Building Competitiveness into Alberta Companies

When Allison Byrne arrives at work in the morning, she brings with her a mantra for companies: work smarter, increase value-adds and build connections. Byrne is Productivity Alberta’s Senior Director of Internal Operations & Program Development. She describes her role as a connection point in the province between small- to medium-sized businesses and the programs that make these firms more competitive.

In her mind, Productivity Alberta is a one-stop shop where companies can learn about leading industry practices, and then put those practices in place. There’s a connection between productivity and profitability. Productivity is about using things better – whether by improving the way business is run, or by improving a company’s product – and producing a significant, industry-leading value-add. This in turn increases profitability.

She says that at the end of the day, her organization provides companies with the tools and resources that they need when they want to be better.

**PA:** What size business benefits the most from Productivity Alberta’s programs?

**Byrne**: Mainly small- to medium-sized companies. Typically in terms of small companies, any company that’s the $5- to $10-million range in revenue and between 15 and 20 employees. But there are also some really large medium-sized firms. We’ve worked with companies that have 250 all the way up to 500 employees. They’re still considered a medium-sized firm because they don’t have the systems in place that a mega-organization would have. At the end of the day we’ll work with any company that’s looking to get better.

**PA**: Is there a specific industry sector that you help become more competitive?
**Byrne**: We work with companies that make stuff: agri-food producers, metal fabricators, machinery and equipment, environmental products and services. We also work with the supply chains of these companies. In the energy sector we work with the engineering firms and their suppliers and when we do so you can see the impact up and down the supply chain.

**PA**: During the downturn, has demand for your work grown or shrunk?

**Byrne**: Throughout this time there’s actually been more interest because people realized that they were too busy before and they weren’t really able to take advantage of the opportunities that were available. Now, they are able to slow down and really take a hard look at their organizations a little bit more. They’re realizing that they were really busy but weren’t experiencing the returns to the bottom line they expected. They’re asking: ‘how do we take advantage of the opportunities once the economy gets going again?’

**PA**: Are there any success stories you can highlight?

**Byrne**: Last year we piloted a Strategic Alliance program in Edmonton with six manufacturers primarily in the metal fabrication industry. It saw a primary company, a leading manufacturer, and two of their suppliers go through a simulation. They went through this exercise together to look up their supply chain with more transparency to see how it benefited both sides. From that we had, Metal Fabricators and Welding Ltd., by working with their steel suppliers, Wilkinson Steel and Metals and Praxair, Inc., they were able to be more strategic, improve their efficiencies and their innovation. They also saw lower inventory costs, more cash on hand and increased innnovations by working more collaboratively.

**PA**: Where are the stumbling blocks that companies hit when they create their processes?

**Byrne**: A company will buy a big piece of equipment without understanding their business and what’s really going on in it. If you understand your process a little bit more, you’ll be able to remove your bottlenecks without needing to go out and buy a big piece of equipment. Most of the time it just means moving things around and getting your employees more engaged and more empowered. Once you understand your processes, you can look into that big piece of equipment, automating processes or purchasing new systems. If you buy equipment that’s not at your bottleneck, it’s not going to help – it’s actually going to make things worse.

**PA**: What would you say to companies that could make use of Productivity Alberta’s programs, that aren’t competing at the level they could in Alberta and beyond the borders?

**Byrne**: You’re not really competing locally here. Yeah, you’ve got competitors, but with the internet making it easy for anyone to have a global presence, they’re across the street and on the other side of the world. You’re competing globally, and you need to make sure that you have access to resources. You need to be aware of the leading practices that are out there that can help your company compete.

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