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Enabling Canadian businesses to evolve and grow

How Rogers is helping businesses to innovate and grow, now and in the future – what it means to be a strategic advisor to their customers

Shift podcast

“I think the power of connectivity became more critical not only to stay connected as a business, but it became the lifeblood for them to stay connected with their customers — And I think that was the power that enabled businesses to survive.”

Ron Mckenzie, President, Rogers for Business

Enabling Canadian businesses to evolve and grow

A conversation with Rogers for Business President, Ron Mckenzie, where we discuss the current remote work model - how businesses are adapting, innovating, preparing for the future and what it means to be a strategic advisor to their customers. 

Jon: Hi, welcome to Shift. It's PwC Canada's podcast series, and we're digging into key digital trends and topics that can make your business transformation a reality. I'm your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I'm also the Creative Director of PwC Canada. Okay, welcome to another episode of Shift. This is a really great one. We've got Ron McKenzie, president, Rogers for Business. Ron, welcome to Shift.

Ron McKenzie: Thanks, Jon. Great to be here today.

Jon: Well, it's a very timely conversation because as we think about technology and business and where Rogers is going in terms of being able to be a trusted strategic advisor to companies, there's a lot of stuff to unpack here. So I'm super glad that you're here. Maybe for our listeners you could just quickly tell us a little bit about yourself and how your career led to this particular moment.

Ron McKenzie: Happy to, Jon. So my role is I'm president of Rogers for Business, and have the honor and privilege of being responsible for all of our connectivity, technology solutions, services, and support for both our small and medium business customers, all the way up to our large and public sector customers across Canada. Joined Rogers a little over two years ago, leading our technical operations, so I'm very familiar with how we deliver and how we support and how we take care of our customers every day.

Jon: I have to imagine that when you started two years ago and what happened as a result of the pandemic and everything, I have to believe, there's so much that Rogers did as an organization to really help small and medium businesses. There was this huge gap between what small and medium businesses needed from technology and from connectivity and from digital tools, and your opportunity as president of Rogers for Business. Did you feel like there was this interesting convergence of time and place?

Ron McKenzie: It's so interesting, Jon, and I'm sure for many of our listeners today who have embarked on transformation, and sometimes one of the biggest challenges in transformation journeys is how do you rally an organization to really adopt a new way? Because change is tough. I think everyone that's been in the industry a long time, whenever you're adopting change, it comes down to the human element, and how do you get people comfortable to adopt new ways of operating?

Ron McKenzie: When we were confronted with this pandemic, there was no playbook that said we're going to have to completely transform, and we're going to have to do it literally overnight.

We pivoted to how we can serve our business customers and play that trusted advisor in ways that, how do we help them adapt, and how do we help them evolve, and how do we get them pivoted, how do we enable them to keep operating with all their employees working from home in safe places?

Ron McKenzie: So I think the crisis and that pandemic drive kind of forced us into ways of operating and really brought out the best of so many businesses in terms of their ability to adapt.

Jon: Large enterprises probably had a bit of an easier time pivoting and switching over, like for example, with PwC, we already had the tech, we already had the computers, we already had the network and really kind of the culture that enabled remote working.

Jon: But it dawned on me that small and medium businesses don't have the capital. They don't have the flexibility. They don't know what to do. And what I loved about what Rogers has been doing is it's almost like no one gets left behind, right? It's like as a company and as a country, we're going to band together to try and figure out how to enable everybody to succeed.

Ron McKenzie: I think, like PwC, Rogers pivoted years ago to the concept that you could work from anywhere, in any location, in any building. As large organizations, I think we had already made the pivot. And so when the pandemic hit, our employees could work from anywhere.

Ron McKenzie: So we had the technical experience, having done it ourselves, and knew how to actually execute and what solutions needed to be in place. How do we take what we've learned and share that as an advisor, they don't have a tech department, they don't have a CIO, they don't have the expertise.

Ron McKenzie: And so I think one of the things that Rogers for Business, we were able to do, is leverage a solution portfolio that we had designed for small business, which we call the advantage solution. So this is more of a managed service offering. What we mean by that is it does include your connectivity but it's your managed wifi. It's your mobility. It's your security solutions. And it enables the ability to work from anywhere.

Ron McKenzie: So I think having done it ourselves, it gave us a great opportunity to be that kind of trusted advisor and I think that's the difference in how we can help our small business customers really focus on growing their business and leverage our experience to help them get there.

