FoxNet: Embracing the Internet of Things

As an industry leader and one of Canada’s Top 100 Service Providers, Ontario’s FoxNet has harnessed its years of experience and passion for customer service to provide quality IT solutions to a diverse portfolio of clients. Company CEO and Chief IT Architect, Bill Fox, spoke recently with The Canadian Business Quarterly about the past, present and future of the company as it celebrates its fifteenth year in business.

Bill Fox

“We started FoxNet in 2002,” Mr. Fox explains. “We are an IT infrastructure solutions provider based out of Waterloo, Ontario. When we began the company, we were mostly doing Hewlett Packard-type solutions.”

Mr. Fox’s background in the industry saw him working for IT giants Hewlett Packard and Oracle for a number of years before he entered into a partnership with a solutions integration company based out of Mississauga.

“After building the company up, we sold to Telus in 2001. We began FoxNet in 2002, offering the same type of work and attracting people who wanted to work with a flexible, innovative small company.”

FoxNet now has a presence across Ontario, servicing customers in the Greater Toronto Area, and southern and southwestern Ontario. The company has expanded and changed numerous times over the past fifteen years.

“We have a very wide range of clients,” Mr. Fox adds. “We cross almost every industry. We have customers in education, manufacturing, high-tech, financial services, and government. The University of Western Ontario has been a customer of ours for years.”

All of FoxNet’s clients are local, including Hamilton-based steel manufacturers Dofasco and Home Hardware, whose head office is based in nearby St. Jacobs.

“Since we started our managed service practice, we have quite a few medium-sized companies that we support and give IT advice and consulting services to.”

Mr. Fox’s relationships with large clients from his previous endeavours helped the new company grow quickly. Many clients felt more comfortable making the change with a relationship already in place and moved their business immediately over to FoxNet.

“Relationships are really the key. I’ve been doing business with some of our big companies for many years, such as Dofasco and University of Western Ontario. These relationships go back to the early 90s. That really helped us get off to a good start.”

This strong foundation helped FoxNet achieve a little over $3M in its first year. Having recently celebrated its fifteenth year in business, the company continues to go from strength to strength, adapting and changing with the industry.

The Internet of Things

“For the first decade, the industry did not change dramatically,” Mr. Fox says. “We saw new technologies like virtualization come on board and new companies rise to power.”

In the last year or two, many companies in Canada have begun switching to cloud-based computing strategies. Medium-sized firms are now looking to hire a dedicated IT company to handle their infrastructure.

“With the advent of IOT [The Internet of Things],” Mr. Fox explains, “we’re going to see a dramatic increase and change in our industry over the next five years, which is very exciting.”

The Internet of Things is the biggest new concept in IT. A number of devices that were manually controlled a few years ago are now becoming automated, a change which promises to have a significant impact on the technology solutions companies are offering.

The potential of IOT is huge. Some predict that billions of devices both inside and outside of the home will become automated within a number of years. The end goal is to make whole cities technologically automated.

“There’s a big push to become Smart Cities, and everyone wants to get there. A Smart City can automate everything from parking, to garbage, traffic lights—there’s a lot of application for cities to get more efficient and provide better services to the people that live there.”

FoxNet has recently been involved in its first Smart City parking initiative with the City of Stratford, Ontario, a scheme that allows the city to track traffic and provide better parking services for residents and tourists.

“There’s a couple of areas where I see it’s really starting to get some traction—manufacturing is one of them. There are all kinds of solutions out there, in terms of having sensors gather information that can now be used to do predictive maintenance.”

If manufacturing companies are able to harness this technology to gain a greater awareness of when and how machinery is breaking down, then Mr. Fox is adamant they could save millions of dollars by minimizing downtime.

Keeping the Client Happy

With the rapid changes happening in technology, the cost of ICT is rising, even in small businesses. Keeping customers up to date with an ongoing list of requirements, without requiring them to make regular adjustments, can be challenging for the company.

“We’ve got people, including myself, that are always making sure that we’re keeping up to date in terms of products and solutions that are coming up,” Mr. Fox says. “As an independent provider, we also have lots of organizations that will approach us [with solution ideas].”

Between the company’s suppliers and its staff base working hard to keep up with the latest trends, FoxNet is able to maintain a current portfolio to provide to its customers.

FoxNet Solutions in Ontario
FoxNet has recently been involved in its first Smart City parking initiative with the City of Stratford, Ontario, a scheme that allows the city to track traffic and provide better parking services for residents and tourists

“We’ve brought in a former HP leader, who was one of their top strategists for years, who can build all kinds of IT strategies for companies, and has done IT transformations all over the world. So we’ve got some high-end strategy people who can provide good guidance.”

With such a diverse portfolio of clients to consider, a large portion of the company’s current business involves backup and recovery and strategic storage. With such high levels of data being used every day, these areas have become all the more important.

“Every company has concerns about how they’re backing [data] up,” Mr. Fox explains. “Everybody wants to store their data safely, and they also want to do it the most efficiently that they can.”

Consequently, security has become a top priority for many of the company’s customers. Mr. Fox admits that some of FoxNet’s clients have been the victims of cyber-attacks, which has made the issue even more pressing.

“The ability to backup and restore is very important. Lots of customers have experienced some trouble restoring. Backups have always been done religiously, but restoring can be a more difficult task.”

FoxNet’s small but diverse portfolio is one of its greatest strengths, allowing it to act quickly and resolve issues with the minimum of fuss, making decisions to benefit its customers without any of the rigmarole bigger companies have to go through.

“We’re a small enough company that we are very agile. People do like the local presence here in southern Ontario, and they like the fact that it’s a small company, that they can call me, or they can call people they’ve had working relationships with for years.”

Learning from Experience

As Mr. Fox moves into his sixteenth year as CEO of FoxNet, he has some thoughts about the business and some of the lessons he has learned by forming the company and working with such a wide range of clientele.

“When we started the company, I certainly did not have enough money to start it. If I’d known then what I knew now, I would have been better prepared. Every company goes through ebbs and flows in terms of cash-flow, especially small companies.”

Without any investors or business partners, Mr. Fox found out the hard way how vital cash planning is to a smaller business. Another key issue has been sales, an area that must be continually pushed and improved upon.

“Even though we’ve had many successful years, we can never just sit back and think because we’ve done well in the past the next year’s going to be great too. You can’t take your eye off the ball.”

“We’re a small enough company that we are very agile. People do like the local presence here in southern Ontario, and they like the fact that it’s a small company”

On the back of these successful years, FoxNet is thriving. Mr. Fox admits that the company is moving into a very exciting period of its life, with the world of IOT opening up so many new possibilities.

“We’re building a practice aggressively. We’re getting all kinds of people that are asking us ‘how do I do an IOT project, where do we get started?’ Our company is unique because we can help with strategic workshops to help get people started on that journey.”

Mr. Fox believes that once a business has recognized the value of an IOT project, it will notice a positive change in its ability to get funding. More and more companies will then start to see the rewards of adopting this kind of business strategy.

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