PwC Opens Digital Accelerator in Toronto

PwC Canada is looking to lead its clients through business transformation in its new Toronto innovation hub called the Digital Experience Centre.

On the 19th floor of the accounting giant’s Toronto tower, a newly opened 8,000-square-foot centre is where PwC will meet with clients to understand their toughest business problems and solve them through a human-centred approach.

The firm is tackling these problems with the latest technology including VR, machine learning, IoT and robotics, and by collaborating experts in those disciplines.

“PwC has always done the business and the technology piece, but globally there’s been a big push to go digital,” said Nadir Hirji, digital services partner and co-lead at PwC Canada. “This space is a year and a half in the making… We had our clients asking for it and our own employees demanding to work differently.”

The Digital Experience Centre is triple the size of the firm’s former innovation space. Joining Ottawa, the Toronto accelerator is the second of its kind in Canada and adds to a global network of 35 similar spaces. The open work environment includes both private meeting rooms and long banquet tables.

“Having a space like this is important, but it is more about what happens,” Hirji said. “Clients are in here co-creating the future with us.”

Hirji said more than $1 trillion will be spent globally on digital transformation in the next year, and that a majority of those initiatives will fail. PwC’s Digital Experience Centre gives clients an opportunity to fail fast while bringing together experts to apply a digital lens and customer-centric approach to a problem.

“We’re helping clients be more competitive… And their transformation is powered by technology. No matter what business you are in, people’s expectations have changed dramatically,” he said.

While they can’t name names, Hirji said PwC Canada’s digital services team is currently working on blockchain pilots with banks.

PwC brought on Jon Finkelstein as the executive creative director for its digital services team, who works with clients to get them to think differently about the problems they’re hoping to tackle.

“Our clients know about IoT and blockchain, but they don’t know what to do with it. We show them how to use it,” said Finkelstein. “We’re not into props. It’s not cool for cool sake. It is fundamentally changing how people do business.”

Finkelstein spoke about how they’ve worked with the federal government on a roadmap to modernization. He said PwC developed a playbook that gave the government a way forward.

“Ideas are easy, but implementation is hard. We don’t hand off a project. We’ll work with a client from strategy to execution,” Finkelstein said. “They need to have guidance to how to take a technology and apply it to what they are doing. A lot of clients will come to us because they can’t figure it out on their own.”

Digital Experience Centre 3
The Microsoft HoloLens is one of the technology products PwC is harnessing to digitally push organizations.

The firm is currently working on a proof of concept for AR use with police services in Ontario. In a demonstration at the centre, PwC showed how a police officer could wear a HoloLens in a crime scene scenario, allowing them to collaborate in real-time with a remote forensics team through video chat. The wearable headset can take 360 images of a room or scene to document evidence too.

Beyond AR and drones, PwC is collaborating with a global retailer to figure out how they need to align their processes and prices to stay competitive—a reality that’s become pressing due to the growth of e-commerce shopping channels. The Amazon effect has extended to power and energy too as Hirji said PwC is working with major utility companies in Canada to personalize their services.

Overseas, PwC has undertaken drone-powered solutions for monitoring construction projects in the U.K. and existing infrastructure in Poland. They created software that can map data gathered by drones, using the unmanned devices to track the progress on new infrastructure projects and detect damage in aging dams and bridges.

While Ireland is the firm’s designated blockchain hub and London serves as PwC’s drone hub, Hirji said he sees Toronto becoming an AI hub for the firm, leveraging the city’s growing global presence and local expertise.