Osprey Informatics CTO & Co-founder Lukasz Skalka on Innovating Within the Oil & Gas Industry, Managing a Startup in Canada, and the One Thing He Can’t Do Without
A major shift is taking place in the oil and gas industry. Whereas it was hard to avoid the impression that O&G companies only adopted new technologies as a last resort in the past—or only for very specific reasons, like using cameras for security—today, companies both big and small are realizing the necessity of emergent technology to stay relevant and profitable in a quickly changing world. Specifically, O&G companies are trending toward automation and intelligent, interconnected systems to improve their businesses.
One startup at the forefront of this movement is Osprey Informatics, which develops and provides cloud-based intelligent visual monitoring solutions for the oil and gas industry. Co-founded by Lukasz Skalka and Michael von Hauff in 2012 in Alberta, Canada, Osprey grew out of a renewed enthusiasm for the energy industry at the beginning of the current decade. At the time, however, most of that growth was still around the “old and proven” ways of doing things, says Skalka, now Osprey’s CTO. With backgrounds in software and technology, Skalka and his co-founder saw an opportunity to innovate within a very traditional industry vertical and create a more cost effective and convenient solution for their end users.
Today, Osprey helps industrial companies mitigate operational cost and risks through intelligent visual monitoring and analyzes the massive volumes of visual data with artificial intelligence (computer vision) and input from other systems, and distributes personalized, actionable information to end users. In particular, their Osprey Reach platform helps clients increase productivity through virtual asset inspections, improve health, safety and environmental (HSE) outcomes with safety monitoring and automated leak detection, and strengthen security through proactive activity detection and alerting.
“We are putting a lot of effort into analyzing data collected by your system,” says Skalka, who adds that Osprey recently signed its first true enterprise Midstream Enterprise Client. “This data enables us to predict trends and customer needs, it also allows us to make quick adjustments to services and tools on the AWS platform.”
We recently spoke to Skalka about his experience founding Osprey (and when he first knew it would be a success), how they deploy AWS, and the one thing he can’t do without.
How exactly does Osprey work?
Our product delivers instant awareness of situations at remote and distributed locations, either on-demand or in the case of an event. We transfer video and data from mostly remote geographical location over efficient low bandwidth LTE Network. Thanks to analytics on the edge we are able to cut down on the data sent to the cloud. Analytics in the cloud filters out false positives and provides our clients with timely accurate information—at all times.
For Osprey’s platform to perform exceptionally, we need to host our application in a high-grade hosting environment that is able to process variable amounts of data quickly.
AWS has been critical for Osprey to make this work, cost effectiveness paired with a fast and reliable content delivery network ensures our clients across North America receive exceptional response times.
Specifically, what AWS services have you been using and what benefit are those services providing to you?
We use a variety of AWS tools. The key benefit of being on the platform is the flexibility and on-demand nature of AWS products: It gives us the ability to adjust infrastructure as required based our clients’ needs. Also, as we are continuously improving our product, so the ability to quickly scale and test solutions is a distinct advantage.
The bulk of the services we use are elastic hosting option, such as EC2, Lambda and RDS – services which allow us to change our deployment strategy on demand, making it a lot easier to manage end-to-end costs. We also utilize more specialized features and services such as IAM and Route53 which have been critical for us, cutting down development costs and getting new features deployed quickly.
A key part of our platform is AI/ML image analysis. We work with machine learning models extensively– testing, tweaking, and evaluating. SageMaker has been an invaluable tool, both for new experimental services, as well as production-grade features.
What is the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in your current role and how did you overcome it?
A definite challenge has been to shift focus from the transformative aspects of our product and make clients to look past the obvious, conventional security applications. It has been difficulty to convince clients to take a leap of faith, trusting something that has not been tried before.
We really needed to understand how the value of our product would fit in and improve their business processes, driving real ROI across the enterprise. Our first enterprise client really gave us an opportunity to prove our product and value.
When did you first know Osprey was going to be a success?
There were many, but a major milestone was getting our first enterprise-grade client. Having a company several times larger than yours believe in your vision and understand the value proposition of your product, proves you’ve managed to build something good.
As a founder, you may not need this kind of feedback, especially if you’re caught in the moment of trying to build your vision. Maybe as a driven founder you do not – but your team definitely does. Knowing that the overtime they’ve put in over last few months amounted to something real (and big!) can motivate people better than anything.
Was it critical to start your company in Alberta?
Alberta can be under-valued when it comes to tech, as it is often overshadowed by the Oil & Gas industry. However, there are many skilled software engineers here and, while relatively small, the tech ecosystem is very well rounded. Also, being in a place that is a regional hub for Oil & Gas is definitely beneficial while developing a product that targets heavy industry: All the types of users of your system will be in your reach.
What’s one thing you can’t do without?
A great team. One of the most important lessons of the last few years is that you can’t build great things in isolation. Continued feedback is critical to making something that has an impact. You want to surround yourself with the best people you can find, and don’t shy away from getting people that are better than yourself. Get people that will challenge each other – and yourself. This is true for all sets of skills, not just technical. After all, you are building a company, not just a product.