6 Questions: One-on-One with Ron McKenzie, CEO, Octopz Inc.

Web 2.0 software aims to transform the collaboration process.

Through its use of blogs, wikis, and an emphasis on real-time collaboration, the Web 2.0 concept is changing the way staff members within companies work together. One Toronto company, privately held Octopz Inc., is targeting the creative professional community with its self-titled online collaboration software product. Since launching in April, 2007, the firm has garnered a number of awards, including the Canadian Innovation Leader Award as this year’s Canadian Innovation Exchange, and an inclusion on IDC’s recent Top 10 Canadian Web 2.0 Companies to Watch list. CEO Ron McKenzie talks about the next iteration of his firm’s product and the ways in which Web 2.0 is transforming the business landscape.

What is the greatest challenge currently facing Octopz and what are you doing about it?

Prioritizing our opportunities. We are just launching the next phase of our product in the market. This next phase is taking what we have built as a service and enabling it to be embedded by our partners in any application or portal or Web design. We’re finding an enormous demand for existing applications and services that want to add a Web 2.0 collaborative front end but have it integrated right into their workflow. These [include] content management engines, portals, workflow solutions. For us it’s really a management of these opportunities and continuing to build the resources in order to execute in the market.

Who else — person or company — do you feel is doing innovative work and in what way?

The MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, where Octopz is located. It’s a two-kilometre-square area that’s home to about 200 companies and organizations in the science, business and capital communities. I look at it as a hub of innovation….Many of my neighbours are in life sciences, pharmaceutical development or software development and throughout that process there is a constant innovative sharing of ideas. If you fast-forward and look at the transition of [Ontario] and the need to transition to more of a competitive engine in the knowledge-based economy, I think MaRS is doing one of the more innovative things that I’ve seen.

How would you describe your leadership approach/style?

I’m very much a believer in open and engaged teamwork. I believe in fostering an environment where our employees are encouraged to bring new ideas to the forefront and take an active ownership position in managing and the commitment to a customer. Many of our breakthrough ideas both in product and communication have come from our employees. I’m very inclusive and believe in having fun.

Your product aims to accelerate and improve collaboration within businesses. What are the main benefits this enhancement can bring to a company?

Better time to market. Creative agencies are on deadlines, such as for a product launch. Instead of waiting around for approvals, they have found this to be an excellent service to be able to move approvals forward. Also, the more advanced customers we work with want to get closer to their customers. They are embracing the concept that your consumer owns your brand. How do you now get the consumer engaged? They are using applications like ours as a way to engage the customer directly in their development process, or their ideas or their prioritization of service. This is what Web 2.0 is all about: bringing the power of social networking to business.

Will the Software as a Service model eventually replace the traditional packaged software model?

I’m not sure we’ll see a replacement of packaged software. I think there will always be a place for [it] in terms of the richness of what you can do. What I’m seeing is a great deal of interest from manufacturers of packaged software and traditional client-server applications wanting to add a Web 2.0 Software as a Service complement. That’s where I see the real power coming forward — taking an existing piece of packaged software and bringing it forward to take advantage of the social networking tools that web 2.0 offers.

Throughout your career, you’ve worked for some large companies, such as Hewlett-Packard and MTS/Allstream. What knowledge from those enterprises are you bringing to this young firm?

I was very fortunate when I started with HP that Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were still running the company. Their management philosophy was very much one of management by wandering around. The design was done through what we called the “next-bench syndrome”. You designed something and you gave it to the engineer at the next bench. Well, in many ways, getting your clients and customers applying the same theory now in a social networking arena, the next bench is essentially the world. You can now get consumers involved, not just the engineer beside you. So I think the principles they instilled that made great companies are still applicable today.