2008 Winner: Outstanding Achievement in Information and Communication Technology
Pushing The Tech Envelope
Dr. James Hoover recently visited the City of Edmonton website. It worked exactly the way it was supposed to. “I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of my students was involved,” he says. “Getting ideas out into practice characterizes our work.” Jim Hoover and his lifelong collaborator, Tony Olekshy, have spent the better part of 35 years examining computing from all angles. They build systems that allow professionals, particularly engineers, do their jobs better. They are the driving force behind Avra Software Lab Inc., a University of Alberta spin-off company, formed in 1998. Avra provides software development services and acts an industrial test bed for research.
The duo grew up on the same street in Edmonton. As high school students they would spend late nights hacking in the U of A’s Department of Chemical Engineering process control lab, according to Dr. Hoover. He went on to study Computing Science while Mr. Olekshy studied Electrical Engineering. Mr. Olekshy and Dr. Hoover are not seduced by the latest technology, just for the sake of novelty.
“We ignore the hype, and instead ask what the new technology can do that makes a difference in the way we build systems and improve how our customers work,” Dr. Hoover explains. “Our strength is being consistently ahead of the curve in pushing new technology to its limits in making useful products.”
In 1998 before the Internet was on most people’s radar, Mr. Olekshy realized the web was more than just static pages of information and began imagining how to use it to deliver workstation-caliber applications.
Expanding on the Existing
The “crown jewel” in their techie caps is “making the web sing and dance as if it was a computer on your desk.” Among their most impressive products is iPRSM®, the first web-enabled engineering application. Developed for the petro-chemical industry, the technology enables plant personnel, compliance auditors and engineers to have instantaneous simultaneous access and analysis to data on any pressure relief system, from any location with web connectivity.
“In looking back on all the products we’ve made, each one pushed the envelope of current practice in some way,” Dr. Hoover says. “We didn’t invent the big things such as the web, or markup languages, but we did see a way to combine and leverage them beyond their original intended purpose.”
The duo is motivated by the intellectual challenge of their work and by the joy of seeing how their products help clients. “It great to know we are giving people a way to do their jobs even better than before,” Dr. Hoover says.