Allstream’s Raymond Lahoud: An IT executive’s approach to innovation

Following his recent appearance at the Argyle Executive Forum in Toronto earlier this month, the company’s VP of network and IT talks about developing and exchanging value with customers

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Running an IT shop isn’t just about IT anymore. It’s about innovation. Aside from keeping the lights on and keeping costs down, you’re likely being tasked with spearheading innovation within the IT department and across the business.

Easier said than done.

For Raymond Lahoud, vice-president of network and information technology services with Allstream, innovation has become a much-needed strategy shift as the company tilts its centre of gravity from upstream activities (production and products) to downstream activities (customers).

Lahoud, who spoke on a panel at the Argyle Executive Forum in Toronto earlier this month, discussed how innovation can transform the way organizations develop and exchange value with customers.

So how is he fostering innovation at Allstream?

The company wanted to chart a new course as a market disrupter and saw opportunities in taking a service- and customer-centric approach. “Innovation in our industry is not that simple — it takes dedication, loyalty and partnership to discover and create game-changing opportunities,” said Lahoud, “as you need to break through risk aversion in leaders at all levels.”

Lahoud’s approach to fostering innovation is this: inspire curiosity, challenge the current perspective, provide freedom, drive discipline, and be willing and ready to take risks.

But there’s no magic formula. “I am often asked this question, as many are looking for the magical answer,” he said. “However, I can tell you from experience this is an ongoing process and not a one-time initiative.”

A global CEO survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 80 per cent of CEOs believe innovation drives efficiencies and leads to competitive advantage. Close to 70 per cent of those surveyed were investing in IT to reduce costs and become more efficient, while 54 per cent were also funneling funds toward growth initiatives that leverage new and emerging technologies.

Sure, innovation can provide a competitive advantage, but it takes hard work to get there. “When you start looking at the incredible task to become efficient, productive and drive bottom-line growth you begin to realize the barriers to innovation,” said Lohoud. “And the irony is IT itself can be a barrier due to the complexity, as we tend to add more to our infrastructure — as it’s easier — than consolidate and simplify.”

His team took a hard look at the company’s IT assets to decide what could be consolidated and what could be eliminated. “I can tell you it is not an easy task but this exercise … helped us make some very difficult decisions, yet it created a new simplification strategy — having less systems and relying more on intelligent automation that focuses our people to become decision makers.”

But you have to be ready for conflicting or competing priorities, and balance the need to give employees freedom to innovate while maintaining organizational control.

“As a result of our learning we began developing new ways to bring innovation forward, such as organization creative workshops — where leaders and employees are equal — and collective problem solving,” said Lahoud.

Soon enough, his team began to realize the challenges they met initially created new opportunities that brought them closer together. “All of a sudden we have a culture full of energy, creativity and collaboration,” said Lahoud. “The silos between organizations are broken, [and] as a result [we] have a unified and united team standing behind the vision.”

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