Cohn ReznickNew York accounting firm CohnReznick has moved beyond the physical limitations of conference rooms and Post-it Notes to create and collaborate in new, digitally-driven ways. Dubbed the "Innovation Lab,” the firm’s new facility in its Manhattan office provides clients with the ability to brainstorm business solutions with CohnReznick staff quickly and efficiently through a combination of AV systems, proprietary software solutions, and data.

The use of collaboration platforms has become key to enhanced efficiency and productivity for businesses. “Studies suggest that those organizations that successfully nurture an innovation culture realize increased profit compared to their peers. Unfortunately, many growth companies lack the capability, including access to the latest tools and frameworks and the trained professionals to implement them, to create breakthrough growth,” said Keith Denham, Managing Principal and National Director of CohnReznick Advisory. “We created the Innovation Lab to help clients build a renewed business culture that’s fast and nimble, seizing opportunities before the competition, to get ahead and stay there.”

CohnReznick chose a visual collaboration platform from Bluescape, combined with MultiTaction 4X3 touch displays. The Bluescape visual collaboration platform lets users edit and manipulate anything — documents, videos, graphics, etc. — on multiple screens.

All told, the Innovation Lab comprises a dozen 55-inch monitors, cameras configured to work with Webex, and microphones embedded in the room’s ceiling to provide pickup coverage for all seats. There are additional Bluescape-driven videowalls (65- and 85-inch Optika displays) in the Chicago and NYC offices so that remote participants can join the collaboration, as well as remotely integrate personal mobile devices.

Data Collection Via Various Stages of Vendor Management

One of the lab’s first uses was for the evaluation of a vendor-management program for a major U.S. real estate organization. The sessions in the Innovation Lab covered various stages of vendor management, from vendor selection and negotiation to risk management, contract review, onboarding, and performance management.

Prior to the session, CohnReznick account managers spent about two weeks on fact-finding and discovery sessions with senior leadership across multiple business areas. These sessions focused on the current state of how vendors were managed among various departments; specifically, the team walked through the process with each business owner to flush out pain points, inefficiencies and other areas that had become problematic for the organization. Then they codified the salient points from these sessions into various templates that would assist in the innovation session (e.g., tools, critical issues, discussions of the current state).

The output of that effort was taken back to CohnReznick’s Innovation Lab. There, using the collaborative AV technologies built into the space, CohnReznick facilitated discussion among senior leadership. They also had several business-unit members present key aspects of how their clients currently manage vendors, to educate other participants and highlight tools and best practices that would be beneficial when designing an overall vendor-management program. They then focused on designing the future state. The session was designed to be interactive, with data points used to support suggested solutions. And as good as the advanced remote-collaboration facilities were, CohnReznick found that design and strategy work using the Innovation Lab’s AV technology was especially effective when participants were physically in the same place.

The firm utilized the lab to analyze data, drive process, and create a dynamic and efficient means of presenting information, as well capture ideas and notes. At the end of one full-day session, the client had a road map — short- and long-term — to its vendor-management solution. CohnReznick estimates that using the lab approach and collaborative AV technology shaved approximately three to four weeks of consulting time off the engagement. And it saved significant time for the client, which previously would have needed time to review a lengthy, traditional report.

Speed to Value

In another instance, CohnReznick reduced the process for developing a solution for a major pension-fund client from nine weeks to two-and-a-half weeks using the Innovation Lab’s collaboration capabilities. According to CohnReznick, teams are now 60 percent faster at solving problems thanks to the Innovation Lab, and from an operations standpoint, they have become 45 percent more cost-efficient since implementing the AV solution. Overall, speed-to-value has increased exponentially, the company says. Within 18 months of implementation, the firm reported an increase in client engagements and $1 million in incremental revenue.

In addition, productivity benefits and an enhanced value proposition have been supplemented by client savings: Not only are travel costs reduced, but clients avoid a significant opportunity cost of having their most senior executives crossing time zones, limiting their availability to operate their businesses.

Finally, CohnReznick notes, the lab's capabilities not only improve productivity, but also lead to a compelling “hidden” value of being able to execute an enhanced business strategy one to six months earlier than was previously possible.

“Because the workspace allows us to collaborate in real time with consultants and clients in different locations, our meetings not only have become more productive, but our team has become more aligned with clients,” said Paul Gulbin, Managing Director, CohnReznick Advisory. “We are no longer making linear decisions and bringing them to the client for review; we are making collective decisions based on interaction and discussion, not decisions based on flat PowerPoint slides.”