There are two kinds of future.
There’s the practical kind we can all see coming, the kind that logically follows in the steps we are already taking today. Then there’s the unseen kind, the kind that usually involves genius, or random acts of good or bad fortune that take us places we hadn’t imagined.
Global business giant Accenture recently unveiled an example of the practical future we can all readily believe in when it cut the ribbon on a new state-of-the-art digital office in Vancouver. The new building is eco-friendly, digitally optimized, video conference-ready, and built on a plug-and-play ethos that turns just about every available surface into a tool for business collaboration.
And yet, it’s completely lacking in true vision.
The Video-Enabled Office
There’s ultimately nothing new inside Accenture’s digital office. It serves more as a statement about what is currently possible, and how the average office will operate in the near future once tech companies meet their initial profit targets and start to lower the prices of all this shiny new hardware—and tech prices are about the most consistent fallers in the U.S. market.
What is a little futuristic about Accenture’s new office space is the way all the goodies from the modern business technology catalog have been pieced together.
The office features ClickShare media lounges, which are a very handy way of wirelessly hooking up a laptop or smartphone to a large presentation screen so you can instantly move your ideas from the personal to the public. And if you want to share those ideas with people outside the building, or those outside the country, the new office has a Cisco MX 800 Telepresence system ready to go in its conference room. The Cisco system is one of the more advanced video conferencing units available and its dual camera setup is equipped with audio tracking that automatically locates and focuses on the current speaker.
But those are just the main two islands in a stream of flexible digital design. There are also ready-for-anybody Microsoft Surface Hub screens, floating desks that are booked using a new Canadian instant app service, and just about every screen in the building is linked to Skype for Business.
Where’s the Holographic Spectacular?
Essentially what Accenture has done is create a video conferencing link between every employee, and between every employee and every potential client, partner, and collaborator the world over. It’ll make workflows slicker than they’ve ever been, and it’ll do more than most have so far achieved to actively remove physical location from the work-a-day equation.
That’s quite an achievement, but this is a company that has made international headlines for its bold technological showmanship, and there’s little here in that vein. Accenture’s most recent tech news flirtation came when it beamed holograms of two senior staff at different locations onto a third stage just to deliver a message about proper recruiting techniques.
It owns seven studios around the world capable performing such sci-fi spectaculars, but the new office in Vancouver doesn’t seem to be one of them.
This is a vision of the future that will likely be repeated by businesses around the country over the coming decade. But, to use an example from the auto industry, this is a vision of cleaner fuels and more efficient engines, not of flying cars.
What About Video Conferencing Islands?
Perhaps Accenture’s vision is limited by its goal. This is, after all, still an office building. People still have to commute and congregate cheek-by-jowl every day in order to do their jobs. Yet it just seems a waste of potential to make people travel to a building purposely designed to embrace the video conferencing technology that eradicates the need for travel in the first place.
Instead, why not work toward something that acknowledges the fact that the number of people telecommuting for work has quadrupled in the past 20 years?
What about creating modular, mobile working spaces that take advantage of that famed holographic mastery and let people communicate, share files, make presentations, and enter negotiations from whatever physical location lets them perform at their best?
Maybe if Accenture relinquished a little of their grip on the beehive mentality of the past century, they could showcase a true vision of a new way of working. The new Vancouver office is clear marker for what is currently possible in a digital office, but there’s little in the way of aspirational thinking that suggests anything of that exciting, as-yet-unseen kind of future.