With the rise of workplace platforms like Vancouver-based Slack—and the eagerness of tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook to take over the space—it’s clear that companies are relying on technology to help bridge the communication gap between departments. But the bigger and older the organization, the more that this can be a challenge.
Alexandre Leclerc and Antoine Bisson know this well; Leclerc, whose family has been working in the manufacturing business for over 110 years, grew up around factories and got to know the problems plaguing the business, including siloed departments and lack of training processes. This was the impetus for Leclerc and Bisson, two childhood friends, to found Quebec City-based Poka.
“We were lucky in the sense that most startups have an idea, then they test it out in the real world. In our case, we had a prime customer with a lot of factories to test on. And we could really improve on the concept itself,” Bisson said.
“The baby boomers are retiring soon, so all that knowledge that people have had over the years will leave with them.”
Poka’s platform has two main offerings. The first is communication between different departments, which allows employees to better understand what’s going on in teams they’re not part of, and share any potential problems on the front line. Bisson describes it like an internal Facebook, as anyone — from the employee to the executive level — can share corporate news and updates, and like and comment on posts.
“The problem is that you have both physical and mental separation between office departments and production departments. People aren’t understanding the reality of making any kind of product on the floor, and people on the floor won’t understand the reality of salespeople,” said Bisson. “[With Poka], people are more engaged within the company and have a better representation of what people do. And as an employee, you’re a salesperson; you represent the company even outside. So now, people are more aware of what the business is.”
At the same time, the company also records factory procedures and processes on video to be accessed through the Poka platform; this way, incoming employees can be trained through web, mobile, or tablet. “Everything is paper-based in the manufacturing world, and people are trained in paper—that is if they have documentation to train people,” said Bisson. “The baby boomers are retiring soon, so all that knowledge that people have had over the years will leave with them. The cost of bad production because of messy training is tremendous in the manufacturing world. You can even cause death if proper health and safety procedure is not done right.”
To date, Poka has raised $6.5 million from investors like iNovia Capital, and established an office in Montreal. The company isn’t deterred by the everyday challenge of educating factories on the value and security of cloud software.
“We see a lot more companies opening production lines and bringing factories back to North America, contrary to five to 10 years ago when people would go worldwide,” said Bisson. “Manufacturing companies now have more equipment, but they’re more complex to operate as well. So with our training solution that focuses on the manufacturing world, we help people with such complex machinery that costs millions, and make it easy to understand.”
Photo credit Photo Le Soleil, Erick Labbé