A Canadian company that makes video inspection tools for industrial manufacturers has turned to the cloud to expand its business opportunities
Librestream Technologies Inc. of Winnipeg now offers its Onsight collaboration system in two versions: the original on-premise model, for which companies pay a per-licence software fee; and Onsight Connect, a software-as-a-service model, which allows companies to install as many copies of the software as needed but pay a monthly fee only for the technicians who actually use it.
"It unlocks one of the barriers to adoption, which is restricted seat counts," said Kerry Thatcher, the company's CEO.
The Onsight system includes a specially-made handheld video/still camera roughly the size of a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) which can be used in factories to capture images of problem equipment. The images can be marked up on a screen on the back of the camera, then sent via the camera's Wi-Fi connection over broadband or a cellular link to a technician for advice on the other side of the world. They can talk to each other through a SIP connection for voice.
The unit includes compression software that uses as little as 64 Kbps bandwidth.The technician gets the video feed through software called Onsight Expert, and that's been a problem, Thatcher said: Companies don't know how many engineers or technicians need the software so can be reluctant to buy into the system.
The cloud computing service is the solution. With it, companies can install a number of copies of the software on staff PCs, but only pay for the actual number of people who use it.
It is also optimized to tunnel through corporate firewalls while maintaining security, Thatcher said.
Over time most customers will go for the cloud version, Thatcher said, but for the time being the on-premise solution will continue to be offered.
Thatcher wouldn't say how much customers pay for either version of the software. The camera ranges in price from $7,000 for a basic model to $12,000 for a model made for rugged and hazardous environments like oil wells.
He did say customers include Proctor & Gamble, which makes everything from shampoo to toothpaste; Italian car maker Fiat; major aircraft makers, and energy companies.
Just over half of its business comes from America-based firms.
Onsight is sold to some customers direct, but it is also marketed through solution provider partners including Cisco Systems Inc. Before it was bought by Cisco in 2010, Tandberg marked a while label version of Onsight.
John Bishop, Cisco's director of strategic initiatives, sits on Librestream's board.
Librestream was founded by eight members of a Winnipeg-based division of mobile bar code scanner manufacturer Symbol Technologies (now part of Motorola Solutions). When the division was closed in 2003 the staffers decided to form a company somehow using their expertise, Thatcher said.
Looking back over their work, the group realized that one problem they faced was communicating with the makers of the scanners thousands of miles away. From that they hit upon the idea of creating a "mobile collaboration system" that would allow technicians to advise people anywhere they can get a broadband connection.
In 2005 the founders raised money from a venture capital fund, the first of three rounds, which was supplemented by individual investors.Being based in Winnipeg is somewhat of a disadvantage, Thatcher admitted, when his staff have to travel. On the other hand, he said, the company can leverage "outstanding" engineering graduates from the University of Manitoba.
The next update to Onsight -- expected by the fall -- will give it the ability to send voice and video to Apple Inc.'s iPads and iPhones, Thatcher said.