Web apps drive efficiencies
Four Leaf Solutions has doubled and tripled its workforce every year since 2002
Software developer Four Leaf Solutions may be one of Sudbury’s best-kept secrets. Founded in 1997 by four Sudbury programmers, the company flew under the radar for five years. In 2002, the volume of work justified the hiring of two or three employees. Since then, it has doubled and tripled in size every year.
There are now 50 employees – 56 including sub-contractors – and enough work to keep current partners, Roc Villeneuve and Dave Jordan, beating the bushes for talent.
More than 80 per cent of Four Leaf Solutions’ work is performed for CVRD Inco and Xstrata Nickel.
Computer software and web applications, in particular, are playing an important role in driving efficiency at CVRD Inco, said Four Leaf Solutions General Manager Geoff Hatton.
“I would be very surprised if there are other mining companies as sophisticated as they are. The tools we built for them are giving their employees so much more power and making them so much more efficient. It’s unreal. They have web applications for almost every type of business process you can think of: for submitting travel expense claims, tracking safety incidents. Almost everything they do is based around web applications.”
One application allows mine foremen to share information to ensure that issues related to work progress are communicated to the cross shift. Logistics have been known to interfere with the traditional practice of recording information in a log book and discussing it in person with the cross shift.
If a foreman was in a rush, for example, the information wasn’t always transferred. Now, it’s available in a concise report that flags tasks that didn’t get done.
“When we first started, out, a lot of applications were desktop-based, meaning that the software had to be installed on each work station,” said Hatton. “If there were any updates or enhancements to the application, we had to reinstall all of the applications across the board.”
For a company like CVRD Inco with thousands of employees, desktop-based applications are resource-intensive. A web-based application, in contrast, resides on a centralized server and employees who need to access it do so through a standard web browser.
“We don’t have to install software on individual computers. We simply develop the application, put it on the web server and everybody links to it from their work station.”
Another application developed for CVRD Inco tracks the availability and progress of ore through the production process.
“If I need so many tonnes of ore, I can go into the application, see the grade of the ore and where it is, put in a request and watch its journey from the stockpile, along the conveyor system, to a lifting station and to the mill or smelter,” said Mark Poitras, who looks after technical writing and quality assurance for Four Leaf Solutions.
Other applications track boreholes and samples for exploration staff and injuries and emergency events such as fires and spills, automatically triggering emails to designated personnel.
The project managers, system analysts, programmers and application support staff who make it all happen are almost without exception from northeastern Ontario and, therefore, familiar with the mining industry, said Hatton.
“Their parents have worked for CVRD Inco or Xstrata. They’re familiar with the terminology, so when they’re in meetings with geologists and engineers, they know what they’re talking about.”
The company has been able to rely on graduates from Cambrian College, Collège Boréal and Laurentian University for most of its needs, but has also resorted to recruiting Northerners who migrated south and now want to return home.
Until now, Four Leaf Solutions has relied heavily on CVRD Inco and devoted few if any resources to marketing and business development.
“We’ve never actually had to go looking for work in the 10 years we have been in business,” said Hatton. “It’s tough when everybody is already working to capacity to find time to do other things.”
Its knowledge of the mining industry and how information technology can be used to drive productivity could find a receptive market beyond Sudbury.
“The potential is definitely there,” said Hatton.