Why don’t you tell me a little about the company, how it got started? How long have you been in business? What were the circumstances surrounding the creation of the business?
Back in 2016, I was studying water engineering at UBC, and I started working with Tantalus Labs, a licensed producer based just outside Vancouver. Initially my goal was to find ways that technology could help address water usage issues that Tantalus might face with the space-aged greenhouse it was building. However, I quickly recognized that, in order for Tantalus to fully embrace digital transformation and data analytics, it needed a bespoke and comprehensive bio-product manufacturing technology solution that would go well beyond water efficiency. So my co-founders (Benn Mapes and Hardeep Shoker) and I began building out Elevated Signals to help address crop production and processing inefficiencies in the industry at large.
Most cannabis facilities were using legacy seed-to-sale software, paper, spreadsheets and whiteboards for inventory management and compliance back then (in fact most still are today!). This isn’t sustainable for mid- to large-size producers, let alone small facilities, so we set about creating a platform that would reform environmental monitoring, quality assurance and inventory tracking all in one, with data analytics and the scientific method at its core. Fast forward a few years, our software is now used by some of the largest producers in North America, as well as many innovative mid-size and craft facilities across Canada, Europe and Australia.
What are the ways in which an LP facility is inefficient in the course of its daily operations?
The inefficiency we see most often is tedious and incomplete data collection. All producers recognize that efficient data gathering and evaluation are critical to becoming a successful organization, but the tech industry to date has failed to provide them with the tools to easily capture and analyze data. Without data to work with, decisions are made with good intentions but nearsightedness. Incomplete methods of data gathering result in scarce access to the information that can help improve cannabis businesses.
An example of inefficient data gathering is the paper-based quality system, which is common in the cannabis industry today. Teams utilize a manual and physical record keeping tool with inherent limitations regarding control, size, agility and access. At scale, this paper system can incur hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in unnecessary labour, maintenance and other expenses.
Often this system is architected with a focus on compliance, when it should act as a data asset that can be leveraged to improve efficiencies, save money and increase performance across the business. What’s needed is a digital tool that captures information more efficiently, warehouses that data for the future, and provides immediate access to help inform sound business decisions.
What are common CTS challenges that a LP faces in the course of its daily operations? What are some challenges it may not take into account, and how are they solved with your platform?
The CTS challenges we typically see usually stem from inadequate data tracking and disorganized internal processes. Inventory tracking is often done with a myriad of complex tracker-style spreadsheets. This is extremely error prone, and takes a lot of time and effort to extract and coalesce the necessary information to complete a CTS report. Mistakes are bound to happen, and reconciling these inventory issues results in a cascade of corrections that need to be made on the final batch records and inventory ledgers. As facilities scale up, new manufacturing processes, as well as iterative changes to existing workflows (e.g. new processing methods, different intermediate or new final products), are challenging to implement because complex inventory tracking requirements will have compounding effects on what CTS data is collected.
With Elevated Signals, data entry is democratized across all production staff, meaning everyone can capture their work in real-time and operations teams at the shop-floor level are not overburdened with deluges of data entry. Internal audit trails provide the traceability and transparency required for any corrective inventory actions. Furthermore, our platform is a highly customizable and flexible system, so iterating on production processes can be done quickly, with real-time reports to help producers understand if they are tracking towards their internal KPIs. Since Elevated Signals captures all critical information surrounding inventory transactions (cultivation, extraction, processing, etc.), our users have a “central source of truth” to surface required information to help complete CTS reports, as well as financial reporting. Ultimately this provides the necessary operational insights to help businesses make more informed decisions that are backed by data.
Why don’t you tell us how Elevated Signal’s seed-to-sale platform differs from other similar CTS technology?
The seed-to-sale software that was adopted by licensed producers back in the pre-legislation days is designed to only handle plant and production batch inventory transactions. Any of the supporting Health Canada quality assurance records or general manufacturing forms must be documented in a separate system, most commonly on paper and spreadsheets.
These two disconnected systems (seed-to-sale + paper) result in producers spending massive amounts of time manually combining all of their paperwork into the final batch production record, which is required to be presented to Health Canada for health and safety compliance. In addition, all of this critical manufacturing process data is stranded in paper or siloed in disconnected digital systems. This greatly limits the ability of companies to analyze their own data to understand what is working well versus areas for improvement. In today’s competitive cannabis industry, if you aren’t getting better, you’re falling behind.
Elevated Signals drastically improves tracking cannabis and non-cannabis inventory from seed, through to harvest and processing, all the way to finished product. Our software makes traditional track-and-trace software and paper/spreadsheets obsolete within a facility. By enabling the granular tracking of biomass at each stage of transformation, we have made it possible for operating logs and critical quality assurance records to be captured without a single sheet of paper in a fully digital, remotely accessible framework. This allows the software to automatically generate chronological, GMP-validated electronic batch production records in seconds without any manual data aggregation or excessive data-entry tasks from production staff.
Producers also have the capability to integrate their existing environmental control systems, or deploy third-party sensors to associate time-stamped environmental data with the corresponding production batches. As this data is all captured digitally in real-time, producers can use it for historical performance analysis, yield forecasting and process optimization.
What are the ways Elevated Signal’s makes LP facilities more sustainable (e.g., less waste, less time, less energy, etc.)?
As a manufacturing and agricultural field, the cannabis industry has a profound effect on the environment, and businesses in this space should be aware of the ecological impact of their processes. We help LPs digitize their operations, and while going paperless will only have a small impact on a facility’s footprint in practical terms, it’s a step in the right direction, and surely a no-brainer. Digitizing operations enables a business to start adopting ‘lean manufacturing’, a production process that allows companies to figure out where resources can be optimized, helping them to maximize productivity while simultaneously minimizing waste. Even if paper-based methods were better for business (which, I think we’ve established, they’re not) they are wasteful and don’t provide any analytical insight into how a facility can reduce its environmental impact while increasing profits.
Where do you see the cannabis industry headed over the next three to five years?
In Canada, the market will become more and more competitive, and we’ll continue to see M&A activity and US brands entering Canada. Producers are really going to have to streamline their operational processes if they want to be profitable and resilient. With this in mind, I really hope businesses start to take a more data-led approach to decision-making. It’s scary how many producers are using guess work to guide their product and business strategy. For example, how many producers know what their most profitable cultivars are? This requires granular tracking of all costs associated with the manufacturing of a given batch – batch-specific cost-of-goods-sold remains elusive for most producers. Without real-time access to a thorough data warehouse holding information on everything from propagation and cultivation, through to final sale, it’s impossible to make the right decisions.
Amar Singh is the CEO & Co-founder, Elevated Signals.