When the pandemic hit, millions of Canadians marooned at home suddenly found themselves entirely reliant on Internet services — to work, study, socialize and do almost everything — that didn’t always prove to be up to the task. The further you went into rural, remote, northern and underserved areas, the worse the digital infrastructure got. This isn’t a new problem. “We knew before COVID that networks in Canada don’t always operate very well,” says Rob Lane, CEO of Mobia, a systems integrator based in Dartmouth, N.S. “There is no better time to build broadband networks across the country.”
That’s exactly what Mobia is doing: helping Bell Canada roll out its high-speed broadband network as well as its 5G cellular coverage. It’s part of an array of services Mobia provides — improving infrastructure, supporting automation, optimizing business processes, deploying hybrid cloud strategies — that has allowed the company to grow over the past 36 years. Now, roughly 475 employees are spread out over seven Canadian cities, working with clients in fields that span aviation, finance, retail, mining, government and health.
But it was Bell that prompted the company’s most critical pivot. Mobia got its start as an electronics distributor, supplying all the parts and pieces found in a circuit board. In 1999, however, Bell Canada took a majority ownership stake in four newly merged Atlantic telecom providers, and Lane knew that expanding beyond reselling telecoms equipment would be critical. “We started to gradually shift into the services business, and as soon as we did, we had to bring more people on board,” he says. “The more people we brought in, the more ideas they brought with them, and we really encouraged people to innovate. In our company, leadership comes from everywhere.”
In those early weeks of the pandemic, says Lane, “the world looked like a black hole. We didn’t know if our biggest clients were going to shut down their capital programs. To be blunt, we didn’t know if the company would survive.” Once it became clear that their business would continue, Mobia worked on accelerating another innovation: an app developed with Eastern Health in Newfoundland and Labrador called SurgeCon.
SurgeCon helps manage the flow of patients through emergency departments by analyzing patient volumes and availability of resources to predict when bottlenecks will happen. “The more people you have sitting in the waiting room, the harder it is to spend time on an urgent case,” says Lane. “SurgeCon helps control the backlog so caregivers have the time, space and resources to focus on the people most at risk.” In September, Mobia received federal funding through Innovation Solutions Canada to pilot the app in five hospitals responding to COVID. “These folks on the front lines are tireless heroes,” says Lane. “And we’re honoured for this software to play a role in the fight.”