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Simon Lee, manager of IT innovation for the LCBO, has been working with Communitech in Kitchener, Ont., to explore fresh ideas to make the retailer’s operations and customer services better.J.P. Moczulski

As manager of information technology innovation for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Simon Lee's job is to identify fresh ideas to boost operational efficiency and the customer experience at the provincial alcohol retailer.

One tool at his disposal is his work at LCBO Next, the agency's innovation lab that is teaming up with young entrepreneurs at Communitech, a Waterloo, Ont.-based technology startup organization, on ideas for the LCBO to thrive in a volatile retail environment.

But Mr. Lee has another asset on his side: a specialty business degree program from Smith School of Business at Queen's University in Kingston that lets him study while he works. The master of management in innovation and entrepreneurship is a 12-month program that combines in-class and online learning aimed at those who want to start their own business or, in Mr. Lee's case, to pursue entrepreneurial ideas within an organization.

"We learn a lot in this program about intrapreneurship and how to manage innovation within the organization," says Mr. Lee, who expects to graduate with his degree in September.

He says what he values about his studies is the course content, with a strong emphasis on innovation design, as well as networking opportunities with school faculty and classmates, who come from different sectors of business but share similar ambitions to harness the power of technology to deliver people-friendly services.

"One of the problems with traditional IT thinking is that people innovate just with technology," says Mr. Lee, who joined LCBO 10 years ago and took up his current position in 2016. "One of the things I have learned most is that technology itself will not proceed without tying it back in with the people … how to put the human touch into it and differentiate yourself."

Mr. Lee's participation in the master program benefits LCBO, says Michael Eubanks, senior vice-president and chief information officer, because he is "exposed to the classroom environment where you have got a number of other innovators and entrepreneurs and people from other sectors who are trying to change things and make them more efficient and productive. He brings that back to our head office."

Mr. Eubanks also sees value in specialty master programs that, as at Smith, give students and industry early exposure to each other through the course.

"In general there is a talent war and this is absolutely one vehicle we want to use to fight that war," he says. "Our lab in Waterloo is another way we are trying to fight this talent war."

As for Mr. Lee, he hopes to leverage his pending degree to fulfill the ambitions of his day job: "My goal is to make the LCBO Next innovation lab one of the top corporate innovation labs in Ontario."

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