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Bell and Rogers defend sales practices at CRTC hearing

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Canada’s two biggest telecommunications companies got their turn to speak on Friday in a five-day probe by Canada’s telecom regulator into sales practices in the industry.

Officials from BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. addressed a panel at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Friday, their first chance to participate in the five-day public probe by the regulator.

The probe was prompted by CBC reporting that uncovered evidence of misleading and aggressive tactics being employed at those companies and others, in an attempt to get customers to sign up for new services, or more services that they don’t necessarily want.

Hundreds of telecom employees told the CBC about overly aggressive sales tactics, and misleading attempts to get customers to sign up for new services. Hundreds of customers subsequently complained about similar tactics to the regulator, once it asked for public comment.

After public consultations, the CRTC has been holding a public investigation into the issue this week, one that will culminate with the appearance of the two biggest companies in the industry on Friday.

But it was rival telecom Shaw that began the day’s proceedings. The Calgary-based company said in its experience, door-to-door sales done by third party resellers are one of the biggest problems for overly aggressive selling. But Shaw rejected the notion that the industry itself has a systemic problem.

“Focusing a recommendation or remedy on door-to-door sales would address the most significant area of risk and consumer vulnerability,”  senior vice-president Paul Cowling said.

Telecom employees told the CBC that misleading tactics were widespread. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Then it was Rogers’ turn in the spotlight, and they began just before midday. One by one, officials at the company disputed the notion that misleading tactics are widespread.

“We simply do not tolerate bad faith and unethical sales practices,” said Kim Barrington, Rogers’ director of consumer affairs.

The company says all of its employees undergo rigorous training to ensure that their sales tactics are appropriate. Rogers says it monitors and reviews 100 per cent of all telephone sales calls, and uses other tactics such as mystery shoppers to keep tabs on what happens in store.

Rogers says its employees don’t have an incentive to mislead to upsell because most of their compensation is fixed, and if a customer cancels a new service within the first 90 days, whatever variable compensation the sales agent may have gotten for the sale would be clawed back.

“There’s not a lot of motivation to sell somebody something they don’t want or need,” vice-president of channel marketing Melissa Marsh said.

“Selling our customers products or services that they do not want or cannot afford is just bad business,” added David Watt, the company’s senior vice-president of regulatory affairs.

Bell disputes allegations too

Bell’s turn to speak came in the afternoon, and the company’s executives made statements similar to Rogers.

“We want to assure you that misleading and aggressive sales practices are not tolerated at Bell,” said Rob Malcolmson, the company’s senior vice-president of regulatory affairs. “Staff at all of our stores, including partner retailers, receive training that emphasizes how fundamentally important it is to understand a customer’s needs and avoid pushing customers towards products or services they do not want.”

Bell says its compensation is structured similarly to Rogers in that most salespeople are paid at a fixed structure. Any variable compensation would be clawed back if customers end up cancelling the service soon.

And anyone who orders service by phone or in person gets a follow-up survey from the company within 24 hours to review how they did. In the past year, the company has gotten more than 600,000 such surveys, Bell’s vice-president of corporate stores, Nancy Tichbon, said.

“There are areas we have where we always want to to better,” Tichbon said, “but on the overall level of satisfaction we do get it right.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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