Building Businesses and Relationships With Ignition34 min video / 28 minute read
Rafey Shahid from Qanare Engineering joins Don Pearson to talk about the influence that Inductive Automation and Ignition has on his career. Rafey shares his early days of integration, how he found Ignition and its impact on his business, and the relationships he has developed over the years. Rafey and Don also discuss the challenges and opportunities Rafey has faced and what the future looks like for Qanare Engineering.
“I mean, the friendships I formed. I think that is the biggest achievement. Obviously people, financial gains and starting up your own company or multiple companies, but I think the number of friends I've gained, or the context I've created in the past 10 years due to Inductive, has been amazing.”
Founder and VP of Engineering - Qanare Engineering
Rafey has an Undergraduate Degree in Industrial Electronics from UIT Karachi and a Masters Degree in Engineering Management from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Newark, NJ. He started using Ignition as part of a master's project at NJIT and attended his first Ignition training in Prince of Prussia, PA with Travis Cox as the instructor back in 2011. Rafey initially worked with systems integrators in the US for a few years then moved back to Karachi and started Qanare in 2012.
Since 2012, Qanare has grown into three companies. Qanare Engineering, servicing Ignition SCADA systems integrators around the globe. Qanare Auxiliaries, servicing the Pakistani Market as a Partner of ATS-Global, a Premiere iIntegrator of Ignition. Qanare America LLC., which recently launched to serve systems integrator clients in North America.
Don: Well, hello everyone. My name is Don Pearson. Welcome to our program today. I'm joined by Rafey and I wanna start, Rafey, by just giving you an opportunity to tell us a little bit more about yourself, so we can start to set the table a little bit for our discussion this afternoon.
Rafey: First of all, Don, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to speak with you. Rafey Shahid, born and raised in Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan. For those who are aware of the popular culture in the US, Kumail Nanjiani is from the same city. Went to school here all the way up to my undergrad. Then for my Master's degree, pursued my Master's degree in the US in New Jersey, the New Jersey Institute of Technology. I've got a Master's degree in... I've got an undergraduate degree in Industrial Electronics, and then a Master's degree in Engineering Management and Robotics. That's where I kind of started my journey with Ignition.
Don: That's great. I think I might wanna a comment. I said, I think I might have said good afternoon to everybody, but I have to also say hat I know that, it's really late where you are. I'm comfortably sitting in an afternoon right after lunch in California. But what time is it where you are?
Rafey: It's 1:00 AM in the morning in Karachi at the moment.
Don: 1:00 AM in the morning and you have a smile on your face. I'm gonna give you a high praise for that. High praise.
Rafey: Thank you.
Don: Much appreciate it. Hey, listen. Let's take a look at the beginning. I happen to know, 'cause I met you many many years ago at one of our initial, maybe it was the first, Ignition Community Conferences in Folsom. But let's talk about the beginning of how you got your start in integration and what was it about integration and the career path you took through your education and your Master's degrees. What was it that really appealed to you as a profession?
Rafey: Well, as a kid, I always was one of those kids that really would grab a screwdriver and start to open up their remote controlled cars and always are looking to fix things or make things. I started with... My grandfather was in the textile machinery business, so when every time a new machine came into Pakistan, he had me go and work with the engineers as a young, middle school, high school kid. That's where I got interested into PLCs and automation first, and then as part... During a break between, what you'd call the second and the third year of high school, I had a break, a summer break, and then that's where I took a PLC programming class. They wouldn't admit me saying that I was too young to take that class and my grandfather kind of went in and talked to them and kind of... I wouldn't say forced them, but actually talked them into, kind of convince them into, making sure that I got into that class. So, that's where I first got my... Started my PLC programming with the old Siemens S7-300 series back in the day as a high school student.
Don: Wow. You did that in high school?
Rafey: Yeah. Long time back. But, and then that's where the interest started, that got my undergraduate, and then Masters and then as soon as I graduated from a Master's degree, part of my Master's degree, I got introduced to Ignition. Right out of Masters, I got a job with a system integrator in New Jersey and then the, I mean, it's... I've never looked back.
