Bit Stew hopes to automate oil sands with $17.2m in funding

Could the Internet of Things bring more efficiency to Alberta’s oilfields? Vancouver company Bit Stew Systems hopes so, and it has just raised $17 million in series B funding to help it explore that market.

Vancouver-based Bit Stew marries the Internet of Things, big data and industrial control systems to help large energy companies refine their operations. Its series B round sees Cisco and GE investing money from the US, along with Vancouver-based Yaletown Venture Partners and BDC Canada. Cisco and Yaletown were original investors in the company’s $5.3m A round.

Bit Stew specialises in gathering data from industrial control systems – the kinds of sensor devices that tell an electricity company how much juice a business is using, for example, or whether a data transmission line is operating at peak efficiency.

The software firm, which cut its teeth in the utility sector, gathers data from millions of these devices around a utility’s network, and aggregates it into a giant data store.

From there, it provides tools that allow software developers to create custom applications for utilities, helping them understand more about how the network operates. Its data platform includes a business rules engine that can help companies to automate their operations depending on patterns that it finds in the data. A correlation engine looks for those patterns, finding correlations that human operators might never see.

This is a big problem, because of the sheer complexity of most utilities’ networks, which include vast arrays of sensors. As electrical companies roll out smart meters, new opportunities arise for gathering data, and potentially controlling devices in the field based on what happens in that data.

“The connection between big data analytics and industrial control systems is what we call software defined operations,” said Franco Castaldini, VP of marketing for the company.

“It’s using data from sensors and disparate data sources, whether they’re at the edge, or central to the operations, and helping to drive control of their manufacturing process, the flow of gas or oil through their pipeline, the production of natural gas or oil, or the flow of electricity to someone’s house.”

BC Hydro was an anchor customer of Bit Stew’s. The software company helped it with its smart meter rollout, putting Mix at the heart of its operations dashboard. It helps the firm detect meter failure and find out whether an outage is limited to a single set of meters, or goes back to the substation or transformer within a particular service area.

The company’s two month-old move from utilities upstream into oil and gas fleshes out its presence in the energy market. The $17.2 million in capital just raised will help it to expand into this market, but also to explore others, Castaldini said.

“That’s why GE invested,” he said. “They include the manufacturing sector, power generation, and outside of that, one market that we’re interested in is telecommunications (the M2M business).”

Most of Bit Stew’s 90 employees are in Burnaby. It hopes to double in size in the next year and will retain its engineering in the Burnaby facility, he concluded.

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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