Jon: Yeah, that's amazing. We're going to talk about the survey in a little bit, but I just found this particular stat really interesting that 71% of those surveyed, small businesses, felt like business improvements were linked directly to connectivity and your online solution. So it's almost like necessity became the sort of the impetus for invention or pushing people to do stuff.

Jon: But let me ask you, did you find that you had to customize your solution offering based on what people wanted or did you go, "We know what you need, we've done it ourselves, let us tell you what the best things are. How did you blend what we have versus what customers need?

Ron McKenzie: When the crisis hit, we were in a really good position from experience and having already transitioned to shared space and work from anywhere. For our customers, though, they had to completely pivot their business and deal with the technology transition in parallel.

Ron McKenzie: And so that's the difference. A good example is, the customer I'm referring to is called Rocket. And Rocket is a small business. They did graphics and high end commercial print. And when COVID hit, in 24 hours, all of their customers put their orders on hold. That was it. Their business just completely dried up. And they're one of the local employers. This is one of the things that sometimes the power of small business, it makes up 70% of our workforce outside or in the private sector. And it's 98% of all businesses in Canada.

Ron McKenzie: Small business is the growth engine. And more importantly, it's the powerhouse in every community. It's the largest employer in every community across Canada. So for Rocket, what they focused on is they put all their energy into pivoting their business and started to make personal protective equipment, shields, guards, things for healthcare workers.

Ron McKenzie: And we stepped in to say, we've got your back, we'll put the infrastructure in place. So we literally could move them to work from anywhere, integrating all their wireless into the cloud, so that now with collaboration capabilities, they could have their receptionist essentially working from home, but having all the functional capabilities as if working inside the building.

Ron McKenzie: So what it did was it enabled them to pivot literally overnight. We were able to step in and say, "We can transition you right now. We'll take care of this for you. We'll get you set up that you can work from anywhere." We migrated them. And then they were ready to go.

Ron McKenzie: The power of connectivity became more critical not only to stay connected as a business, but it became the lifeblood for them to stay connected with their customers. And that way, every employee could work safely from anywhere and I think that was the power that enabled businesses to survive.

Ron McKenzie: That's where we found ourself being able to step in and really work side-by-side with the small business customers. We'll put the platforms and technologies, we'll handle the migration, we'll show you how to do this, and we'll implement it and manage it for you, and you focus on taking care of your business. As I shared earlier no business had a playbook for this. So I think this is where the best of companies really stepped up and worked together collaboratively. That's what I'm probably most proud of for Rogers for Business, everyone stepped up to taking care of our customers. 

Jon: So Rogers works alongside small and medium businesses to keep them competitive and I'm just wondering what were people saying? What did this do for the Rogers brand?

Ron McKenzie: I would say, Jon, from what we experienced when we surveyed customers throughout this, was the level of trus. The level of trust went up, such that we were on par with pharmacies, grocery stores, critical infrastructure for survival through this pandemic. Businesses that we surveyed said, "We're continuing to invest in this pivot to online solutions and keeping connected, even after the post pandemic. So much of it was earning the trust of businesses that they could rely on us and that's the one that I'm certainly most proud of as how our employees stepped up to take care of our customers and keep everyone safe.

Ron McKenzie: This is a new way we'll operate together with our businesses. They can rely on us to support them in that trusted advisor role. And I think of it as ‘grow your business with Rogers for Business’.

Jon: You mentioned something earlier, and this is from the survey you guys did about small business, this notion of 96% really see the value and are going to continue to invest in technology. And I'm just curious, a lot of small and medium businesses are up and running with the first pass of managed services and technology to get them going. What happens next now? What do you think they need to continue to be successful in this changing world?

Ron McKenzie: The need for connectivity is going to continue, but I believe beyond connectivity is the other values that really help you accelerate. We saw that with our small business customers, 85% rated reliability as the top priority to connectivity. The other thing that we're seeing is businesses now looking to get closer to their customers. And one of the ways we do that is with our advantage brand and solutions for both collaboration and, I'll call it, analytics insights is the next wave of things that big enterprises have the capability of doing, but now we're going to offer, and is available today to all small businesses.

Ron McKenzie: So what it does is that technology of managed wifi, the power in it is the analytics that it offers the small business, so they have insights into all the activity inside their little bar or restaurant. Now imagine as a restaurant owner, they wouldn't ever have had access to that level of insight into their business, but now they do.