Don: Wow. Wow. You probably said it in passing, but I missed it. What was your... I know, obviously your grandfather helped sort of smooth the path for you as a high school student to get into PLC programming class, but what was his profession? What did your grandfather do?
Rafey: My grandfather was in the textile machinery business. So, he would sell international textile machines in Pakistan, which would be... Also textile machines in... Actually from the cotton belt in the US. So, as the textile industry was getting older, so he used to take second-hand machines from the US markets, especially the Carolinas. And then it was exported to Pakistan to set up textile mills here. And that's the business that he was basically in. Buying up old machines in the US and then having them installed in Pakistan. That's one of the businesses he was in. But again, those machines had to be set up, automated, all that stuff.
Rafey: So that's where I got my initial exposure to automation.
Don: Sure. No, I understand. It's generational for you. It's generational. Goes back. That's great.
Don: Well, let's shift a little bit then. Tell me about your experience. You said you started working with an integrator right out of college there in New Jersey. Tell me a little about, you started working with Ignition and Inductive Automation for the first time. How did you find it, how'd you end up with the integrator? And what were you and or the integrator trying to accomplish at the time that included Ignition?
Rafey: Well, I first got introduced to Ignition as part of my Master's degree. I was doing a Masters project for the integration of a robot, a PLC, and then looking for a platform to integrate for a front end. I came across Ignition during that time. So, I integrated Ignition with a robot, and then a FORTEC PLC. That's how I kind of got introduced to Ignition as part of my... At NJIT. Then got my first job with Ignition, with a system integrator in New Jersey called Connell Industries. And my first Ignition industrial deployment was actually at a breakfast products facility, a major breakfast products facility in New Jersey. So, that's how I got first introduced to Ignition and then helped deploy Ignition in that facility.
Don: Well, I also happen to know, because one of our top integrators across the world is ATS Global, and I know you've had some interaction working with them, helping to train their people on how to use Ignition. I'm curious as to how... From where you, I don't know where that training occurred, but what part of the world, but from where you are over there to getting involved with ATS Global, where did the training occur and what were you doing with that?
Rafey: That's a very interesting story. What happened was well, there was a plant in... There was an automotive glass plant that had closed down in Australia and that some company in Pakistan had bought it and that was being moved over to Pakistan because there was no more automotive manufacturing industry in Australia at the moment, or at that time. So the company... The company ATS showed up... I had pitched Ignition to that company that was setting up this plant in Pakistan and the gentleman who I had made the presentation to, the owner of the company, just called me up a few weeks after that, he's like, "Hey, I've got a few people here, they're trying to sell me something, could you come in and have a look?" I'm like, "Sure, like when?" He's like, "Right now."
Rafey: So I got ready, got into my car and 30 minutes later, I just happened to have this demo kit at the time that I carry with me. I just picked up that demo kit and just got into my car and drove there 15-20 minutes later, I was there at the office. I meet these two gentlemen, later I find out both are from ATS. So I'm like, "What are you guys pitching them that this guy has just called me in right away?" "Oh, they... We're selling them a certain software for monitoring." And I'm like, "What software?" "Like Ignition?" I'm like, "Oh, okay. I just pitched that to them a few weeks ago." Lo and behold, we find out they're also pitching Ignition, ATS is also pitching Ignition to this client and we've already pitched Ignition to this client. We started having a conversation about Ignition and how it works and everything with Amin, the gentleman who leads the Australian operations of ATS.
Rafey: And then I take out my kit and open that up and I show them the Alexa integration we'd done with the Ignition. So basically you could tell Alexa and change tag values in Ignition and vice versa. And ask Alexa what the tag values of certain processes are. We had a detailed discussion, about an hour and a half. The customer was just sitting in the corner, listening to us and me and Amin just chatted for about, I wanna say a half an hour, maybe even an hour. We had the longest discussion and then a few months later, we started... We did a project together in Bahrain and then I was invited to come and train their team in Indonesia and then went out to their offices in Australia. Also did a few trainings for ATS on behalf of ATS in Singapore and that's how the relationship grew. This past year when we celebrated our 10 years, ATS and Qanare we set up a separate company to sell ATS products in Pakistan as a partner of ATS.
