Montague, Poole’s Corner, and Stratford
AKA is a technology and systems integration company that works mostly in the offshore oil and gas, marine, and energy sectors. AKA is located in Montague, with a 100,000 square foot manufacturing facility, engineering center, and headquarters, with a team of about 100 people.
“As we started to see COVID-19 developing in Asia, we started to prepare for it here,” says Jason Aspin. “We geared up operations and separated the company into different divisions to mitigate risk if we did have a shutdown. We managed five or six active job sites around the world throughout the pandemic, and we are still active.
“COVID-19 has really impacted our client base and we saw things shut down a lot faster than we anticipated. Projects in development or in the sales cycle stopped. Our clients stopped spending money. We also had the double hit of the oil and gas sector shutting down. That was hard on the business because our projects have a long cycle life.
“We have jobs that we sold a year ago that we are still actively trying to finish. We did not get less busy, but the impact of revenue loss was pretty massive. The work we did do while managing in an international framework became much more difficult and expensive. Bringing people in and out of job sites to carry out projects and finish them off has been extremely difficult. We continue to try to sell to our client base, and we are trying to pivot into other areas in the energy sector.”
“We learned there is a lot of great talent locally and with other business partners, and we have had lots of great discussions with businesses in our community. As an export company, we focus on where our clients are, and we forget about people who we can work with locally. The most important clients and partners may be right around us and not halfway around the world, so we need to engage people here.
“As a company that works in the marine oil and gas environment, we have also learned to constantly look at what we are doing in the field, mitigating risk, making sure all the people come home safely, and getting projects finished on time without cost overruns.
“We had to look at our own company with the same lens to try to reduce risk in our operations. We have gained insight and better understanding around the internal workings of our business, and hopefully we can get through this and end up with better, more efficient operations in the future.
“We learned that even if our most important client is located halfway around the world, we don’t necessarily have to jump on an airplane to see them in person. That new way of communicating will have a long-lasting impact, longer than the disease will last.
“From a business point of view, we won’t be travelling as much as we did in the past. However, our business revolves around going to places to get projects done, so that part will come back, and has already started to come back.”
“Our workplace has changed a lot. We have engaged our IT capabilities a lot more. We were surprised to find that people are quite efficient working from home, and we will continue to have people work from home a bit as we go forward. It is more of a challenge for those on the shop floor. We will probably have more redundancy in our supply chain than before, which had caused problems in our manufacturing and execution projects.”
“Before the pandemic, I was the only one working from home. Once employees began to work remotely, productivity went up everywhere in the business, and sick days went down. As we realized the importance of what was happening, everyone pulled together. The question is will productivity remain high as working from home becomes more normal.”
Business recovery strategy
“For our business, we hope the recovery is as sharp as the downturn was. We took about a 90 percent hit on business, which is common for companies doing the type of work we do.
“Our niche is making systems more efficient and reliable and making operational costs lower, and I certainly think anyone who survives as a ship operator or in the oil and gas sector will be looking at optimization and how they will be able to continue to make a dollar in the new normal. Hopefully we will be ahead of that curve.
“I don’t see us getting back to 2019 revenues for at least two or three years. Most infrastructure projects will continue relatively unchanged. But the oil and gas sector has been dealt a fairly tough blow, and I don’t think it will ever come back to where it was before COVID-19.”
“Diversification of our product line and not having all our eggs in one basket is important. We hope our diversification efforts will achieve efficiencies where we can capture more market share.
“We would like to execute more projects locally or at least within Canada so that if one part of the globe gets shut down, we can focus on areas closer to home. We are very excited about the two solar PV microgrid projects, one in Summerside and one in Slemon park, the latter announced only in August 2020. This will be a great opportunity to show the world the technologicial knowledge available on the Island.”
The Atlantic Canada advantage
“There is an advantage to being in Atlantic Canada rather than being one of many companies in a larger area,” says Jason. “Companies here can influence policy and have direct discussions with people in government and with the industry. We can move and pivot quickly, whereas bigger companies take more time to do that. When we see conditions change like they have in the past months, we can respond and change our organization to achieve the best result.”
Working in Aerospace
“The day you start in a new sector, especially one that changes as rapidly as Aerospace, you have to be willing to work hard and learn.”
For more about Aspin Kemp & Associates, visit www.aka-group.com