Ron McKenzie: The way I think of it is it's bringing all the power of a large scale enterprise, but packaging it and making it affordable for a small business. And that's the real key. Connectivity is just foundational. Reliability is next. Now you really add the power of analytics, security and building that relationship with your customer, and then adding the mobility to be able to, depending on your business, work from anywhere so you can scale up and scale down without having to change out with big capital outlays. That's what's so important is the packaging. A lot of these solutions that I'm describing, we've packaged specifically with no capital outlay. So it's basically a scale to your business, so the technology should adapt and scale to the way your business scales and what I'm so excited about is how we can help small businesses with solutions like I just described. And so that's where I see such an opportunity for small businesses in that digital transformation. Staying connected and being able to have that predictive view of their customer, so powerful in the future.

Jon: Well, that's what I was saying earlier. It's like nobody gets left behind. I just think that's great. So the neat thing about what's happened as a result of COVID and a lot of things that Rogers for Business has been enabling is this notion of work from anywhere. What are you hearing from your small business, medium business customers in terms of what they need to enable this hybrid working style? How is Rogers helping?

Ron McKenzie: It's been really interesting. I'll start with the lessons we learned and how we're seeing small businesses go through that same transition. So at Rogers, we're in a full shared workspace model. So there are no offices. We pivoted during COVID and everyone is connected. So for our employees, they're able to work from anywhere today. What becomes the next step though is how you maintain culture and how you stay connected with your employees and so for small businesses, we've been able to use ourselves as an example in all the tools that we use.

Ron McKenzie: So what we're seeing is small businesses following very similar paths that we did as Rogers in our business, that transition to wireless and wireless now becomes your business phone everywhere. So we're seeing small businesses make that transition to cloud.

Ron McKenzie: And the last piece of the puzzle is we're seeing all of this now happen with all this secure reliability, and I'll call cloud-based services. So as we migrate customers, one of the things we do at Rogers for Business is offer the whole solution. And I think that's the big difference of what we've seen happen is it's not just, "Okay, I've got these technologies as a small business, and I have to figure out what to do with it." They're actually turning to more of a trusted, "Help me use this in a way that I haven't done before." And I think being able to offer that level of innovation, but be able to manage it, I think that's where small businesses have really pivoted quickly. Following a lot of what we've had to do as large organizations for many years.

Ron McKenzie: And so now the big win in this is that a small business has a couple of big advantages. The flexibility to flex up and flex down. You can work from anywhere. And more importantly, you can add to capacity.

Ron McKenzie: The second big advantage is when you are working from anywhere, you have the ability to attract the best talent in the industry, because now, you don't have to get them to move to your location. You can attract the best talent anywhere, whether it be anywhere in Canada, or what we're seeing is cross-border now. And I have some of our team that are in the US, that work side by side as if they're right here in our backyard or within our community. Small businesses now can tap into that talent pool that traditionally they've never been able to tap into. That's where the collaboration online has really powered small businesses in ways that I would say in the past without connectivity and without collaboration, they wouldn't have been able to tap into that.

Jon: I was just going to make an observation about the notion of the extended talent pool. And it's really interesting because I'm seeing that in our side of the business too.

Ron McKenzie: Businesses that move to this kind of shared virtual environment are going to have a real competitive advantage because they'll be able to tap into that talent pool. That's the difference where I think solutions like we're building and Rogers for Business, we'll be able to enable a small business to have all the power and capabilities to compete with a large business and tap into that talent pool and really offer differentiated ways of operating.

Ron McKenzie: Prior to the pandemic, they would never have been able to tap into a customer base that is anywhere, anywhere. And because they could offer that service, it's just one example of how staying connected with your customers, and having the online collaboration capability or in this case, the online retail capabilities, it really opened up a broader market for that business.

Ron McKenzie: And I think you can almost go across so many industries that I don't think John, will ever go back. I actually think this moves us forward in ways that our level of competitiveness as a industry, I think we're a game-changer moment here. And it does open up to bring the best that we do in Canada and open us up as a global player and in many industries. So that's the part obviously, I'm very excited about how we enable that for customers.