Rafey: So we signed that agreement, this... We officially shook hands at the last ICC, but we signed the agreement this past December. So that's the memorable picture, one of the pictures back here, is the ATS and Qanare signing that agreement.
Don: I actually am so glad to hear that actually. I wasn't aware that Qanare and ATS had that agreement signed and that it actually happened at the Ignition Community Conference. That's fantastic. I also... That's one of the pictures you're saying in your collage back there on your screen. Okay. All right. So I just want to shift a little bit on the subject of Ignition and your integration business, Qanare. I'm a little bit biased since I've been involved as Chief Strategy Officer since the beginning of Inductive Automation. But we find that our founder, Steve Hechtman, being an integrator of 25 years before starting Inductive Automation and the development of the platform, was very committed to make sure that the product was user-friendly for integrators.
Don: They could build a business around it. They could scale it, their investment, and we would give them the tools they needed to learn the product with Inductive University, all the things that have been built out. Platform utilization, Inductive University, unlimited licensing, things that would make it better for an integrator. Can you talk a little bit about the role from your viewpoint that Ignition has played in building your integration business?
Rafey: Let me first mention another story. I first met Travis at a training in Pennsylvania in Prince of Prussia. That was Travis's first trip to Pennsylvania and then his first trip out to New York. So I wanna bring that training, when you mentioned training, that's the first training, Inductive training, I got, back in the day, almost 10-11 years ago.
Don: Wow, you were one of the very early people when we were still training. We were still training out in the... We were going out and doing training remotely like that before we started bringing it in-house, wow.
Rafey: So that happened and then obviously we did the deployments and everything grew. But for us to grow the company without the... And now when you mention Inductive University, that's been a... That was the... When initially that was launched at the conference, I realized that was a game changer. That took a lot of effort or the class, the financial aspect of the business changed, the ability to learn the software became... It became a faster process. So let me phrase it like that. So it became a much faster process to learn Ignition and the time and effort that needed to be put in to become good at Ignition was reduced significantly because of that availability of Inductive University. We were able to train more and more of our team and it still remains one of the most important tools in our... When you're bringing in new engineers into our company, that still remains one of the most important tools in our arsenal when we're bringing people up to speed and we can identify which kid is going to become a great engineer and be an amazing addition to our team. So Inductive University for us has been a real, real help, especially grooming young talent.
Don: That's great. That's great. Along that line, and you mentioned Inductive University, but you've also followed Inductive Automation for quite some time, as you mentioned, you're going back a decade plus for sure. Over that time, I think you've been to almost all the ICCs. We just had our 10th one coming on number 11 this year. What are some things with that much perspective that stand out over the years maybe that were significant to you or important to you? Just in anecdotally, or more broadly?
Rafey: The focus on the customer. The customer being the end customer or the end user of Ignition and or the customer being the system integrator. I've never had a support request or a code request delayed or definitely never denied, but definitely never delayed either. Anytime I had a question that it could get answered, it was answered. And I've had amazing others been a shout out to my account rep Myron, for 11 years or 10 plus years. He's been my account rep and I've developed an amazing relationship with him over the past 10 plus years. So, that customer focus, I think would be something, an amazing product. Yes, obviously there has to be an amazing product but the focus on the customer has definitely been something that stands out to me.
Don: I want to take a look at that word on the screen behind you there, 'cause I happen to know, I've heard a little bit about this. So you have a very interesting story about the name of your company, and it has a background to it that I find fascinating and I think it'll be interesting for our listeners. Could you share that story?
Rafey: Well, yes. Earlier I mentioned my grandfather, so that story stems from that. Our grandparents immigrated from in... When partition happened in the subcontinent, my grandparents immigrated from the India to Pakistan, when the new country was formed. My grandfather first started a company, and it was called Zona Corporation, Z-O-N-A. The name actually came from his mother's name and his father's name. So that was Zora Z-O came from that. And, N-A Navab actually came, was the first two letters of his father's name. So it was his mother's name and then his father's name. That's how the first company, my grandfather formed, came into being. But it's still around, one of my grandfather... Well, my mother's uncles run that company.
