What do the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the American Museum of Natural History and Sappi have in common?
They all use software provided by eLogger, a technology company located on a side street in Cloquet.
It advertises its software as replacing paper logbooks and disconnected systems, “collecting, storing and distributing real-time data about your operation to those who need to know.”
“Anything they have that is paper, they can pretty much throw away,” said eLogger President B.J. Lingren, explaining the company’s trademark electronic logging software can be customized to meet different needs of its mostly industrial or highly regulated customers.
For most of those customers - energy companies, paper mills, manufacturing plants, water treatment facilities and more - the functions provided by eLogger are of vital importance.
Like the Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department, which is responsible for more than 3,400 miles of sewer, two metropolitan treatment plants and seven subregional facilities throughout Pima County, Ariz. Or Spectra Energy Corp., a natural gas infrastructure company in British Columbia, where 55 employees in eight different shifts use the electronic logbook. Now it takes the operations team manager 10 minutes to check the logbooks, saving him roughly 80 minutes a day.
“Almost all the companies we work for are in the same niche, heavily regulated and monitored, where if something goes beyond this measurement or this temperature, then it might blow up,” explained Anna Tennis, senior account manager for eLogger. “All of them already have systems to monitor (everything) ... but there’s no system that pulls everything into one spot and organizes it in a way that makes sense.”
Jane Fitzpatrick, eLogger’s director of sales operations, jumped in.
“That’s the critical difference in what eLogger does and why we are as widespread as we are,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s a real elegance and shrewdness to the way information is organized in the software. You can customize almost everything else, but the backbone of eLogger is how smart the data is laid out.”
Originally designed by Doug Nelson in the 1990s as an electronic logbook for Potlatch to utilize, Lingren joined forces with Nelson in about 2003.
When the two went their separate ways, Lingren kept the business and brought in a new partner, Andrew Kortuem. He really took eLogger to the next level, she said, in terms of “increasing the functionality of the software.”
“People would ask, ‘Can you make it do this?’ and he’d make it happen,” Lingren said.
Up to this point, most Cloquet residents have been unaware that eLogger even exists, unless they stumbled upon the business looking for the old Alamo Gun and Pawn Shop. Now tastefully remodeled, the eLogger building sits tucked away along Eighth Street, between Cloquet Avenue and Avenue B.
“I can’t tell you how many pawn customers came in, and we’d have to tell them, ‘Sorry, you can’t get a gun here,’” said Lingren, laughing.
Actual eLogger customers - across the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and as far away as Australia - rarely come to the office on Eighth Street. Instead, eLogger goes to them for an initial meeting/analysis or it’s all done over the internet and without a lot of staff.
Although it’s a growing company, eLogger only recently reached a grand total of 10 employees.
“Technology is great,” Lingren said. “We can have one person here in the office and everyone else working from home or somewhere else.”
On many days they actually have three or four people working at the Cloquet office - Lingren, Fitzpatrick and Tennis plus an office manager and trainer - along with employees in Chicago, Michigan and Duluth who basically work from home.
And while 10 employees doesn’t sound like a lot, that’s five times what eLogger had 10 years ago, when Lingren and Kortuem really started trying to sell the software, while also consulting so they could survive.
The business grew and, in 2011, they stopped doing all consulting work, and in 2015 they stopped selling any software except eLogger and changed the name from SYNAAP North to eLogger.
To understand how far the industry has evolved, it’s best to travel even further back in time with Lingren, to her early days working at the Potlatch paper mill in Brainerd, Minn.
“Every morning I would hike miles around the mill with a notebook, and I’d copy the logbooks and then type that up and put it together to get ready for the morning meeting,” Lingren said, estimating the entire process took up to two hours a day. “eLogger replaced that process in the Potlatch facilities.”
It saved time every day, and it streamlined the company’s ability to find records enormously.
“Utility companies are required to keep records of their logbooks for a certain number of years and would have rooms filled with books,” Lingren said. “The auditor would come in and say, ‘I need to know every time the No. 3 pump shut down,’ and they would have to find it, by reading through the last three years’ worth of green ledgers. Now eLogger can find it in five seconds.”
“It is an electronic logbook, but very few of our customers end up using it just that way,” Tennis said.
At Unitil, a public utility in New Hampshire serving 109,000 electric customers and 70,800 natural gas customers, the company used eLogger to replace complicated spreadsheets that weren’t easy to search and helped the utility identify patterns and trends that might have gone undetected before.
“We continually monitor pressure, levels and numerous other data points, recording the value in eLogger,” said Unitil project coordinator Stacey Kilroy, adding that they can look for potential problem areas easily with eLogger.
It also has been used to help coordinate/manage the security for large events.
At the 2010 Winter Olympics, for example, more than 700 radios were used by more than 1,300 personnel reporting to 80 communications operators. Every hour of the day and night, the operators were standing by to transcribe every radio conversation into eLogger. Each entry was assigned a priority code and issued a date and time stamp.
“Using eLogger, we were able to follow up on past incidents, track the changing security operations and adapt to it,” said Darren Young, communications coordinator for the security firm hired to handle both events.
The buzzword, Lingren said, is “operational awareness,” adding that they get a lot of business from word of mouth. Paper company employees move to a new company and suggest eLogger. One power generation plant adopts the software, and other plants want to know what they’re using.
They also host an annual user conference for existing customers and possible new clients. Their first one was in Duluth in 2014, and they held the second one in February in San Diego, where people could meet the eLogger support team, ask questions and even see how the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and other public agencies such as the Lake County Jail near Chicago are using the software.
“You wouldn’t think a jail would have much in common with a power plant, but they do, and they learn a lot from each other (about utilizing eLogger),” Lingren said. “You would be hard-pressed to name a business that wouldn’t benefit from what it can do for them.”