How PwC fosters creative problem-solving in its growing number of Digital Experience Centres

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PwC will be spending the next several months continuing to open a series of Digital Experience Centres in the U.S. and the U.K. that bring together interdisciplinary groups of experts to solve corporate challenges using virtual reality, the Internet of Things and more.

The consulting firm officially opened its Toronto Digital Experience Centre on Tuesday, offering guided tours to media and groups of customers that showcased a range of projects that included work for the public sector, financial services firms and utilities, among other markets. A similar space was launched at PwC in Tokyo last month.

One of the projects included the use of a VR headset on a PwC staffer who posed as a police officer, circling a mannequin that represented a murder victim. The VR headset was able to take pictures, annotate and even draw on them as data was fed back to police headquarters for forensic analysis.

Another experiment involved the use of sensors on a toy-sized racetrack to show how a dashboard could detect potential malfunctions in autonomous vehicles. In Australia, a PwC Digital Experience Centre team created a sort of holster in a grocery cart where customers could put their smartphones, creating a digital assist to help them find items on a shelf, call for help to carry heavier items and even make payments.

Nadir Hirji, partner strategy and lead, PwC Canada Digital Services, told B2B News Network the organization works from a common “playbook’ to set up a consistent floorplan for the creative learning environments. No matter where they’re set up, though, the idea is to make the spaces a place to live out the firm’s BXT philosophy, which celebrates the combination of business expertise, human experience and technology to develop creative solutions to problems.

Jon Finkelstein, executive creative director at PwC canada digital services, said the team was adamant about not merely “bolting stuff on” but creating innovative ideas in close collaboration with clients. This in contrast to the “relay” approach seen in many sector sectors, like his former experience in the ad industry.

“You’d do business over here and tech over here, then sprinkle some fairy dust on top. That’s how it used to work,” he said. “In the agency world, they’d come up with a TV idea, take to the team and say, ‘Here’s some scripts. Can you guys make this digital?’ That’s a great analogy of how not to do it.”

While an increasing number of firms, including major banks, are setting up their own innovation labs, Hirji said PwC has been careful to cultivate the kind of internal culture that will make the most of the facilities. When the firm was adopting Salesforce’s Sales Cloud, more than a year ago, for example, a team was locked in an “escape room” that could only be opened by using the customer relationship management (CRM) software.

On a day-to-day basis, meanwhile, the firm has a series of “robot challenges” where team members have to program Lego-designed mechanical creatures to push each other off a table.

“It’s an exercise that forces you to get out of your own head,” Finkelstein explained. “Sometimes you’ll be working on a problem and a team member will say, ‘We’ve tried everything.’ Well, have you really?”

PwC had earlier version of the Digital Experience Centre in Toronto before. Diane Kazarian, Financial Services Industry lead, discussed an eight-week project with a major bank that involved around four people from the financial institution and a number of her colleagues sitting in a room with a lot of whiteboards and space to think and strategize.

“The power that we brought to that experience meant we helped co-create with them a new product,” she said. “We were able to replicate that with others.”

Hirji said PwC intends to cultivate best practices from digital projects around the globe, such as the use of drones and IoT equipment to monitor construction sites in the U.K., and a special team focused on commercial uses of blockchain based in Ireland.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.