Rafey: And then when my grandfather... My uncle started his company, it was called Kash International, K-A-S-H. Kamala being my grandmother's name, and Shemsi being my grandfather's name. So, that's grandmother's name, and then father's name. Kamala, Shemsi Kash International. And then it came time for me to start a company. So, I had to use my mother's name, which is Nayla, and then my father's name, which is Qamala. Now realizing that my father, when... And I had an aunt who was very close to us, passed away due to cancer. So we'd like... I wanted to keep her memory alive also. So, I was like Q-A, N-A, and R-E. How do I fit these together? Well, according to tradition my mother's name, NA should have come first, but when I was using my mother's name up front, it was becoming NAQARE engineering, which is basically the Urdu word is translated is useless. So instead of calling my company useless engineering, it had to become Qanare Engineering.
Don: I see.
Rafey: So that's how I broke away slightly from the tradition, having to put my father's name in front. But, that's how this kind of came into be.
Don: I see. Well, I do think that Qanare as a name is better than useless engineering. So that's probably good. It's a marketing tool, calling yourself useless was probably not such a good idea. Good, thank you. I think that's a fascinating story, and you'll have that... Pass that tradition on as any of your offspring start companies, they have to carry on the family tradition and name them that way. That's great. So when you think of Inductive Automation and Ignition, how has that helped you achieve something? I know you're in the integration business. What have you been able to achieve, and how has Ignition helped you in achieving that?
Rafey: I mean, the friendships I formed. I think that is the biggest achievement. Obviously people, financial gains and starting up your own company or multiple companies, but I think the number of friends I've gained, or the context I've created in the past 10 years due to Inductive, has been amazing. Sitting here today, giving this interview to you, that wouldn't have happened had I not taken... Not gotten introduced to Ignition in my Master's degree, worked with it. It's 10 years down the line, but at that time I had no idea this is where I'll be sitting. The connection with ATS, the trainings in Australia, that wouldn't have had happened. Interesting story, my grandfather went to school, he got his undergrad from Australia, and I was able to visit his university when I was there with ATS Australia. It was a two hours, two or three hour drive from ATS office. But I was the only grandkid who's ever been back to his university, so many years later.
Don: That's great.
Rafey: I was very lucky in that. So for me that, those things are the biggest achievement, the ability to... Having traveled to Singapore, having traveled to Indonesia, having traveled to Australia. I go to the US a couple of times a year just because of this business to kind of meet with our clients in the US, and obviously come to the ICC. So, for me the achievement is the amount of travel I've been able to do because of this business, and because of this relationship with Inductive. We started, we became the distributor of Opto 22 this past year, because we were introduced to Opto 22 through Ignition and ICC. And then we, obviously relationship with ATS has been a big one of that's come out of this 10-year relationship.
Don: Sure. No, that's fine, that's great. I appreciate you sharing that evolution, if you will. So we have... I know you already know this, but for the benefit of our listeners here, we have an International Distribution Program, which we are expanding so that we can have a better ability to work with time zones and cultures and regulations and stuff inside local jurisdictions around the world. And so we have distributors around in Italy and Norway, in France, in South Africa, in Australia. But we recently, Clarien Solutions was recently named our authorized Ignition distributor in the Middle East and North Africa. I know you've done some work with them, could you maybe tell us a little bit about that relationship and how that's working and some of the things you've done with Clarien Solutions?
Rafey: Well, I'd heard rumors at the ICC. I keep my ears up for that kind of news, but interestingly enough, I didn't know exactly what was happening and when it was gonna be announced. But we kept an eye out. So as soon as they announced that they were distributors in the Middle East, then I gave them a call congratulating them, and they're like, "Hey, we've got a few leads. Would you like to discuss?" I'm like, "Why not?" And then within, I wanna say within 48 hours of them being announced as the integrator, as the distributor, we were already talking on a couple of projects. We've pitched to two of... Well, we've pitched to one of them. I was actually working on one of the proposals just before the... This, the recording of this. And then we're working on another one, hopefully that'll be out later in the week. So, we've already started working with Clarien Solutions. It was... I've seen that that was gonna be the next big step for IA in the Middle East and North Africa region. And it's already happening. So we're looking forward to a few projects in that market very soon.
