Friday, 15 April 2016

How Deloitte Digital is Disrupting the Workplace - Virtual Reality, Robots and more

Gloria Lombardi visits Deloitte Digital's innovative office in London to explore the latest workplace technologies with the firm's 'Disruptor' Ed Greig
 

“The widest trend that we are seeing across all industries is the need for companies to adopt a unified approach to technology, space and talent,” tells me Ed Greig (pictured right), who is known within Deloitte Digital as the Disruptor.

He works at one of the consulting firm's unconventional offices in London, which is all about researching and testing new technologies - from Virtual Reality (VR) to 3D printing, drones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. “All these technologies are for us to test as well as for our clients. What we want to do with them is to prove that they have a practical use case.”

In fact, the danger with innovations like these is that people can get distracted by the exciting technology and lose sight of the practical business case. But, Deloitte Digital “are always on the look out for real world problems where we can apply these technologies. Whether that is internal within Deloitte or externally with clients.”

Virtual Reality

The opportunities for virtual reality to impact work positively are many. For example, Greig is using it to understand how Project One, which is Deloitte's upcoming building, can deliver great experiences to employees in the future. “We can model the building in a virtual reality environment for our colleagues. We can give them a view of what the new workspace will look like. And we can redesign the employee experience based on their feedback.”

This is key to the way the firm works, which is very iterative and collaborative. Plus, it saves money. “It is relatively cheap for us to do something now in a virtual reality context compared to building the space and then finding out that it does not work for our people. That will be much more expensive.”

Virtual reality for training employees

Another interesting use of virtual reality is for training staff. For example, Greig has just prepared a proof of concept VR training for the risk team. “It puts you into a risky scenario that you might face at work, and then it asks you to identify the risks.”

He believes that the technology shows the user the consequences of their actions in a much more vivid way than just watching it happening to someone else. “It requires you to actually take the actions yourself, which is a powerful driver for changing your behaviour in the future.”

In fact, one type of training that he is looking to improve through the use of VR is e-learning. VR creates an immersive experience. “When employees are watching videos they may not to engage as well with the training. In contrast, with VR you are focused on it 100% because you are inside the headset. That means you have a much better degree of concentration.”

Another type of training that can be improved by VR is with role play situations. “You are bringing human interactions into VR.” That again can save resources. “The more traditional training is expensive and time-consuming as it requires people to actually be on site.”

3D printing

For Greig, 3D printing is useful to test and explain concepts and projects in a practical, physical and a tangible way. For example, he has just printed an Internet of Things (IoT) prototype to demo to a client. It is a connected door lock that links into Deloitte Digital’s smart home proof of concept.

Drones

Greig is also experimenting with drones. For example, “we use them with our real estate team to film different pieces of buildings and getting interesting footage.”

He believes that one of the greatest opportunities for those flying robots is around taking dangerous tasks out of a job. “For example, inspecting wild spaces or disaster zones. Putting a person in those situations can be very dangerous. Now you can use a drone instead.”

Farming is another sector where drones can make a difference. For example, “they are used to monitor the progression of crops to give farmers a precise picture of what is going on in their field. This allows farmers to use fertilisers very accurately, leading to higher yields at a lower cost.”

Tasks automation vs. job creation

New jobs are emerging from the rise of these technologies. “My role, for example, didn't exist two years ago. Even the idea of Deloitte hiring developers to work on virtual reality or build robots would have seemed very bizarre until recently.”

Indeed, it is also important to recognise that other jobs are disappearing too. “The work that we are doing is often about simplifying or automating roles in order to save costs.”

Yet, automation is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, “through machine intelligence, the level of the repetitiveness of some tasks is now much lower. So, the overall job can actually become more creative and productive.”

Creativity or creative thinking?

Greig makes a clear distinction between creativity and creative thinking. With the former, there has already been some recent progress in this area.

Indeed, by looking at some fascinating projects such as the recent The Next Rembrandt we can realise that there is actually a whole sphere of creativity that is emerging where machines can play a phenomenal role. “The computer was able to analyse the specific period of Rembrandt. It identified the artist's top classic portraits and created an original Rembrandt. Then, it was 3D printed to create the same piece of artwork as the original on canvas.”

Indeed, technology today can analyse data and spot patterns within it in ways that people are not just capable of.

But, the creative thinking of humans should always be valued. And there are a lot of jobs where the human interactions are going to remain very important. “For example, nursing, caring, or personal training. And, the ability to express ideas in a clear way.”

The future workplace – between digital and physical

For Greig, the workplace of the future will feel like a completely seamless experience between the virtual and real environment. “Employees will just not notice the technology. They will just do the job and focus on what's important.” That has started to happen in various degrees. For example, “we are seeing the rise of meeting scheduling bots such as Amy, the digital assistant that interacts with you via email.”

And Artificial Intelligence has started to impact on communication and collaboration on internal social networks. “Software is already matching people together based on interests and find connections across the business for you. It suggests you which conversations are relevant to you. And much more is expected.”

He also believes there will always be a role to play for the physical workspace. “The ability to exchange ideas face-to-face and the serendipity that comes from it is unique.” This, for example, is what happens during the Mash Up Days. “Every three months we run an internal hackathon. We have 24 hours to build whatever you like.”

Anyone from Deloitte can join those events, which sometimes lead to some interesting projects such as the “mind control nerf gun.” This wearable device detects the brain waves of an individual. “When you concentrate the nerf gun will fire.”

Fearing new technology

Although he works with clients that are quite innovative and up for disruption, Greig does appreciate that other people can be concerned about the consequences of using these technologies. “That is the reason why it is important for us to test them internally, and learn from it as much as possible. It is very easy to be tempted by the potential prize and then go in the wrong direction.”

And, “it is important to make sure that the change is conducted in a safe way.” Indeed, as technology is given greater power, greater responsibility will also be crucial.