When the first visitors step into Cisco Systems Canada's new Centre of Innovation this month, they may well feel like they've taken a quantum leap into the future.
Customers will be able to walk through the bank branch of tomorrow, or put their feet up on a bed and see for themselves what the reimagining of the ultimate hospital room might look like.
Unlike its current, smaller premises, Cisco's new 6,000-square-foot centre on the mezzanine of the new RBC WaterPark Place III building on Toronto's Queens Quay – one of five floors the company will occupy – will give it the means to showcase some of its visions for the future of industry.
"There is no better sales tool for us," said Rick Huijbregts, Cisco's vice-president of industry transformation. "We can bring our customers in and show how video enables us and changes the way we work, how mobility is changing how we work, how adding analytics to our Wi-Fi is giving us data about utilization of our space …
"No PowerPoint or video will do that as much justice as our new office will do directly."
The centre, which stands alongside those in Rio de Janeiro and San Jose, Calif., in serving the entirety of the Americas, will be Cisco's headquarters during the Pan American and Parapan American Games this summer, with the company on board as the events' official information and communications technology provider.
It will be divided into three themed environments. The first is an industry experience and demonstration centre, where Cisco can show how it addresses business problems in areas such as manufacturing, health care and real estate.
The second is a laboratory, a collaborative space where engineers and startup businesses can work together to solve customer problems. The third is a workroom environment, but to begin with Mr. Huijbregts sees it as a temporary display space where Cisco can show the effects of transformation and digitization of a featured industry, changing around once every quarter or so.
As a technology and Internet company that provides and builds tools on top of which businesses can digitize themselves, Cisco has long espoused principals that yield increased productivity and efficiency. But while it's well known for its work with routers, switches and phones, the company is currently focused on the kind of collaborative innovation that can directly impact its customers' operations and bottom lines.
The company's own attitude toward building a new and improved office space down by the Toronto waterfront was no different. Though the amount of square footage the company's employees require may have changed – the new building will have only about one desk for every three employees – the need for a fixed abode as a location for collaboration, and a place to invite clients and partners, remains unchanged.
Mr. Huijbregts recalls the decision by Yahoo Inc. president and chief executive officer Marissa Mayer a couple of years ago to end the practice of employees working from home, instead bringing them back into the office.
"The intent was, 'When we get together, we're better together, we innovate together,' and there's a truth to it," he says.
Consequently, Cisco's new environment has moved away from dedicated offices and cubicles toward more collaborative meeting areas and lounges, designed to help stimulate innovation and creativity.
"We do a lot more now in a lot less space," Mr. Huijbregts says.
The Internet of Things, or what Cisco terms the Internet of Everything, will bring more scope to the company's business, and the new building will assist with that. As an all-encompassing information and communication platform, connecting objects, sensors and devices together, the Internet of Things has been estimated to have a $1.9-trillion global economic impact by 2020.
Given that Mr. Huijbregts estimates that 80 per cent of business processes are reliant on technology, Cisco's opportunity to involve itself in the conversation has never been greater.
RBC WaterPark Place III will endow Cisco with a platform to showcase its expertise, particularly in the kind of connectivity that will be a defining feature of the Internet of Everything. The Centre of Innovation will be a living, breathing space to co-create real, tangible solutions, but the building as a whole is certainly geared toward increased connectivity.
WaterPark Place has been set up with tomorrow's inventions in mind, with fibre-optic cable running from top to bottom to allow future technology to be plugged in and used, without the need for any great overhaul of the building's systems.
Heating, cooling and lighting will be controlled through the Ethernet rather than traditional electrical cables; lights will provide advanced analytics such as temperature, illumination and motion to help the building determine when lights should be switched on or off. In addition, the lights will have their own Internet Protocol address, allowing a user to turn them on or off with a computer or smartphone.
Occupancy and weather data will also be fed directly to the air-conditioning system, allowing the building itself to determine when it should ramp up or scale back on heating and cooling.
But while all the tenants, including flagship tenant Royal Bank of Canada, will benefit from this technology, Cisco alone will benefit from ramped-up efficiencies such as heatless LED ceiling lights in its space, meaning its air-conditioning systems won't have to compensate.
Cisco's decision to relocate to a newer, smaller, smarter office space seems to be part of a growing movement among certain companies. PwC Canada, which also relocated to the South Core of Toronto, also cut back on its office footprint after finding that up to 30 to 40 per cent of its space was going unused on a regular basis.
"To be honest, I love it when my people are not in the office," says Raj Kothari, GTA managing partner for PwC, admitting he would rather see his staff with clients. "Our work, in a professional capacity, is all about getting a job done. ... Whether that desk is at their home or an office doesn't matter to me."
But though companies may downsize in square footage, smart-and-connected buildings will continue to be in demand, says Andrew McAllan, senior vice-president and managing director of real estate for Oxford Properties Group, the landlord for RBC WaterPark Place III.
Working with forward-thinking companies like Cisco can help them design office spaces for tomorrow's business world, and is essential in order to stay relevant in the ever-changing business landscape, he says.
"We have an obligation, as a long-term manager of real estate, to anticipate the future and build for it and make sure it's meeting customer needs today and tomorrow."
WaterPark Place numbers
1,200 – Power over Ethernet (PoE) lights generate about 50-per-cent savings in comparison with fluorescent lights (Cisco floors only).
600 – Some of the PoE light fixtures also provide advanced building analytics including temperature, light level and motion for the purposes of optimizing indoor environmental quality. They can respond and turn themselves off.
2,000 – Networked PoE thermostat controllers provide LEED Platinum scoring for the base building and LEED Gold scoring for the Cisco office space.