Ottawa IT company reflects on changing times as it celebrates 30 years

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The information technology business has changed a lot since Kendall Lougheed founded MicroWorks in 1983.

Kendall Lougheed is the president of Ottawa IT firm Microworks.

By Jacob Serebrin

Back then, just getting “two computers to talk to each other” was a “miracle,” he said. Connections required twisted wires, transferred text at the speed of typing was impressive and sending video, or even audio, was unimaginable.

Last month, the Ottawa-based IT consulting firm celebrated 30 years in business.

“It surprises me when I think about it,” said Mr. Lougheed.

Staying in business for three decades in a fast-moving industry has meant being open to change.

“You have to be careful not to get locked into a certain technology that’s relevant today because it might not be tomorrow,” Mr. Lougheed said. His strategy has been “to not think about technology but to think about solutions.”

“We always have to be relevant to people’s business needs,” said Mr. Lougheed. “What’s their pain, how do we get them through their day faster or more easily.”

And in the business-to-business market, saving a customer’s employees time can add up to major savings.

Mr. Lougheed has also kept an eye on up-and-coming technology.

In the early days, when he was twisting wires, Mr. Lougheed said he “knew it was going to become more automated.”

In the early to mid 90s he noticed another big development, HTML, the main computer language used on the Internet.

“I looked at HTML and said this is really going to change things,” he said. “I immediately hired four salespeople.”

While he was right about HTML, his customers weren’t ready.

“I was in too much of a hurry, no one wanted to buy.” He said some companies were even worried that if they launched websites their sales would grow too fast and they wouldn’t be able to keep up.

MicroWorks did have some big successes in that era though.

Mr. Lougheed said he introduced Microsoft Canada to the Internet and built its first website.

The relationship between the two companies is still intact. MicroWorks is a reseller of Microsoft SharePoint and provides services and solutions around the software suite.

While Mr. Lougheed said he loves learning about new technology, the business itself has also been a learning process.

“About eight years ago I learned how to organize the business,” he said. “You can’t be all things to all people.”

His focus now is on “customer intimacy, how we can be their consultant, their enabler. That’s a high value.”

Providing services is key, he said. “With energy and interest you can be relevant for ever.”

The service focus means that the company doesn’t have to compete on price alone.

“We’re not trying to be the lowest price, we’re trying to be the best service.”

He also credits the company’s longevity to its staff.

“We are basically a consulting business,” he said. Which has meant bringing in “great, bright people.”

When it first started, MicroWorks was a sole proprietorship, now the company has a staff of 22.

Mr. Lougheed said if he could do it all over again he might have taken on a business partner at the start.

“I started with $100 and could make big investments.”

But he doesn’t dwell on it.

“You make your mistakes,” he said. “I don’t regret any mistakes I made.”

It hasn’t always been easy. The company has survived three recessions, with the first two forcing layoffs. Business remained strong through the most recent recession, Mr. Lougheed said.

Despite the challenges over the years, Mr. Lougheed is pleased with how things turned out.

“I love what I’m doing,” said Mr. Lougheed. “I love to learn and I love to work with people and I love problem solving.”

While Mr. Lougheed said he might step away from day-to-day management within the next five years, he plans on working longer.

“I’m not tired of it one bit,” he said.

With a successful business, he doesn’t think succession will be a challenge and he said he expects the company to last even longer.

“The need to organize information in meaningful ways is never going away.”

 

Organizations: Microsoft Canada

Geographic location: Ottawa

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