Innovation is creating better and more effective products,” says Philippe Jetté, CTO of Cogeco Cable Inc. “We also use innovation to optimize processes and services. Innovation is all about teamwork, and—as it is a process that involves a lot of people—it needs to be organized and managed.”
It is through innovation in a number of areas that Cogeco Cable, headquartered in Montréal, has become the second-largest HFC cable operator in Québec and Ontario. The company offers audio, analogue, and digital television, alongside high-speed Internet and telephony services, to its residential customers. Cogeco Cable also provides to its commercial customers, through its subsidiary Cogeco Data Services, a suite of communication solutions, colocation, and managed digital services.
The company enjoyed its largest growth spurt after it went public in 1985. According to Jetté, this was achieved through an innovative program of customer-service delivery. Since then, Cogeco has managed to retain and grow its market share through multifaceted innovation through the delivery of its products and services, as well as on its own internal processes and systems.
with Philippe Jetté
1. What does innovation mean to your company?
We look at innovation in the telecommunication space as a way to bring better products and services to the marketplace, but also as a way to simplify our own operation and to lower costs.
2. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
I would say that the velocity of innovation has increased. The marketplace demands more and more products and services. This has changed the way we work, as we have to establish highly disciplined processes to respond to the market’s needs.
3. What do you enjoy about innovating?
The fun side of innovation—other than always exploring new ideas—is that it is very dynamic, as the marketplace is dynamic. You can be working on something, but if the technology is not mature enough, or the market has changed slightly, then new, more relevant ideas become available. You need to be very flexible in your thinking, and you need to be relentless and have the energy for changing and optimizing things.
4. What do you think defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
For me, an innovative company in the 21st century will be highly focused on the market; it will be able to predict and work with the market, be very proactive, and bring solutions on time to the market at the right, low cost.
5. How can a company encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
It is a question of timing. Working on advanced services at the right time is a much lower cost process than speculating on leading-edge services. There’s an important difference there. If you’ve done a good job evaluating the value of your innovation for the end user and the economic profit of your concept—and you can be agile in moving the right project to market—you will make money to feed the continued funnel of innovation.
“We use a lot of technology internally to automate and simplify our operations,” Jetté explains. “Through innovative tech, we lower the costs of delivery so that more customers can enjoy our products at a better cost.”
The external face of Cogeco’s innovation with products and services is the end result of a complex and carefully orchestrated idea-funnelling system. Jetté reports that the many ideas considered (or “brought into the innovation process”) are collated from inside the company and from customers. Each concept is looked at by skilled, multidimensional groups of employees who are able to consider any proposal from a multitude of perspectives: economic, marketing, partner development, in light of technology trends, how the idea fits with Cogeco as an organization, and, eventually, how to take the idea to market.
“As the ideas are evaluated, some are prioritized and their velocity increases through the funnel,” Jetté says. “The better ones emerge and become development projects, where development specialists bring the ideas to fruition. It’s very technical, but that’s how we not only encourage innovation but manage it also.”
The innovation capabilities of Cogeco, and that of its competitors, are being tested by the technological sea changes currently taking place within its industry. According to Jetté, at the root of the change was the introduction of IP, in the early 1990s, over the existing cable and fiber-optic technologies. “In the mid-’90s at Cogeco, we knew that we could bring Internet connectivity to our customers, and the company worked very hard to launch as the first cable operator in Canada to provide Internet services over cable,” Jetté says. “This success was not just a tech thing. It was an organization-wide effort to bring the right technology to market at the right cost.”
But the challenge to be early to market continues to press, and Jetté believes that innovation based on IP technology is still in its infancy, with significant changes to video services coming to market over the next couple of years.
“There’s going to be a lot of evolution on how video services are delivered to multiple devices. When you add multiple applications, such as basic data messaging and telephony, then you can start to personalize the suite of applications that each customer wants to use,” says Jetté. “We will see the delivery of personalized services over IP networks, with voice, data, and video services converging. It’s going to be the same on the business side, where business applications are migrating onto an IP delivery over data networks, allowing companies to personalize their needs and become much more efficient. All at a better price, and all achieved through continued innovation.”