Few Ottawa tech firms have undergone a transformation quite as radical as Kanata’s Quarterhill over the past year.
The company previously known as patent licensing firm WiLAN dramatically pivoted in 2017, changing its name to Quarterhill and plunging into the industrial Internet of Things sector through a $63.5-million acquisition of Saskatchewan-based International Road Dynamics.
Patent licensing is still part of its business. However, WiLAN is now a subsidiary of Quarterhill alongside International Road Dynamics and Viziya, a software and services provider.
The firm made another major move in December, naming Doug Parker – an M&A specialist and former OpenText executive – as its new president and CEO. He replaced Shaun McEwan, who held the position on an interim basis.
Parker has a mandate to continue making acquisitions that build upon Quarterhill’s new direction.
But despite the focus on the firm’s transformation, Parker said he wants to leverage the firm’s strong history in Ottawa’s tech community – a story that dates back to the early ’90s when it was a pioneer in high-speed wireless technology.
“WiLAN is obviously a well-known and successful technology company in the Ottawa region. I think this is an opportunity to build on that,” says Parker, who adds he sees the company’s history as a good foundation to growth.
Parker was previously OpenText’s senior vice-president of corporate development where he oversaw approximately $2.5 billion in acquisition spending and onboarded roughly 3,500 employees.
Reflecting on his experiences, Parker says a successful acquisition requires a broad-based effort and calls M&A transactions “a bit of a team sport.”
“M&A is not necessarily a clear playbook. It’s a process of continuing improvement, in capability, process and people,” he says.
What’s the industrial Internet of Things?
Like the commercial side of the Internet of Things – which typically refers to the wireless connection of appliances, devices and objects for applications such as controlling home electronics and lights with a smartphone – the industrial sector utilizes sensors and information-collecting devices to generate data and communicate information and analytics to users and each other.
Here’s an example involving Quarterhill subsidiary International Road Dynamics.
In Western Canada, the firm is helping to manage trucks traffic in British Columbia with a network of weigh-in-motion and automatic vehicle identification technologies that are designed to improve the efficiency of commercial vehicle traffic. Once a transponder-equipped vehicle has been initially checked, it can be cleared to bypass all subsequent inspection stations for up to 24 hours.