electronic Arts, the Royal Bank, BC Tel and others. BC Tel is on that list in part because it is impressed with Sinclair - impressed enough to elect her to its board of directors last spring. But mostly, it's there because it sees a big future for NCompass's latest product, Resolution. The telephone company was an early adopter, and when the product becomes generally available this fall, BC Tel will sell it to its small- and medium-size business customers. As NCompass rolls out Resolution, it will be accompanied by a full-blown marketing campaign targeted at the United States. Along with it will come an initial public offering (IPO), "if we aren't acquired," says Sinclair.
Resolution is the product of 2 1/2 years of research and development. It is what NCompass calls a Web-publishing and information-management tool. What that means is that it enables organizations to get information up on a Web site quickly and comparatively painlessly, and it lets the organization control who has access to what information on the Web site. The result is that companies can cut Web-site development costs by up to 70% while pumping their most up-to-date material onto their site to aid in collaborative work, internal and external communications and customer service. And the company can tailor who gets what. Even a small company can spend tens of thousands of dollars on internal and external Web sites. Big companies can spend millions.
That puts NCompass into two large and largely untapped markets, says BC Tel's Jim Grey, vice-president and general manager of advanced communications. It can help big companies manage their vast Intranets (internal networks), and it can help smaller companies afford to create one. When the Internet became part of the corporate lexicon, information managers realized it cost a lot less to store corporate data on server computers and give widespread access to it within the organization through Intranets.
Many big companies have put all their training manuals and procedures, all their internal communications and copious data-base material on their internal Web sites.
Grey says BC Tel invested in NCompass because the Simon Fraser University spin-off company has good people who have covered both sides of a major network issue: how to get material onto a Web site quickly and cost-effectively, and how to control who gets access to what information.
"I think they have a very good run at [establishing the market]," says Grey. "They recognized the opportunity early in the game." Publishing information on a Web site is still too complicated, says Sinclair, but products like Resolution are making it easier. "A year from now, there will be less of a distinction made by companies between public and private networks," she says. "Companies will look for an open and seamless way to get that information to employees, customers, partners and suppliers."
If she's right, and NCompass can translate its lead in the marketplace into actual market share, then the company will be on its way. "We have hit all of our milestones, but they've been mainly internal milestones," says Sinclair. "Can we hit our external milestones, in revenue, customer service and satisfaction".