Executive Q&A with mCloud’s Russ McMeekin and Autopro’s Mike Lane
Earlier this year, mCloud announced its intention to acquire Autopro Automation Consultants, a firm based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, specializing in the delivery of process automation solutions for industries including oil and gas.
mCloud will combine the AI-powered asset management capabilities housed in the AssetCare™ platform with the expertise and customer footprint of Autopro to transform oil and gas asset management worldwide.
With the acquisition nearly complete, mCloud CEO Russ McMeekin and Autopro CEO Mike Lane sat down to offer their take on the importance of the acquisition and what it means for the future of both companies.
What is the history of Autopro?
Mike: I started the company 29 years ago in the basement of my house in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Traditional engineering practices being applied at the time for process control and instrument and electrical automation weren’t really meeting the customers’ needs. We believed there was a better approach and that was our foundational value proposition for the company.
The first 10 years of our history was primarily in the pulp and paper industry with a bit of diversification. Then the company made a major pivot into the oil and gas industry, establishing a presence across Western Canada. We grew the company to a couple hundred people over the course of the next decade.
After a major disruption in the Western Canadian economy, we decided to rethink our strategic plan and figure out how we could continue delivering a high degree of customer value.
We were looking for mergers and acquisitions options to try to supplement our capabilities and reposition ourselves in the marketplace. At the same time, we were making a lot of changes internally to ensure we were a best-in-class performer. That evolution led us to Russ and the mCloud team a few months ago.
Why did mCloud decide to acquire Autopro?
Russ: At mCloud, we always envisioned the business operating across three segments – these are the “legs” of our business: smart buildings, energy, and process industries including oil and gas. We spent the last year building a foundation for two of those legs – HVAC and lighting for buildings, wind turbine management for energy. Coming into this year, we had a goal of creating a similar foundation for us in oil and gas – and that’s when we came across Autopro.
Autopro fits the profile of “asset doctors” in oil and gas – they are the go-to business for major oil and gas providers. They have an exceptional team that has almost three decades of experience delivering process solutions with an unblemished track record. Not too many businesses can say that!
Being located in Alberta, not only is their business positioned in an oil and gas center that shares similarities with other resource centers around the world, they are well-positioned to bring that know-how to North Dakota, West Texas, Western Australia, Africa, and just about any other part of the world. It’s scalable globally.
Under Mike’s leadership, Autopro was seeking advanced technology that would disrupt the oil and gas market. Their strategic plan melded nicely with our technology — one plus one equaled three.
Why did Autopro want to be acquired by mCloud?
Mike: mCloud brings to the table AI, 3D, IIoT, and mobile technologies that will let Autopro distinguish itself from the competition. The Autopro team will be able to create new value for customers, led by customer outcomes. The acquisition makes sense – it’s much more logical to join up with a business that already creates these technologies than to try to develop those solutions in-house.
mCloud has the resources, the technology and the business practices to help us move forward. We were on the look-out to differentiate ourselves and it became obvious very fast that this was a great fit.
What are the opportunities for mCloud’s solutions in the oil and gas sector?
Mike: We will plug mCloud’s AssetCare technology straight into some of the service offerings that we have in the marketplace today, and let the platform get to work creating value for customers immediately.
In the near-term, the hydrocarbon industry in Western Canada, including the upstream and midstream processing of natural gas, is a high-value sector that faces serious challenges because process assets are often remote and highly distributed. They operate in geographic locations that are separate from the expertise that designs, builds, and knows how to optimally operate them.
There are many opportunities to improve the operation and maintenance of these assets, all of which are capabilities that mCloud provides. We have a solid plan to grow our business in the coming years with unique access to these capabilities.
Are there challenges in marketing ‘digital transformation’ to the oil and gas industry?
Mike: The appetite in the industry to implement these next-generation solutions is growing rapidly. I think more of our customers understand what digitization and a shift to the cloud really means.
All our customers appreciate how their business is changing because of new technology, and they understand the intricacies of what they’re trying to achieve for their customers. That said, they may not need to know how all this new technology works to stay competitive. Going forward, providers like mCloud and Autopro together will be able to help create opportunities by helping businesses “subscribe to outcomes” rather than “buy new solutions.”
That’s a fundamental shift in strategy and it’s gaining momentum.
Russ: To build on that – there are other clear drivers for digital transformation in oil and gas.
In Alberta, a lot of assets were installed during a boom time across the industry and these were all deployed with connectivity in mind. In North Dakota, we’ve seen many such assets installed in the last five years or so. It’s analogous to the fact that most new cars on the road today are autonomous-ready — the infrastructure to support new technology already exists.
It’s low hanging fruit for oil and gas companies to boost the ROI of the investments they’ve already made.
Oil and gas companies also need to leverage the latest technologies to avoid catastrophic failures, like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. The simple fact is that there is a limited number of people hours available to each asset, no matter where it is or what it does. Making these assets digitally aware lets businesses multiply their efficiency – more time and attention per asset to improve health, productivity, and performance.
How complementary are the corporate cultures of the two firms?
Mike: At Autopro, we’ve been focused on improving the way that plants operate. Everything mCloud does absolutely reinforces that mission – like Autopro, their entire business model is totally focused on creating valuable, measurable customer outcomes. mCloud is like this irresistible magnetic force that aligns with the way we operate.
Russ: Because of my long history in oil and gas, with Autopro, I feel like I’m coming back home to a culture I grew up in. They have great internal processes and I’m impressed with the relentless focus they have on creating customer value.
I recently took a tour with Mike to all the Autopro offices. Everyone speaks a language I can understand. They use KPIs I can understand. It was almost like I had been to these offices before.
The cultural fit is great – like the mCloud team, Autopro has incredible talent with deep technical expertise. Their corporate values and the way they operate are very close to the way we work at mCloud.