Modern Solutions to Age-Old Business Problems

Wadood Ibrahim explains how Protegra’s focus on people, community, and customized software is transforming how nonprofits operate

Photo by BeiBei Lu

Protegra doesn’t spend time following what the competition is doing. “We would rather be followed than be followers,” says Wadood Ibrahim, CEO and founder of the software-enabled solutions company. “We are charting our own destiny by focusing on customer needs, our internal staff needs, and innovation.”

Figuring out the myriad methods for innovation is central to Protegra and what drives its work. The Manitoba-based company’s product suite includes cutting-edge, custom software solutions for businesses, governments, and nonprofit institutions. Its product development and service path is shaped by its clients’ needs as well as the passions of its staff. “By aligning employee interests with what they are working on, we are able to produce better results for our customers,” Ibrahim says. That focus has enabled the employee-owned company to be named a Canadian Employer of the Year by Aon Hewitt for more than five years in a row. “Being a good place to work is not a means to an end—it’s an end in itself,” Ibrahim says.

“If a company isn’t agile, somebody else will innovate and eat their lunch.”

As such, the staff works collaboratively on projects, helps foster the company’s culture, and helps control its future direction. “We want to do the right thing and give back to the community,” Ibrahim says. To that end, Protegra’s employees actively participate in the local community with organizations such as the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, where they are currently helping the nonprofit rethink how it develops its strategy. Protegra has also recently built the first-ever health-charity mobile app in Canada for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

Moreover, Protegra offers a cloud-based platform to handle case management for nonprofit organizations. It is constantly searching for ways to provide affordable, software-enabled solutions for nonprofits. “We want to develop a business model where we can really help the nonprofit world in a significant way,” Ibrahim says. “Giving back is central to our mission. Business can and should be done differently.” Protegra is committed to helping its clients develop new business practices—ones that recognize the importance of revising existing organizational models that may no longer make sense.

The company’s cloud-based services, mobile apps, and custom software are undeniably at the forefront of technology innovation. But Protegra is one step ahead in terms of its plans to stay on the cutting edge. “Innovation on the tech side is one thing,” Ibrahim says. “The other part is, how do we marry the innovation with an agile business model that lets us pivot to keep up with changing technology?”

The answer lies in a new type of business that doesn’t become too focused on past solutions and can quickly switch up business processes. “Best practices are yesterday’s practices,” Ibrahim says. After a practice has been implemented and put into place, it is often outdated by today’s fast-paced technology. Ibrahim believes a company needs to develop the confidence to learn from the market and needs to be able to easily change its approach in order to stay ahead of the curve. “If a company isn’t agile,” he says, “somebody else will innovate and eat their lunch.”

Protegra continues to develop its own inventive and agile business model. However, its focus is continually on creating a company where innovation serves the internal staff and the community. “It’s not just about making money and big returns,” Ibrahim says. “We really focus on people and want to make a difference. We’re not trying to be some flash-in-the-pan business built on one product; we’re building a sustainable business model that works with leading-edge technology. That’s our real innovation.”

5 Questions with Wadood Ibrahim

Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
Reducing the variability of outcomes when an idea goes from concept to product. A technology we are investing in is online-privacy software. We think that is going to be the next big need for business.

How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
We like to call ourselves an agile company. By agile, I mean a flexible approach to software development as well as business planning, strategy, and execution. That’s really what drives innovation—being responsive to change.

How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
It’s interesting that a lot of innovation that has happened is on the technology side, but businesses are still being run exactly as they always have been. The question now is, how do you make your business modern—not just your product? Nowadays, a three-year or five-year plan is ludicrous because things change so quickly.

What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
First, how much is the company customer-focused, and how much insight can they develop into their customers’ needs? The second is an ability to design solutions. What kind of skills do they have to solve complex problems? The third is how quickly a company can execute and plan their strategy. The foundation for all innovation is a team of employees that collaborates and supports each other.

How can a company encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
A company has to be committed to learning because they are not going to get it right the first time. Secondly, a company needs to spend time with customers and really understand their needs before building the whole solution.