Deloitte’s DSpace lab has graduated from its home in the Communitech Hub to a new home just across the street. And, thanks to its accomplishments, its footprint will be felt across Deloitte’s Canadian and global operations.
Deloitte Canada is a branch of the world’s largest professional services firms, with 312,000 professionals operating in 57 countries.
In 2015, it opened an innovation lab in Communitech with a handful of staff. Two years later, Deloitte moved into the former Lang Tanning hide house at 195 Joseph St. – renovated at a cost of $10 million – to be central to the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem. DSpace recently outgrew its Communitech roots — now operating with 26 staff and plans to grow to 35 by mid-2020 – so the lab is moving into larger innovation space across the street.
The investment in 195 Joseph confirms Deloitte’s commitment to Waterloo Region and acknowledges DSpace as central to Deloitte’s innovation ambitions.
DSpace Lab Director Norm Malloch says that Deloitte knew what success looked like from the perspective of innovation, but was in new territory with the initial lab. “There was aspiration and vision . . . but questions remained about how the lab could deliver value to the core business. Ultimately, we knew we didn’t want innovation theatre, where innovative ideas are developed but not implemented. We wanted it to be impactful, to ourselves and to our clients. As such, we needed to scale our ambitions.”
DSpace began as a rapid prototyping lab. The lab scored a hit with a proof-of-concept design for wearable tech for miners. The Deloitte Smart Helmet Clip, refined by an outside design team and brought to market by M3SH, uses 27 sensors for real-time monitoring of miners and their environment to improve miner safety and productivity.
“Deloitte isn’t in the business of producing products,” Malloch says, but wanted to show the viability of prototypes to its clients – in this case, its mining clients – through research, proof of concept and rapid prototyping.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies were the next focus for the lab. Malloch recalls the goal was to examine problems using the solution-driven nature of the collaborative Communitech lab space, to yield insights into “what is possible, what is plausible, what we should invest in, and what we shouldn’t.”
Norm Malloch (left) and Steve McCaughey at the entrance of an ideation room next to
Deloitte’s new and expanded DSpace lab. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)
Since then, DSpace has explored IOT, machine learning, natural language processing and cyber security for its consulting clients. Based on initial success, Deloitte leadership then asked DSpace to scale to support audit, tax, financial advisory and risk advisory services. DSpace then expanded from a seven-person team to six teams comprising 25 people. Space then became an issue.
“We needed space for the teams to scrum in,” Malloch says. DSpace’s new home is in a renovated section of what is already a highly innovative shared work space. Malloch says an open house to showcase DSpace’s new home is planned for some time in the next few months, with local meet-ups planned for the new year.
Current projects include an AI and machine-learning pipeline to help Deloitte professionals develop creative solutions. There are plans for DSpace to become a global AI centre of excellence (COE) supporting the company’s nearly 500 AI consultants in Canada.
DSpace is also tackling the lack of data on the local startup ecosystem. “There are more than 2,000 startups in the Waterloo Region, but nobody really knows for sure as there isn’t a current list. We’re using machine learning to create a better list,” says Malloch. “DSpace is working on a prototype that identifies startups and maintains a set of attributes about these companies.”
Steve McCaughey, Deloitte’s Managing Partner for Technology and Transformation, credits DSpace for laying the groundwork to build and scale COEs around intelligent automation, managed cloud AI services, data, analytics and predictive models, and rapid deployment to support Deloitte’s Canadian and global businesses. “Thanks to our early DSpace experience and learnings, we plan to build and scale COEs across the firm.”
Deloitte isn’t moving out of the Communitech ecosystem. Deloitte immersed itself in the tech ecosystem that is a defining facet of life in the Waterloo Region, through its involvement and leadership with True North, Tech for Good, The Future of Work and Learning, Fierce Founders and Code to Win. This involvement will continue, says Malloch. “These initiatives are core to our values.”
Ian McDonald, Chief Customer Officer for Communitech, says it’s noteworthy when a global player such as Deloitte lands, expands and grows thanks to its local ecosystem connections. “Deloitte is globally recognized for its innovation, and it decided to embed itself in the Communitech clubhouse and community of labs. I think that is significant. Moreover, they saw tremendous potential to leverage the strengths of the local ecosystem – talent, leading research, startups and scale-ups, and the application of AI, blockchain, cyber security and more – but they also chose to start in our space, amongst a community of more than 20 corporate innovators.”
McDonald says Deloitte’s participation is not just about one company increasing its share of the pie, but about growing that pie. “They are very interested in helping to attract more people to the region.”
Malloch says that “DSpace’s rapid prototyping approach will be scaled across Deloitte Canada, but will remain centered in the Waterloo Region – just across the street.”