Beyond our greatest expectations

Katherine Walker is helping to build a base of technology that could very well be the engine of our future

It’s been close to three decades since Katherine Walker, who grew up in a family of eight brothers and sisters in the town of Lambeth, just outside London, moved to Corunna with her children and husband, who was transferred here with the Ministry of the Environment.

Today, Sarnia-Lambton is home and for Walker, home from a career standpoint has been, for many years now, based on serving clients with various technology solutions.

That career arch began when Walker was still in London, working with a sister who had connections with the Anglican diocese and was building a database designed to serve the needs of various parishes throughout the region.

That business followed Walker when she moved to Sarnia-Lambton (she and her husband Dennis, now retired, still live in the same Corunna home as they first moved here.

Eventually that business partnership dissolved when the sister moved to Alberta, it wasn’t before they had crafted a home inventory database product that could have been boxed and sold in various retail locations, throughout Canada and the U.S.

We say “could have been” because the sisters ultimately realized to do so would have cost thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, with all the risk being on them, not the retailers that agreed to shelf space.

And remember, by this time, high-speed internet services were beginning to take shape and downloadable software or even its subsequent model—Software as a Service (SAAS)—was at least in the not-too-distant future of technological innovation.

A pivotal point in Walker’s career came in 2005 with her alignment with Paul Desrochers, a Sarnia native who had leveraged an interest in software development. Together they launched iMAP—short for Industrial Maintenance Audit Program—a dynamic database that maintains an asbestos containing material inventory for sites throughout Canada and the U.S.

One notable customer that was secured about two years ago is Toronto Transit Commission, which took several years to secure, a feat that Walker is clearly pleased to have under her belt.

A second company is Industrial Web Apps (IWA), which is jointly owned by Walker and partner Barry Vosburg, himself a veteran of Sarnia’s Chemical Valley community.

IWA’s goal is to leverage the trend toward moving technology to the web—what we would now call the Cloud, the result of inexpensive hosting services like AWS (Amazon Web Services) coming into vogue.

With IWA, Walker decided to focus on delivering the kind of software services that her Chemical Valley clients (and beyond) would find helpful enough that they’d be clamoring to come on board.

She found that in a platform that would take any document, including standard documents created by applications like Word and Excel, and store them in a web-based environment, password protected, digitally secure and accessible by any customer equipped with a laptop or tablet.

SHORE—for SHare and stORE—is generic in the sense that it works universally, and supports the global movement toward a paperless environment, which is what Walker’s clients at IWA have been looking for (only perhaps they didn’t know it before they were introduced to the product).

“We just publish an Excel file to SHORE and it becomes the input form for workers in the field,” she explains.

It’s also a piece of “agnostic” software, meaning that it will work in all situations, regardless of browser or computing device.

Walker and her team of bright young developers use a wide variety of tools—all open source with access to a “multitude of code libraries”—to build and maintain SHORE and any other products that IWA develops in the future.

It’s her development of staff, not just from a recruitment standpoint but in growing the business organically by identifying new talent locally, that has Walker’s attention these days.

One initiative that has taken hold is one developed through connections with Terry D’Silva at Tertec, another local technology company, as well as the Sarnia Lambton Industrial Alliance and the Sarnia-Economic Partnership. Working with Lambton College, development firms like Walker’s were able to put together a co-op-like training program combining software development with hardware that is essential to the emerging Internet of Things environment, one that she and others see as being the wave of the future.

That program, which Walker was instrumental in creating, resulted in her being able to hire several developers, with the hope that it will be repeated in the near future.

“The timing of this is very exciting,” said Walker of the initiative. “The fact that it’s being driven by technology and not necessarily in software development alone means that the opportunity to work with people at the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park and Lambton College is a good one and with the NOVA Chemicals expansion, we will be needing more people, not fewer, in the near future.”

Another plus is the goal—one that most of us can agree is a desirable one—to see young people who might have dismissed the idea of having a career in their hometown as a wistful dream finding a pathway to do just that.

“Developers are a unique breed,” says Walker. “But having someone who fits into the culture is something that is exciting. We have a great group here and it’s exciting to see what gets them excited—like when they run a test and there are no errors. We see some silent ‘hurrahs’ throughout the room.”

Walker’s goal, not only for her business but for the entire community, is to see Sarnia-Lambton become a hub of technology and innovation that will serve to breed even more success.

“I do feel a movement coming, with the City of Sarnia generally but also with initiatives like the rollout of fibre throughout the community and the recent designation of Sarnia-Lambton as a Top 7 Intelligent Community that’s getting attention, not just here but elsewhere,” she adds.

Walker remains supremely confident that Sarnia-Lambton is positioning itself for even greater success and not just years from now.

“We ought to be encouraging our children to look at technology and how they could build a career around software and embedded systems,” she said. “And schools need to be introducing these concepts earlier than they do today, in elementary school and encouraging teenagers to take courses in high school.”

The opportunities, she says, are nothing short of phenomenal.

“When you can write a sentence, in a language that is relatively easy to learn, and make a device carry out your commands, we’ll have an amazing skillset available right here in our own backyard.”

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Lambton Shield magazine.

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