AG Research Inc.
Written by: Renée Hartleib
As an executive with Electronic Data Systems (EDS), a Fortune 500 IT company, Jim Paris travelled the globe, before settling in Cape Breton eight years ago to manage a Canadian division. It's where he fell in love with Nova Scotia and where he first came into contact with AG Research, the company he was destined to lead.
"I started doing some consulting with AG Research and was really impressed. It's a perky company with very bright people," says Paris, who was brought on as the new CEO in May 2008. As the new kid on the block, he's immersing himself in every sector of the company, getting to know both the working teams and the client base. "There's a lot of good stuff going on, so it's kind of like catching up, keeping up, and moving forward, all at the same time," he says. "It's fun and I'm certainly not bored."
The company was formed in 1991 by Eric Whyte, who is still President. AG Research stands for "Atlantic Geomatics" and originally, the company's main work was digitizing geographic information systems. "This was their forté for a long time – this digital mapping,” says Paris. "But they quickly diverted from there into straight software development contracts and have since focused heavily on public sector projects for a number of Nova Scotia municipalities and provincial government departments." The company has developed a variety of packages that include emergency dispatch systems, planning solutions for municipalities, and patient/physician tracking solutions.
But their work doesn't stop there. Recently, the company expanded to the Caribbean with an affiliate in Hamilton, Bermuda. "We've done a number of key projects for government departments across Bermuda and also some consulting with Caribbean economic development organizations like OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States)," says Paris. "You name it, we've been involved with it." AG Research also has another affiliate organization in the U.K. near London.
Paris likes to point out that AG Research does a lot more than software development. "Over a period of time, the team has evolved to provide all kinds of support for our clients. This includes infrastructure support, desktop support, and mid-range service support, in addition to the traditional IT support." The Strait Regional School Board is just one of their long term clients, benefitting from the company's expertise in supporting all of their infrastructure, schools, computers, and entire email system.
AG Research is based out of Sydney, Nova Scotia and employs about 45 local people, but Paris says there are many residents who've never heard of the company. "They've had a bit of a low profile," he says. "Doing great work but not breaking their arms to pat themselves on the back."
One of the first things he did as CEO was sit down with the teams and look at the products they built. To say he was impressed would be an understatement. Paris, not one to hide his company's light under a bushel, calls them phenomenal, intelligent, leading edge technologies.
"We're going to push ourselves out into the forefront and show people in this neck of the woods that we have an incredibly talented, educated, well-experienced, professional team of IT folks who do great work in Sydney, Nova Scotia for myriad businesses across the landscape."
Paris sees part of his charge as taking the company to a "tier one status" over the next few years. "We certainly have that opportunity – the market is there," he says, citing the existence of their overseas affiliates as a unique opportunity to get a foothold in international business. "We're hoping to grow the company at the same time that we advertise ourselves to potential clients and recruit and retain the best people as well. I'd much rather be growing than just sitting around maintaining."
The unique vision of the company, which centres around client-directed business activity, is one of the values that caught his attention and one that he wants to maintain. "What a clever idea this company had, designing solutions that are based upon the specific needs of a department or business."
Calling it a local company with a global reach, Paris believes that AG Research is able to offer something that other larger companies cannot. "There are a lot of GIS companies out there who map, digitize, and develop huge databases of geographic information and make them available," he says. "On the other hand, there are not many companies who can take advantage of the raw data and link it to something that has applications in the real world."
Paris says that AG Research offers clients practical ways to use data to help empower citizens or provide tools for government and business to bring in more revenue. "That's the niche that AG Research has – standing in the middle between practical business solutions using pure GIS data and providing software solutions that are meaningful and affordable to our client base."
And what better place to do all of that than Nova Scotia, according to Paris. "In my prior life, I spent a good deal of time extolling the virtues of Nova Scotia to clients," he laughs. "But the good thing is – it's all true! When you look at doing business in Nova Scotia, it has a well-educated labour force and a strong business community of people who are dedicated to the area, and also committed to the notion of wanting to partner with others."
Add to that, the beauty of the landscape and a steady economy, and you've got a recipe for business success. "It's a great place to work. Nova Scotia is kind of a hidden success story that people are beginning to discover for themselves." And don’t forget the fact that when you do a good job in Nova Scotia, says Paris, you are rewarded in other ways, too. "If you're hard working and provide good service, people will give you their loyalty and support over a lifetime."