Optel HQ

Awards, loans, layoffs—a busy week at Optel Group

Traceability hardware vendor spreads its wings


In a quiet (and maybe typically modest-Canadian) fashion, Optel Group, a provider of integrated barcoding and verification systems for pharma traceability, has become the leading vendor operating globally in the traceability space. A recent article in Le Soleil, a Quebec City newspaper, while reporting on layoffs of some employees at the firm, noted that the privately held company’s revenue is above C$100 million (and company insiders say it’s approaching C$200 million). At that level, it’s arguably two or more times larger than any other vendor in the pharma traceability space (which is, admittedly, a fairly narrow market in the scheme of things, but one that is worth several billion dollars globally).

Just after the Le Soleil article, Optel announced that it has received a C$68-million loan from Desjardins Group, a Canadian financial services firm, “for growth and expansion plans.” Meanwhile, Louis Roy, Optel president, has just won the EY Entrepreneur of the Year in two categories, for “business products and services” and as the entrepreneurial leader in Quebec province.

Layoffs and a loan? A company spokesman explains that the 105 affected employees were either temporary workers or contractors brought on as business ramped up in the first half of 2017; after FDA announced a one-year postponement of compliance with an interim deadline of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (which drives the traceability market Optel operates in), new business significantly slowed down. This is somewhat in contrast to what was reported recently by a Healthcare Distribution Alliance survey, in which 61.9% of industry respondents who expected trouble in meeting the DSCSA schedule cited a lack of vendor resources to meet their needs. (Are pharma manufacturers looking for a ready excuse for inactivity, or is this something else? You decide!)

Optel has nearly 1,000 employees, and is operating on a global basis from facilities in Canada, Ireland, Brazil and India. It also played a foundational role in getting the Open-SCS Group started, an effort to provide better interoperability among traceability systems. And it has a leading role in a bid for winning government support for an “AI-Powered Supply Chains Supercluster,” a Canadian effort to bootstrap industrial centers of excellence across the country. Most recently, it has launched an industry conference, the Industry 4.0 Think Tank, to bring internet of things (IoT) and related topics to North American manufacturing—which is also an indication that it is looking beyond pharma traceability as a market. (The meeting is to be held in Chicago on Jan. 31-Feb. 1; more information at www.industry40thinktank.com)