Northern GEMS: Greenland IT company goes from AWG to international stage
'If you can make things work in Greenland, you can make them work everywhere'
The 2016 Arctic Winter Games open Sunday, and while it's a celebration of achievement for participants, its also an important milestone for one Greenland company, who turned a favour done "out of pity" for the 2002 Nuuk Games into an international success story.
The 2016 Games are the eighth in a row to be powered by GEMS.pro, an IT solution developed by Nuuk-based company Kimik.iT. The all-in-one software handles volunteer and participant registration, accreditation, housing, schedules, scores, and results.
It's a remarkable achievement for a small company, which otherwise deals with the IT needs for the nation's remote municipalities. But according to CEO Ian Wennerfeldt, it was one that stemmed from necessity, beginning a year and a half before the 2002 Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk.
"This young guy came along," says Wennerfeldt, "the newly appointed general manager for the 2002 Arctic Winter Games came to us, and asked for help. And we thought, well, it's going to be a huge failure. Nothing can be prepared for a Games this size in only 18 months.
"But... we felt so sorry for him. So we said: 'Please sit down, Michael [Binzer, general manager of the 2002 Games]. You need an administrative solution, and we'll help you get on track.'"
The original version of GEMS.pro was built "with a shovel," according to Wennerfeldt. The company had no experience with sports competitions and little time to prepare. But by the time the participants arrived, Kimik had arrived at a "useful product that helped manage the Games."
The software caught the eye of the host society for the 2004 Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray, who asked for Kimik.iT to provide the same service. The Fort McMurray contract led to the 2006 Arctic Winter Games, which led to the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse. The rest, as they say, is history.
'Nothing we had ever imagined'
Wennerfeldt credits GEMS' international success to multiple factors: the software is multilingual, allowing hosts to use it in any language, and because it wasn't developed with a specific sport in mind, its results-counting "building blocks" can be easily adapted to suit any competition.
"I usually say: 'if you can make things work in Greenland, you can make them work everywhere,'" says Wennerfeldt. "We have very, very poor connections — internet, telephone and so on. So we do struggle on a daily basis to make things work.
"And if you're able, at least, to make things work just barely here, given the right circumstances, your solutions will certainly shine."
Beginning as a small, one person project, GEMS now has three dedicated, full-time programmers. Kimik.iT has also stationed two consultants in London, Ont., to handle increasing Canadian demand.
This year, the software was used for the Pacific Games, a multisport competition hosted in Papua New Guinea. After the Arctic Winter Games, Kimik.iT will turn their attention to next year's Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg.
The rise to prominence has been "really, nothing that we ever had imagined," Wennerfeldt says.
"Especially being such a small software company, coming out of Greenland. That's pretty outskirts, everywhere you go."
The 2016 Arctic Winter Games means that GEMS will return to a competition in Greenland for the first time since its creation. To mark the occasion, Kimik.iT is debuting GEMS.uno, a new, mobile-focused version of the software.
Despite his initial skepticism, Wennerfeldt speaks highly of the 2002 Games, and says that the feeling is different in Nuuk this time around.
"The community is much more apt this time," he says. "We know what it's all about. We didn't, really, back in 2001. It's going to be a huge festival for all of us."
Last-minute preparations are still underway. Wennerfeldt's team is hard at work on GEMS — and, like many locals, around the community. Earlier in the week, he volunteered his time to help assemble beds for the athletes.
"Being the CEO doesn't mean that you do not shovel snow, or assemble beds or whatever.
"It's the North, and we all have to pitch in."