When you think of long-serving, established B2B companies in Northern Ontario, often you think of resource-based contractors and suppliers. But Kap Data is a rare breed of company in Northern Ontario and indeed most places in Canada: a technology solutions company that spans the age of the business computer.
Miro and Marthe Spacek founded Kap Data and Systems Ltd. in Kapuskasing in 1983. Marthe took care of all the important back-end tasks that kept the business — and their family of four children — afloat, so Miro could focus on the technical aspects.
Back then, business computers were still far from common, and many felt they were a fad. But Spacek saw the computer’s potential early on, and how it could be an especially useful business tool in an area as vast as Northern Ontario where geographical barriers were (and still are) very real.
Spacek took computers a step further than most could, actually writing customized software for Kap Data’s customers.
He learned programming at Northern College in Kirkland Lake in the 1970s. In December 1982, he copyrighted “The OHIP Medical Billing System” which was the first electronic medical documentation system in Ontario. He designed the customized software for a doctor’s office that wanted a faster and easier way to submit billables.
“Each time a patient would come in, the secretary would type in the code and the printer would print up the card as necessary,” Spacek said. The fan-fold printouts would be collected in a box and then shipped to OHIP, saving the doctor the large amount of time it took to do by hand.
That’s just one example of many custom software packages.
Spacek also programmed a retail inventory system in 1975, municipal general accounting software, and artificial intelligence (AI) software for the mining industry in 2005. This system analyzed maintenance records from previous years to create future maintenance schedules, inventory needs, associated labour needs, and budgets. Spacek also had the foresight to use four-digit dates instead of two (e.g. “1983” instead of just “83”), so his clients avoided Y2K anxiety.
Another way Kap Data was unique was its in-person service across such a vast area. Spacek would fly to places like Moosonee in his own Cessna Cardinal 177 — the same plane he flew as a pilot with Civil Air Search and Rescue (CASARA). His daughter Karyn Loree-Spacek, who took over the company in 2011, often flew with him.
“That was always exciting — we’d follow the Moose River to Moosonee and Moose Factory,” Loree-Spacek said. “He’d give me the map to navigate.”
The Kap Data name comes from its roots in Kapuskasing, but it is also an acronym which stands for “Knowledge Acquisition Phase” — the research phase and first step to writing intelligent code, as Spacek puts it. It is rooted in Kap Data’s philosophy. Kap Data doesn’t ask, “What do you need?” but “What do you want to do?” Spacek custom-designed all his software from this starting point. From the start, Kap Data was focused on personalized solutions, not fulfilling specs.
“There was one point when people would come in with a list of specs from another computer store,” Loree-Spacek said. “‘We need this much RAM,’ or whatever and my father would say, ‘Well, what do you need that for?’ They wanted to compare apples to apples. But he would ask what it was they needed to do, and then say, ‘You don’t need to spend all that money. This is all you need.’”
Kap Data got a tremendous boost when Xerox approached the company to partner with them in 1986. Previously, large tech providers would have travelling sales people based in southern Ontario to service the area. The Xerox Agent program allowed B2B at the local level. It also opened up a world of equipment and support in Northern Ontario that businesses here may not have had otherwise.
Today, Spacek is (mostly) retired and Loree-Spacek runs the day-to-day business. The storefront is long gone; in perhaps another first, Loree-Spacek has operated the business virtually across northeastern Ontario for many years now. She based herself first in Thunder Bay (where her husband worked with the OPP) and now Atikokan, regularly visiting communities along the 11/17 corridor.
Spacek still designs custom software, though it isn’t as big a part of the business. But designing custom business solutions remains the company’s focus. Loree-Spacek sees their Xerox partnership just as important today as it’s ever been. Kap Data expanded to become the Timmins area Xerox Authorized Agent in 2020. Xerox equipment is the springboard to meeting client needs.
“That’s actually the fun part,” she said. “The equipment helps us get a foot in the door, but once we have a chance to develop a relationship with them, then we get a better sense of what might be missing and how we can help.”
That can still be in the form of software through Xerox’s partnerships with software developers.
“We need to make sure we’re partnering with bigger companies so that we can bring those resources into the North,” Loree-Spacek said.