Don: We absolutely are excited about it too. I mean, we've been... It's been in the works for a while. But to get a good solid distributor, like Clarien Solutions to anchor that Middle Eastern, North African area has been, it's... I mean, we simply haven't had the coverage there that we're now gonna be able to get with someone located there. So, we're excited about it too. So, you're a business person, there are a lot of probably people listening in, may also be integrators. Share anything you wanna share about some of the challenges that you may have faced in starting and getting your business, if you will, up and off the ground.
Rafey: Like any business as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, the most difficult thing is to say no to a client. I've had to say that a few times and that is always going to be a challenge. I try and make sure that I'm saying no for the right reasons. There are instances where you may, might not be the right partner, or maybe the client is just not ready. And that is... Those lessons have to be learned early in business where you cannot go after every opportunity if those will drain you. So you have to identify which opportunity is the best and that suits you, and is best for the client. So, that is a challenge every time. You have to be careful with your time as a... In your sales process and in your engineering effort that you are offering the client the best possible solution and more importantly, he's ready for that kind of solution too.
Don: So, I know we talked a little bit about you and the business... As a business person in Inductive Automation and Ignition. Let's broaden the scope a little bit. You're also a student of the industry, and keep yourself fairly well informed on trends and stuff. So from your perspective, what are some of the biggest opportunities in the industrial automation industry? Those may be opportunities that you see related to you, the region in which you do most of your work, or they may just be broad opportunities that you see industrial automation overall.
Rafey: Because of Ignition's... The introduction of Ignition at an early stage in my career, and then the years of experience I was able to get with Ignition, I was able to travel a lot. For me personally, having the amount of friends that I've been able to make in the Ignition community and the amount of travel I've been able to do because of Ignition has been amazing. I've been able to visit countries like Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, the US I visit almost twice a year to meet with our clients, to meet with our partners there. And obviously to attend ICC. That's been one of the biggest achievements. I've been able to set up my own company, grow it. I've set up two companies in Pakistan and then I've set up recently another company in the US, the newest Qanare America, LLC. So that's, I think all of these would not have happened, I'd not bumped into Ignition or got introduced to Ignition as part of my Master's degree.
Don: So when you think about the newer technologies that are coming to bear across the industry, in Digital Transformation, cloud infrastructure, technology supporting IoT, I know obviously in working with Ignition, you're also very familiar with all the work that we've done with Cirrus Link Solutions in the MQTT space. But what are your thoughts regarding newer technologies and how those play into the integration business?
Rafey: I would say 50%, maybe even more than 50%, of our current projects have some element of the cloud. And we do have people who are trained on the cloud and have certain level of expertise on the clouds. The clouds definitely happen. The integration on the second level where they're taking data that's stored on the cloud for artificial intelligence or further to other processes, that is happening only for bigger companies at the moment. So big Fortune 500 companies are doing that at the moment.
Rafey: The middle-tier companies aren't... They're dabbling with it, but they haven't gone to that stage yet because they're still getting their cloud infrastructure set up properly. So, yes, it's definitely happening, the big guys have already done it or are doing it. The middle tier is getting... They're still in the process of moving everything to the cloud. So it is happening, it's already started, but it depends on which kind of level you're at as a company. And it also on the people you have in your IT department. It does significantly vary on where the leadership stands, the senior leadership of the company and what occupation they have.
Don: When you look at your company, I mean, you are the captain of your ship there, so you're the one who's driving it forward, as you look forward to it, what things do you see as the most important in your future or the things that you're focused on for your growth or just anything as you have your strategy going forward. Yes, you're doing projects, you're expanding your skill set, are there any particular business strategies or viewpoints that really are your guiding light, if you will, into the future right now?
