IT HERO AWARDS: Ottawa-based RideShark, another nominee at next month

Software that finds you a car-pooling buddy

While green data centre initiatives often get the spotlight, some technologies can actually help companies reduce their environmental footprint outside of the data centre. One such application comes from Ottawa-based RideShark, which is up for a corporate award at next month’s Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) IT Hero Awards.

 

The company’s RideShark Commute Management System is a Web-based service that looks to connect car-poolers, walkers, cyclists and transit riders together on their way to work or play. While initially geared toward municipalities, with its first customer being the City of Ottawa, the company has increasingly set its sights on major enterprises.

 

“We’ve found private-sector companies are looking to make a more tangible impact on their employee’s environmental responsibilities and their engagement with employees in general,” said Sharon Lewinson, president of RideShark.

 

In the weeks leading up to the June 22 ceremony, ComputerWorld Canada will feature several of the nominees up for the ITAC awards, which aim to recognize the creative application of IT for the social and economic benefit of Canadians.

 

The initial focus for the company was regular car-pooling trips, but as the software has grown, so has the feature list. In addition to single-trip matching, RideShark has also added the ability for users to calculate their cost and emissions savings, as well as an incentive module that lets companies or municipalities dish out rewards to people that make sustainable travel choices.

 

The emission tracker is especially popular among the company’s large business clients because it allows them to track and monitor emission savings for their annual reports.

 

“Companies want to be able to track what their people are doing and understand how they are getting to and from work,” Lewinson said.

 

One early RideShark adopter was Nortel Networks, which actually implemented a car-pool parking management module to the software. This gave car-pooling employees premium parking spaces and helped foster sustainable commuting throughout the company.

 

Lewinson said that even if a public system is already up and running, many companies are looking to launch private systems in order to control the messaging and to collect emissions data.

 

A few years ago, Lewinson said, the number of Canadian companies with a sustainable commuting program could be counted on one hand, but the low-risk, high-reward nature of the software changed that.

 

“If you’re in the downtown core and have an excellent transit service, you may still have people that want a transit partner or somebody to travel with on the subway,” she said. “And if you’re in a remote area, like Northern suburbia in Toronto, car-pooling might provide an option for employees that wouldn’t be able to work at your location without it.”

 

With its incentive module, Lewinson said, companies can keep track of which employees are cycling, walking or car-pooling to work the most and dish out rewards such as gas cards.

 

On the back-end, every client gets an administration portal to manage the software and track emission savings. The software is written on the Microsoft ASP .NET 3.5 platform with RideShark achieving Microsoft Gold Certified Partner status in 2006.

 

RideShark currently owns a few dozen servers and hosts its IT operations at a Triple A data centre. All of RideShark’s users and apps share a single, common infrastructure and code base that is centrally managed at the data centre.

 

As the company continues to grow, Lewinson said, the biggest challenge will be to get the word out to more enterprises and cities.

 

RideShark is still fairly small company without a marketing department, and because the company’s product has global applicability, the organization is relying on positive word-of-mouth to spread its message.

 

Currently the company has about 40 clients, both in the private and public sector, including Canadian municipalities such as Ottawa and Halifax. The company operates as a division of SurveyPeople Corp.

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