Pelmorex Corp. combines tech and talent to provide businesses with powerful insights

From daily forecasts to awkward small talk, a lot has been said about the weather over the years, and yet very little has ever been done about it. That is, until now.

Pelmorex – a long-time weather leader in Canada, with a wide and growing reach around the globe – provides consumers and businesses with a range of weather information and products, across multiple platforms.

The company was founded in 1989 with its headquarters in Montreal, before moving to Mississauga in 1998, and again to Oakville in 2005. Meanwhile, Pelmorex has spent the past 30 years establishing an international presence across the U.S., Europe, Latin America, India and Australia, with a reach of 60 million users. Now, it’s leveraging user data to offer innovative, specialized data solutions to clients.

“To have the ability to understand local weather patterns and build, what we call, an alchemy between the science of meteorology and the art of weather, is really interesting,” says Rory Capern, VP Partnerships for Pelmorex.

Named one of Canada’s top 50 best managed companies for 10 years in a row, part of Pelmorex’s success has come from a combination of big data, and local, on-the-ground talent in the markets it serves.

“Weather is kind of a hidden signal affecting everybody and everything,” Capern explains. “And Pelmorex works hard to provide ‘weather when it really matters’ so our consumers can make decisions that will ultimately better their lives and their businesses.”

Beyond business, Pelmorex sees an opportunity to engage in both the public and private sphere by leading the development and the operation of the Canadian emergency alerting system ‘Alert Ready’ – a system that has enabled government authorities to deliver emergency alerts to Canadians during threat-to-life situations over TV & Radio since 2015, and most recently via compatible wireless devices.

“We have lead the charge in the creation of a service that is extremely important for the country,” says Capern proudly. “We have had to jump over some high bars to show we are capable, but we did. And now we can say that we are the technical backbone of the Alert Ready system.” Through its NAAD (National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination) System, Pelmorex accepts emergency alerts from authorized government agencies, quickly and securely delivers them to broadcasters and wireless service providers for rapid dissemination to the public.

Tomorrow’s forecast: big data

While the company’s top-line brands focus on weather products and services, that’s just the tip of the iceberg at Pelmorex. By leveraging its massive user base and reach, Pelmorex offers data solutions using a trove of rich data, and a wellspring of insights on how to turn that data to any advantage. Now, big data drives decision making at the company in everything from sales to product development.

“Weather is the umbrella over everything we do,” jokes Capern. “But the weather data underneath it is very predictive, and something we believe businesses need to begin to understand and use to their advantage.”

“What we really wanted to do was try to isolate the science behind understanding the impact,” Capern explains. “You develop a competitive advantage when you can understand how weather, which is otherwise uncontrollable, impacts your business.”

Beyond the implications for individual businesses, Pelmorex distills vast amounts of data to further understand the impact of weather on economic development as a whole. Capern calls it a ‘value exchange’ whereby the consumer receives weather information when it matters most, and Pelmorex gains access to incredibly important data with the potential to directly benefit the communities it serves. “So long as it isn’t personally identifiable, trust with our users is important to us and the data we collect is always in aggregate and anonymous,” says Capern.

The overarching health implications are huge as well, explains Capern. “What we’re now trying to do is work with health organizations to understand what the impact is between weather and health. Focusing on areas like mental health, and how we can work with hospitals to stop the spread of disease.” And it doesn’t stop there. “When you look at this data and understand what migration patterns look like, you get extremely powerful information about how people move.”

Could smart cities be on the horizon sooner than we think?

Ontario cities like Waterloo and Toronto have been gaining reputation as artificial intelligence hubs, making waves in areas like machine learning and autonomous vehicles. According to Capern, smart city projects are shaping the weather business and vice versa – with AI and weather data at the root.

“A lot of the algorithms that are being built for AI applications and machine learning environments are using weather data to tune what they’re doing,” says Capern. “Even if it has nothing to do with the weather.”

Pelmorex’s weather history is contributing to the growth of smart cities through two major areas: energy consumption and smart mobility. Pelmorex is using weather history to understand how weather impacts energy consumption or output, and by working with some of the most impressive tech companies in the mobility space.

