Not only is Al Muirhead one of the two founders of Reflex Enterprise Solutions Group, an Edmonton-based software company that’s been providing cutting edge business software since the early 80s, he’s also a proud Edmontonian, an avid golfer, and an active community member throughout Edmonton and St. Albert.
Al began Harrison Muirhead Systems in 1984 with a friend and fellow NAIT graduate, Blaine Harrison. Together, they developed custom software solutions for businesses throughout Edmonton, as well as for several government departments. As the technology climate changed, so too did Al and Blaine’s approach to their business. After analyzing market trends and new offerings in technology, Harrison Muirhead Systems turned into an ERP software development company—one that grew and changed with the world of technology. Today, Al and Blaine are the co-founders of an Edmonton-based development company that offers one of the most cutting-edge business solutions around.
Rebranded as Reflex Enterprise Solutions Group, Al and the team have made a point to work with as many local businesses as possible—manufacturing companies, construction organizations, property management companies, and more—to offer a modern software solution that, at the end of the day, helps our local economy and saves businesses money. Reflex has worked with hundreds of Alberta-based companies over the years and some current clients include Melcor Developments, Keller Construction, Lenmak Exterior Innovations, Strata Development Corp., and Steel-Craft Door Products. As a result, the Reflex team has worked with many industry leaders throughout the construction, property management, and manufacturing scene in Alberta, throughout Canada, and into the United States.
Q: Al, you’ve spent your whole career in the software industry. How has it changed in Edmonton over the years, in your opinion?
I’ve been in the software industry since the early 70s, so obviously a lot of things have changed over the years. When I first graduated from NAIT, I was working with the University of Alberta to get their Administrative Systems Department started. At that time, very few businesses employed any kind of computer-based technology and, for the most part, companies would use a Data Process Centre to automate some of the key processes, such as accounting, payroll, and inventory.
When companies began buying their own in-house computing equipment, Blaine and I led the way in developing software for construction, distribution, manufacturing, and the municipal government. The change, since that point, has been exponential. The technology industry began to take off, bolstered by new innovation and disruptive technologies.
What we’ve seen in Edmonton, and through some of our clients, is that many companies have initially made the choice to automate their processes through traditional big vendor software. When the wave of technology began, several big-name companies made their way to the mainstream. While their software works well for individual functions, we’ve seen plenty of local companies struggling with big-name business software that doesn’t live up to the hype.
Edmonton is rapidly growing and businesses are expanding to reflect that. We’re lucky to work with many local companies who value the fact that we built from scratch a modern comprehensive solution that manages business processes from start to finish, and that we offer support directly out of our Edmonton office.
Q: What was the most important thing you learned while you were at NAIT?
I originally attended NAIT with the aim of studying business, but I quickly learned that technology would be the way of the future. I found that studying Computer Systems Technology would offer me greater opportunities to grow, both on a business and a personal level.
One of the most important things I learned at NAIT through the Computer Systems Technology program was practical experience as opposed to just learning theory. It helped me to gain employment immediately after graduating and I was soon leading the team that developed and implemented the University of Alberta’s Administrative Systems Department’s first accounting, human resources, and payroll system.
Q: What have been the benefits of growing locally and being an Edmonton-based company?
Edmonton has provided us with an excellent environment in which to grow and expand. The resource pool that has been available means that we’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of skilled employees and consultants throughout our history.
It’s important to us that we’re giving back to the community that supported us from the very beginning, so we’re very glad that Edmonton’s business community is so close-knit and welcoming. We’ve made some lifelong friends through business partnerships and networking, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Q: What have been the downfalls?
We’re very lucky because many of our partner and client organizations have understood the value of a local partnership and have shared common goals and objectives with those of us at Reflex. That being said, it can become difficult to make connections within a larger organization that is hesitant to choose a locally-founded IT company in light of other big-name options.
One of the biggest frustrations we constantly have to deal with is having a perfect solution for a company (with no customization required) that gets rejected in favour of a “safer” big-name product. The end result in this case is usually that the company goes well over budget in customizing the big-name product to fit their organization and losing their access to support and upgrades.
Our primary goal is to help businesses manage their data with a modern solution that reduces errors and lowers costs. It’s awful to see a great business choose a product based on a name brand and then have to face years and years of unnecessary expenses customizing and developing a product that ends up costing multiple times the original price.
Q: How do you prefer to get involved in your local community?
As a resident of St. Albert, I’ve been involved in a number of local initiatives throughout the St. Albert and Edmonton areas for many years, from coaching and managing minor league hockey, to competing in Edmonton and Alberta-based tournaments for racquetball and squash. My wife and I also make sure to help out with the food bank and have helped organize clothing drives for organizations such as the Bissell Centre.
Reflex also supports local organizations and charities as a company. Some of us are involved in organizations such as the Edmonton Executive Association, the Edmonton Construction Association, and 100 Men YEG, and our company routinely supports and donates to organizations such as YESS, the Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree, the Edmonton Hope Mission, and more.
Q: Why do you think Reflex ERP software is an important addition to the local technology scene?
We’ve been in the industry for a long time and we have the utmost respect for fellow Edmonton-based businesses who have built their companies from the ground up as we have. It’s important for them to know that we’re here to help them grow and that, as a local software company, we can give them IT support from just a few kilometres away.
While many people might think it’s safer to select a big-name brand, we think the fact that we’ve been in the industry for just about four decades, work on-site in Edmonton, and have personal relationships with all our clients are testament to our trustworthiness, longevity, and durability. We’re here to help Edmonton businesses and we always have been.