Ron McKenzie: One of the things about Rogers, and I think it's fairly well known, but we don't outsource our call centers. They're all managed in Canada. Every phone call for the Rogers brand is answered by a Canadian in Canada. And we do that on purpose. Not only because of our commitment to the community and commitment to Canada, but it's also because it enables us to introduce innovation in different ways of understanding how we can better serve the customer and as we look at how we apply technology to adapt and how we can be better predictive, and how we can sort of predict where there may be challenges or areas that we can offer improvements, we think we can turn that into something to help our customers do the same.

Ron McKenzie: And so that's one of the things that very much, that role as a trusted advisor, is using ourselves as an example first, and learning from that innovation, and being able to apply and share that with our customers. 

Jon: I do think it's important for organizations to drink your own champagne. I mean, we do it at PWC, obviously with a lot of stuff… I think it also goes back to the idea of trust too, because you're not going to recommend or do anything that you yourself haven't done.

Ron McKenzie: Absolutely. Yeah.

Jon: Tell me a little bit about what you're seeing next in terms of hybrid working, and how 5G and internet of things, everything's ramping up super fast. How do you think that's going to impact small and medium businesses?

Ron McKenzie: Staying connected is kind of a foundation. The next sort of big area that we see is the access to information, or the ability to pivot from reactive to proactive and then to predictive, is the way I would characterize it. And what I mean by that is if you think about sort of the ways businesses and the ways networks and things operated, everything was reactive.

Ron McKenzie: What we're doing now is enabling businesses to be much more proactive and in 5G, what it enables us to do is really observe and become predictive. The way I describe it is if you have elements in your network, or you have elements of devices that are connected, we can start to almost create virtual capabilities for every use case. And so the way this is done is within 5G, it can do high bandwidth, and yes, it can do millions of connected devices, like you see in stadiums in high-use case where you have thousands and thousands of devices connected.

Ron McKenzie: It can also enable though what we believe is going to be one of the big game-changers, and the term is called spectrum splicing. What it enables you to do is actually create almost like a virtual slice just for this application, just for this device, just for this company, just for any part of the business. So just to let your imagination expand for a bit. So imagine now I have autonomous vehicles. I can create a-

Ron McKenzie: ... now I have autonomous vehicles. I can create a slice that is secure, ultra-high bandwidth, low latency, and just that slice is carved out just for autonomous vehicles. And I have another slice which is monitoring traffic profiles. Imagine now, I've got the ability to control for a smart city all the pedestrian traffic and all the vehicle traffic through a downtown core to optimize the efficiency. Nobody wants to sit on the Don Valley Parkway. So there's that ability to actually enable that to come to life, because you can actually slice the spectrum specifically for each use case. And so what this is going to enable us to do is capture this information, and then add the edge capability of... Mobile edge computing is the term, but be able to capture all this information, feed it to a cloud data lake, and be able to real-time process that information to make decisions and start to become from proactive, now predictive.

Ron McKenzie: I know the traffic patterns are going to be this way. I know there's going to be a requirement for extra capacity here required. Or I know my customers are going to go online to order this time, this hour. I better be ready with capacity. It's going to enable us to take our businesses and apply technology in ways that start to create differentiation in competitive advantage. And I think that's really the power of 5G. And what I'm so excited about is at Rogers for Business, we're really leveraging a massive investment of building a native 5G network coast to coast, from Vancouver Island all the way to the Maritimes. Rogers is an on-net network, coast to coast for 5G, and we're servicing more communities and light up more communities every week. And that is what's going to enable us now to offer those capabilities direct to businesses dedicated for various applications.

Ron McKenzie: Offering that as a managed service is really how I believe we'll be able to offer our businesses and our customers that competitive advantage

Jon: So here's a kind of hot-off-the-press question, but I'm really interested as to what the Rogers-Shaw deal might mean for consumers and for small business.

Ron McKenzie: Well, Jon, we're honestly super excited about what... Coming together with Shaw, the real power is it will enable us to offer a coast-to-coast national on-net network for both wireless and wire line. And what that enables for both our consumer and our business customers is that enables us to offer services and innovation anywhere coast to coast across Canada. So the power of that network coming together really leverages both the great capabilities that Shaw brings and the capabilities, many of which I've described today, that Rogers brings from a business perspective, and allows us to serve small businesses, communities, public sector, large enterprises that have operations or want to tap up into customers anywhere across the country. And we'll be able to enable that network. And when we look at innovation and some of the examples I gave with 5G, having that coast-to-coast network and that ability to do spectrum splicing... Being able to do that natively as part of our 5G core, we can offer that anywhere in Canada as we come together with Shaw. That's going to enable a level of innovation that has never been done before.