From infrastructure and mobility projects, to methods for heating and configuring buildings, Pelmorex is using its data to provide energy-efficient solutions, as well as smart recommendations on how to get from A to B.

Whether it’s across infrastructure and mobility projects, or methods for heating and configuring buildings, that only means good things for businesses operating in Ontario.

The human element

But data and AI alone isn’t enough, it’s the team of experts behind that data that makes Pelmorex unique. By leveraging 30 years of weather data and a tranche of in-house data scientists, Pelmorex’s strategy has been to use both tech and talent to determine how weather can be aggressed to understand business outcomes.

“We work really hard to replicate everything from an algorithmic perspective, but the reality is – there is a human element, that goes beyond what the computer does today,” says Capern.

Pelmorex’s human element consists of 40 meteorologists in its Oakville headquarters who study Canadian weather exclusively all day long. While industry giants like IBM and AccuWeather provide their services to locations all over the world, they don’t use local, on-the-ground talent to do it – something Capern believes distinguishes Pelmorex from its competitors.

Pelmorex purchased the weather company ‘El Tiempo’ in Spain six years ago for that very reason – establishing a local presence. “That team is focused on Spanish weather patterns,” says Capern. “So, when we provide services to users in that market, we do it in a way that reflects the local realities and not just some algorithm that you would look at from behind a computer screen.”

Regardless of the market, data is only as helpful as the talent harnessing it – especially when it comes to a force as notoriously unpredictable as weather. Pelmorex relies on its experienced team of meteorologists to blend the different data sources to understand which is the more predictive under which circumstances.

“In the end,” says Capern. “There’s somebody that’s been looking at the weather for the beach in Toronto for the last 30 years, and they add an element of knowledge that’s hard to pick up otherwise.”

Ontario's flurry of talent

Ontario boasts six universities in the Top 300 Global University ranking – with the University of Toronto breaking the Top 20. Both U of T and the University of Waterloo offer Top 25 Global Computer Science Programs. And according to the Wall Street Journal, Waterloo grads are the second most frequently hired by Silicon Valley companies. These students hit the ground running after graduation because they’ve got an exceptional education and foundation underneath them from the province, says Capern.

In many cases, these bright minds bring fresh, game-changing ideas, if businesses are listening. “We get interns from the University of Waterloo, and from a computer science perspective, they changed our business,” says Capern. “They usually graduate to become full-time employees.”

In one instance for Pelmorex, the feedback from a University of Waterloo intern ended up dramatically impacting one of their weather products. According to Capern, an intern boldly said in a meeting one day: “I’m never going to use your app because it doesn’t speak to me.” When the younger demographics consume content and want app experiences that are very different from the one you’ve been building for a more general audience, you have to adapt, explains Capern.

It takes a certain degree of courage to come in as an intern and have that conversation in a professional environment, he continued. “We look for that as part of the DNA of the folks we’re trying to hire.” “But that means we’re also required to create a corporate culture that is open to receiving those innovative ideas.”

Because of this Waterloo intern’s contribution, Pelmorex created the “Fire + Rain” app – a sleek, millennial-targeted app, inspired by a millennial.

“When you marry that intern’s ingenuity with Pelmorex’s intelligence to back it up,” says Capern, “You get a product like the Fire + Rain app, and we couldn’t be prouder.”

A diverse workforce

Talent, whether foreign or domestic, is the lifeblood of the Ontarian economy. With almost a third of Ontario’s 14 million people born outside of Canada, international talent has become essential to building business and a strong economy. While Pelmorex reaps the benefits of Ontario’s constant flow of university graduates – 40,000 STEM grads each year – it also takes advantage of Canada’s open-door immigration policies, bringing in international students and foreign skilled workers.

With Ontario’s incredibly diverse workforce and strong technology focus, Pelmorex has been able to get access to a talent pool that reflects different perspectives.

“The need to bring diverse perspectives into the business, even from a product design perspective is absolutely critical,” says Capern. “And what Ontario provides to the business community is important for that.”

As both a business and a corporate culture, Pelmorex is extremely focused on inclusion and diversity. “We are looking for qualified folks who can lend a different perspective, and one that’s representative of our huge and diverse audience.”

Looks like Pelmorex has come to the right place!

Sector/subsector: 

October 8, 2019

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