CohnReznick has opened a high-tech “Innovation Lab” in its New York office, providing clients with access to the latest visualization and collaboration technology where they can brainstorm with the firm on solutions to their business problems.
The firm opened the lab in mid-June after relocating its New York headquarters to the Avenue of the Americas. Even before the high-tech conference room opened, CohnReznick began bringing several clients into the space shortly after it began hanging the 12 high-definition screens on the wall. The dozen screens cover most of one wall of the room and have a touch-screen interface where multiple windows can be displayed, enlarged, minimized, and moved around.
[IMGCAP(1)]CohnReznick can work on business plans and process flow diagrams that can be drawn up on the fly for clients. The lab relies on Bluescape’s visual collaborative workspace technology and can purportedly fit 18 football fields worth of information across the screens. The technology lets users edit and manipulate anything onscreen. The room has also been equipped with Cisco videoconferencing cameras so clients can participate in the work remotely. They can run Bluescape’s app on their computers or mobile devices to participate remotely, much like WebEx or GoToMeeting software.
“Clients are looking for who can solve my biggest problem quickest and most cost effectively,” said Keith Denham, managing principal and national director of CohnReznick Advisory, during a demo at CohnReznick’s offices for Accounting Today. “You can simultaneously work all over the world to solve problems.”
He described one case study involving a pension fund client who needed help solving a problem. “We were able to reduce from nine weeks to two and a half weeks the process for coming up with a solution,” said Denham. “We have a tool for process mapping to map out people, processes and technology using rapid prototyping.”
In addition to the touchscreens and cameras, CohnReznick also decorated the room with an ultra-modern-looking design featuring a long curved sofa, sleek armchairs and portable desks that can be moved from seat to seat.
[IMGCAP(2)]CohnReznick’s Innovation Lab is unusual for a firm of its size. Although the New York-based firm ranked 11th on Accounting Today’s 2016 list of the Top 100 Firms, the lab is more like the kind of thing one might expect to see in a Big Four firm. Denham himself came from one of the Big Four, having previously worked at Deloitte before joining CohnReznick two years ago.
While the technology is mostly being used by CohnReznick’s consulting practice right now, Denham sees accounting uses as well, for example, to help retail clients get ready for the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s new lease accounting standard.
He declined to say how much the technology cost, but when asked if it was a multimillion-dollar investment, he said, “Not quite.”
[IMGCAP(3)]“It wasn’t a ‘bet the firm’ investment,” he added.
In any case, the technology paid for itself within a month, according to Denham. So far, around 12 to 15 clients have used the technology. In one case, Bluescape lent CohnReznick its own larger facility when the firm needed more space to accommodate a sizable group of clients who couldn’t all fit in the conference room.
The space has also been in heavy demand internally by the firm, which has been using it for meetings and presentations. CohnReznick CEO Frank Longobardi set up an Innovation Committee that will be promoting new technology across the firm, and similar Innovation Labs may appear in other offices of the firm in the future.