Ron McKenzie: The second area is as part of us coming together with Shaw, we've made massive investment commitments to Western Canada in terms of serving underserved communities. And we've been committed to building and investing over a billion dollars in rural expansion, serving indigenous communities, enabling connectivity. Sometimes, the word digital divide becomes even more real when you move out into rural areas, and especially within our indigenous communities, that today are underserved. Being able to offer those capabilities and that commitment, we'll be able to connect Canadians anywhere coast to coast, and then bring to life the level of innovation building on the best of both companies.

Ron McKenzie: And having that native network enables us to launch that anywhere in Canada. So I truly believe we're going to bring for our customers new ways of operating, new innovation, and new ways of being connected, anywhere coast to coast. And it's such an exciting time. It really is the first time ever in Canada we have an opportunity to build really a new national carrier. That's a very powerful position to be able to differentiate and bring innovation to life and I really truly believe our customers are going to benefit from so much innovation and investment that we'll make across Canada coast to coast.

Jon: And you're right in the thick of it. I love that. Think about the legacy and what you're creating here. Congratulations, because I think that that is absolutely spectacular. Okay, we have just a few minutes left. So I'm going to put you on the spot for that in a second. Okay, so ding, ding, ding. Here comes the lightning round where we get to learn a little bit more about Ron as a person. Okay, I'm really curious. What is your favorite app on your phone?

Ron McKenzie: Oh my goodness. I probably spend too much time in traffic, so my favorite go-to is probably Waze.

Jon: Waze is a good app. I like it too. What is your favorite or perhaps the most surprising application of internet of things, of IoT?

Ron McKenzie: Temperature monitoring real time in restaurants. So food safety, food safety. A huge application of... I need to be able to monitor to make sure my food is safe and do that real time. Instead of today, most restaurants, it's manual. They have somebody that goes in and maybe keeps a log, all monitored real time, and alarmed if there's any temperature fluctuation due to power outage, et cetera. That's a great example I've seen in restaurant industry, and I thought, "Yeah, why didn't I think of that? That's a great idea to automate-"

Jon: That is a super smart one. I love that. AM or PM?

Ron McKenzie: PM. PM for sure.

Jon: PM, nice. I'm going to date you now. I'm going to ask you: Do you remember your first make and model of mobile or cell phone?

Ron McKenzie: Yes, Jon, I do. It was the Motorola Bag Phone that I proudly carried around, that probably generated one watt of power with a little flip-up antenna. And yeah, that would probably be... I just dated myself big time, but my Motorola Bag Phone was my first cell phone.

Jon: Two last questions, completely non sequitur. I'm curious as to what your view is on whether or not a hamburger is a sandwich.

Ron McKenzie: That's a dilemma. I think it is a category onto itself. I really do. You think about... You're blending. That's a merged category, Jon. I'm going to take a different direction on you. I think it's a merged category, because it is a meal, it is a lunch, but you know what? It's bread and beef. So I got to say, it's a new generation.

Jon: Nice. And last question: If you had to recommend one book to someone, what's your top recommended book?

Ron McKenzie: Gladwell's Tipping Point. I've always believed there are moments that happen, and then you create momentum, and the tipping point happens. And I think that has probably been sort of the adoption of innovation coming together with what we think of today as crowdsourcing. You bring the adoption of innovation, you bring the crowdsource capabilities, you bring the moment in time when it happens, and it just comes to life. Off the top of my head, that's probably the one that comes to mind first.

Jon: Well, I think we're in a tipping point right now, aren't we? With Rogers for Business and what's happening with mobile edge and spectrum splicing, and all the amazing, cool stuff that's happening at Rogers right now. So Ron, we're at the end of our time, which is a real drag, but I really enjoyed the conversation we've had today. And I really want to thank you on behalf of PWC for spending the time to talk with us and to educate and inspire our listeners and good luck in the future. And hopefully, we can chat again really soon to see where things have evolved.

Ron McKenzie: Wonderful. Thanks, Jon.

Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of Shift. You can get more details at pwc.com/ca/shift. If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more subscribe to our podcast series, you can find us on iTunes, Google Play, or your preferred podcast platform. Just so you know, this podcast has been prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, an Ontario limited liability partnership for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice until next time.

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