Rafey: Well, for me, the guiding light has been and continues to be the youth of Pakistan. Pakistan is a very young country if you look at it, and there's a lot of graduates coming out from university, just in the city alone that I'm from, there's over 500 Computer Science and Engineering graduates that graduate every six months.
Rafey: So every graduation cycle, so that's about 1000 engineers and software programmers or computer science engineers graduating every six months or every year. And that's a huge pool of talent that obviously in this has to get employment. So for me, the driving force has always been to get more and more people into the company, more people being gainfully employed, and Ignition has been one of the tools that allowed me to do that. We've dabbled into other things also, other services also, but for me, that has been the driving force. Getting people gainfully employed, the youth of Pakistan working on some amazing technology and getting them introduced to amazing technology and having them grow in that. So that's been the driving force, and that continues to be the driving force, which makes me stay up at 2:00 AM and keep doing these things.
Don: We've seen... To your point there, Rafey, we've seen a tremendous uptake in... The uptake, if you will, on our University Engagement Program. I know you're in communication, I think that David Grussenmeyer, our manager over the educational programs, because it's our thought that if we can get Ignition into universities, more of those 1000 graduates coming out a year that you're talking about, are going out into the workforce, more prepared to be productive more rapidly, if they have Ignition under their belt along with their engineering skills. So, we consider it as a critical tool in the tool box, if you will, to be on their tool belt, and we're doing a lot obviously try and make that happen so, hopefully those university graduates in the future will know more Ignition as they graduate also. Well listen, I appreciate you staying up late talking to us for a half hour here, I wanna cut it and maybe end of with just an open-ended question, and give you a chance to just say anything else you wanna say or wanna add to the listeners to this podcast.
Rafey: Obviously we're an equal opportunity employer and Qanare Engineering just became a women majority company this past month, which is something I'm really proud of. That is something that sometimes gets overlooked. For me that is a very big achievement in our part of the world and then we continue to support our engineers. So that was one thing I wanted to bring up. And then I'd like to thank all the people that have been... This picture, I mean, it has a collage of all the... A lot of conferences at ICC with the past 10 years that I've been able to attend, so I'd like to thank all the friends that I've made over the past 10 years at ICC. I was looking forward to seeing all of them again this September. And it's huge thank you to all the people who've trained me at Inductive Automation over the years, and a special thanks to all the distributors who have been able to discuss things with at ICC at lunch meetings and stuff. So, that was the only thing I'd like to add.
Don: Well, I wanna reverse that and thank you. It's amazing to think how fast 10 years goes by Rafey, but having met you, I think it's about years ago now when you and I first met. The evolution of your business and where you've been going and the progress you've made in the work you're doing there in Pakistan, I just say from us at Inductive Automation, some of whom I think are in those pictures behind you. We really appreciate the work that you're doing. Honestly, you're like... You may not have been called this before, I mean it as a compliment, you're like a poster child for how we want Ignition to get out into the world. Is somebody who has a passion to get the skill, and they go out and build the relationships and share their knowledge with their customers, to improve their operations, I mean, you're really an anchor there in Pakistan and the region, and so I really just wanna take this time before I let you go to bed and get some sleep tonight, to really say thank you for everything you have done. And in the world I live in, we always say, what have you done for me lately? As a joke, so it's a... All that you've done and all you...
Rafey: I just bought two licenses recently...
Don: Yeah, exactly. And how about the future? Let’s move some more licenses.
Rafey: I did buy two licenses yesterday.
Don: Oh good, good, good, then you're right on the game.
Rafey: I'm helping sell more. But I just wanted to add... Sorry, when you mentioned Pakistan. We have also started as part of our 10-year plan, we also established a company in the US, so we have Qanare American LLC set up in the US as well, just this past... Again, as part of our this year's plan is to get that rolling as well. So, we'll have a presence in the US. Well, we already have a presence in the US.
Rafey: That's great, that is great. Thank you so much again. Much appreciated, Rafey. Thanks for your time. Goodnight.