How Incognito’s CTIO Drives Innovation with Lumine Group
Incognito Software Systems offers service orchestration solutions for in-home broadband management and IoT device management over cable, fixed wireless access, DSL, and fiber. In 2015, the company joined Lumine Group as our first business within the Communications & Media Portfolio. Incognito had been operating successfully for over 20 years, and the decision to sell was predicated on the assurance that the company would thrive for years to come. Moreover, Incognito’s owner wanted to find a home for their company that understood software and could support driving innovation.
At the time of the acquisition, Pete Koat had recently joined Incognito as Chief Technology and Information Officer. Since joining Incognito, Pete has led numerous new technology and product initiatives. Most recently, Incognito launched a new collection of industry-first, omni-channel self-care and diagnostic applications powered by widgets, and re-usable web technology that enables new functions to be easily customized and integrated. This technology has been applied across self-care portals, customer service representative (CSR) chat windows, and iOS/Android mobile applications.
We sat down with Pete to discuss how R&D at Incognito has evolved since the acquisition, and what support acquired businesses can expect from Lumine Group.
Q: What were your expectations on how Lumine Group would help with R&D?
We needed help to scale in certain territories, and we needed corporate innovation that could support development on a broad spectrum. Incognito is a multinational firm, but we didn’t have a strong presence in certain markets and territories. Lumine Group gave us the ability to launch into countries with new customers and capital with an industry-proven model.
I liked the idea that we would be able to work independently but have the backing of a large firm. It was comforting to hear from the leadership team that Lumine Group was not looking to “flip the company” and that they acquire companies with a solid leadership team and customer-centered focus.
Q: Post-acquisition, how has R&D and innovation changed?
Lumine Group speaks to two pillars when acquiring businesses: strengthen and grow. This aligned perfectly with Incognito’s objectives, and we have benefited from this mindset both internally and externally. We were challenged at each stage of the development and innovation process to apply best practices and counter natural biases, but received the mentorship and support we needed to strengthen and grow. The transition over the last 5 years has been enlightening. We’ve had the opportunity to learn best practices, new strategies, and new planning approaches first-hand from a network of likeminded people, both remotely and in-person at events like the Lumine Group Academy. We’ve also learned how to apply customer trends, and really understand the difference between a product and a mission-critical solution.
Lately, I have been able to “pay it forward” as I am currently coaching and mentoring a company that has recently joined Lumine Group Portfolio. I’ve shared my own best practices around product development and innovation including work structure, innovation tips and product cycle lifestyle management with leaders from this company.
Q: How do you optimize your R&D budget? How does Lumine Group help?
Since the acquisition, we’ve become a lot better at making decisions based on facts instead of guesswork. We use forecasting and trending to project revenues and sales and look at regional market trends to help improve our success factors. Evolving into an external-facing company has helped us develop stronger relationships as a trusted partner and thought leader for our customers and in turn provided us with insights into areas we could invest our time and resources into. Lumine Group also helps us with our overall budgeting and our investments. Our Portfolio coach provides feedback and advice on a regular basis. They provide templates and spreadsheets to keep the team organized, and their forecasting tools give us a sense of where we need to be to achieve our goals.
Q: What are the influences that drive your return on research capital?
We typically model out the financial factors for product investments to the core and initiatives. There are a few financial targets that we consider in the 5-year P&L including the internal rate of return, net present value, and related WACC (weighted average capital cost) along with additional non-financial success factors which are used in the capital planning process. Post-acquisition, Lumine Group has helped me immensely with capital planning as well as an organizational strategy.
Q: What does innovation mean for Incognito Software Systems?
To us, innovation means continued relevance. Drucker famously declared: “innovate or die!” but that doesn’t mean unstructured innovation. Although there are frameworks like Ries’ Lean Startup, Design Thinking, or the Wexler Wheel, that provide advice on how to reduce risks when innovating, one of the things that I have really enjoyed at Lumine Group is the ability to speak with my peers across different industries to share lessons learned about when applying theory to practice. While we are in telecom, I’m able to speak to someone in the Transportation industry and see how they run their innovation, set up a special interest group, offshore/onshore, and hear their experiences along the way.
Q: How do you ensure projects are completed within your set timelines?
Our development process has milestones that are fixed by date and functional capabilities/requirements which are dependent on available time, people, and capabilities. We have transitioned to an agile development practice as it gives us the ability to adjust levers that are in our control to adapt and course correct. The goal with any release is to know what is an important non-negotiable item for our customers, which aspects are flexible, and to adjust accordingly. So, we use Sprints, Epics, and Stories to track our critical path and to know long in advance when we have a problem brewing.
Q: We work in a fast-paced, innovative industry. How do you manage external factors within your R&D process and your team?
The software industry is rapidly evolving, not only from a product lifecycle perspective but the mindset around the use of consumerization, hyper-scaling, messaging, and the availability of specialized technologies tailored for specific use cases.
The application of machine learning for anomaly detection, forecasting, and proactive change, for example, is transformative for our customers and certainly opens up a lot of exciting opportunities to apply to our product line.
Q: What does developing a product road-map look like to you? How does Lumine Group help to prioritize the road map?
If you asked me this question five years ago it would have been completely different. We have matured our development processes, but more importantly, we’ve developed better relationships with our customers. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this – our customers provide critical insights into how we can provide real business value to their operational challenges. It’s the complete opposite of working in a vacuum when you have been able to source out those nuggets of value, which drive and prioritize the roadmap.
How does Lumine Group help? They provide me with a network of peers to speak to. To bounce ideas off of, and to collaborate in joint solutions. There are often opportunities where we might have the same customer, and we can provide greater value to our customers by collaboration and teamwork.
My takeaway from the journey is self-awareness, listening to your customers, and letting data guide you through your decision-making process.
More About Pete Koat
Pete Koat is responsible for defining the strategic agenda for the Incognito product line, including developing product roadmaps based on market trends, identifying functional requirements with customers, and contributing to relevant industry standards. Prior to his role at Incognito Software, Pete co-founded Libré Communications, best known for its encloudHD platform, which was designed for companies that use live video streaming to broadcast content over the Internet. After that, he served as co-founder of Skitter.TV, an end-to-end video platform for encoding, managing, streaming, and viewing converged Internet television, video on demand, as well as live broadcast and satellite TV. Pete has also held CTO roles for firms deploying IPTV solutions in emerging markets, and holds multiple patents related to IP video compression, delivery, and streaming.
More About Incognito Software Systems
You can learn more about Incognito Software Systems here.
Edit: Author’s Note
Given the inquiries: the “Wexler Wheel” comes from the great book: Leadership in Context by author and Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University professor Mark Wexler. It refers to the four worldview perspectives and leadership approaches which are particularly relevant for innovation.