No. 37: Taking risks is just part of the job for Onward

Molly Mak is on the hunt for a new solution. As president of Onward Computer Systems since 1990, Mak has continuously looked ahead for solutions to keep the company relevant in today’s IT landscape.

“We have to constantly move the bar. A solution that was relevant last year may have made us a boat load of money, but this year we better be improving and changing again,” said Mak.

That drive and commitment to change has once again landed Calgary- based Onward onto the Top 100 Solution Providers list.

Mak, who earned the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1998, decided three years ago to do less in hardware and expand into the solutions arena.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve focused on security, from policy creation to anti-virus,” she said. But as more solution providers are entering into that space, Onward is moving into managed services.

“We’re also very much into the storage side of things and moving up-stream into enterprise solutions.”

Onward’s customer base is primarily small and mid-sized businesses, but, Mak said, the company also has some enterprise-level clients and is active in the educational and government sectors as well.

Staff motivation
One of the biggest challenges for Mak has been to convince her staff of 50 employees to be open to new concepts.

“People get into a rut and feel comfortable, not everyone likes to constantly be moving,” she said.

“Motivating people around you to believe that a year from now a solution is not going to be a money-making venture, has not been easy,” she added.

For Mak, learning is key to growing a successful business, but that doesn’t come without its share of mistakes, she said. For instance, “we jumped into IP telephony about four years ago before it was mature enough, we were way too early and sometimes that can hurt you,” she said.

Another big challenge has been finding a relevant solution and investing in it early enough “but not too early so you get your hand slapped.”

Although the company is having successes with security and storage, Mak’s goal for 2006 is to find a third solution to add to the pack.

“I’m evaluating three or four of them right now,” she said.

“I know that I have to find one that is going to be relevant and take a gamble on it.”

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