Greater Washington Innovations AwardsTM Finalist Q&A

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Stratus Solutions
Professional Services Innovator of the Year Finalist
Sean O’Keeffe, CTO, Stratus Solutions


In your opinion, what makes a company innovative?
An innovative company is agile and can quickly respond to changes by moving from "what is" to "what if" to "what wows" to "what works." These phases can be found in the book “Designing for Growth”, by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie, but we have tailored them for our corporate innovation strategy. These four phases shift between divergent thinking, where we broaden our minds and develop new ideas, and convergent thinking, where we narrow our options to those that have the highest probability of transformative change.

What makes your company innovative?
At Stratus Solutions, innovation isn’t an afterthought, side project, or a checkbox on a proposal compliance matrix. It is an integral part of our business model and success. Innovation starts with our technical leadership, but it is realized through our people and teammates; meaning that we must have a definitive way of including a diverse set of individuals in approaching innovation. As such, we have incorporated a structured innovation process to make innovation consistent and repeatable, allowing us to tap the talents of our employees and truly leverage the various offerings of our team members. The Stratus Innovation Process incorporates an Agile approach to the Design Thinking Methodology, the methodology our process is based on and that we have specifically tailored for our own use, allowing us to align innovation activity with other aspects of our company offerings. The repeatable nature of our process allows us to seek out work requiring true innovation without the traditional fear of change. Through its use, we have developed a track record of creating authentic value and enabling our customers to achieve their missions by implementing our innovative ideas.

What or who are some innovative companies or people that inspire you and your team?
One company that stands out, especially in the past decade, is Amazon. Because of the up front costs, they saw that only very large companies had truly resilient IT infrastructure. They thought, what if we brought our expertise in building scalable IT infrastructure to the masses and allowed them to purchase that infrastructure; not upfront but at the moment when they needed it. In the process, they forever changed their business from being a retail company that did IT well for itself to an IT company that makes innovation possible for just about every industry today.

This is one of the reasons why we have a strategic partnership with Amazon Web Services. The kind of transformational change that AWS has led, inspires us to develop new tools for our customers to help them overcome blockers that stand in the way of their growth.

What are some publications, print or digital, you read daily or have read that help you stay on top of your game? 
There are a lot of great sources out there but I try to spend some time, daily, reading Hacker News and Ars Technical to keep on top of technology and product trends. Rands in Repose is a great site for management and leadership ideas. And where would we be without xkcd.com to put it all in perspective?

What advice would you give to up-and-coming leaders striving to be innovative in today’s business environment?
We believe that innovation is a skill that must be exercised regularly to maintain optimal performance. Far too often, innovation teams are thrown together haphazardly in a short-term tiger team to address a problem or need. This results in substandard performance, as the teams are not readily equipped to perform "innovatively". Up-and-coming leaders striving to be innovative should regularly encourage employees to participate in internal research projects that are not only intended to be fun, but also tap their creative capabilities and keep them innovating at maximum performance. Additionally, one way we do this that other organizations could model is through supporting employee personal projects which help bring our staff’s ideas to reality. This focus on continuous innovation makes our employees the most capable, and most ready, to address customer problems.