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Taking innovation to 4 dimensions: EY, Nottingham Spirk and the metaverse

In mid-February, TBR met with EY-Nottingham Spirk Innovation Hub leaders and learned further details about the goals and operations of the relatively new center. The EY team included Greg Sarafin, EY’s Global Alliance and Ecosystem leader; Jerry Gootee, EY’s Global Advanced Manufacturing Sector leader; and John Nottingham, cofounder and copresident of Nottingham Spirk. Three weeks later, Gil Forer, EY’s Digital and Business Disruption leader; Woody Driggs, EY’s Americas Consulting Digital Transformation wavespace leader; and Shubhra Kathuria, Metaverse, NFT and Foundry Leader at EY wavespace, walked TBR through how EY has been delivering wavespace sessions in the metaverse. On the surface, EY presented approaches with stark contrasts between “not much that can’t be made here” and “mapping a client’s journey to the metaverse.”

EY-Nottingham Spirk: Commercialization at speed and innovation with partners

Since TBR’s visit to the grand opening of the EY-Nottingham Spirk Innovation Hub in October 2021, the pace of engagements has stayed consistent with EY’s expectations, steadily increasing as the firm’s leadership, technology partners and clients appreciate the potential for taking innovation straight through to commercialization at scale. According to Gootee and Nottingham, many industrial clients have come to the Innovation Hub looking for both a strategy reset and guidance on how to innovate differently. Nottingham said manufacturing clients, in particular, have been “firefighting” through the current market due to supply and demand imbalances and a generally turbulent environment. Even while focused on operational challenges, these clients continue to be interested in looking to the future and understanding emerging opportunities. Gootee reinforced that EY’s role remains convening a value chain that can drive innovation for clients.

Both the EY and Nottingham Spirk professionals remain committed to commercialization at speed and scale, as well as strategies and business model transformations, product innovation and immersion, and the future of technologies and markets. Gootee, in particular, re-emphasized many of the priorities and characteristics described in detail in October. TBR asked specifically about the role of EY-Nottingham Spirk’s technology partners, such as Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and SAP (NYSE: SAP), which led Gootee to note that ideally three-quarters of the clients coming to the Innovation Hub will be led through by EY, while the remaining quarter will be shepherded by technology partners. In TBR’s analysis, no other IT services vendor or consultancy has a similarly tightly intertwined engagement structure, which allows and even encourages technology vendors to lead clients through this kind of digital transformation and innovation space.

Wavespace metaverse: Building trust through familiarity and faces

Over the last seven or eight years, TBR has visited more than 30 innovation and transformation centers, soaking in the immersive experiences and trying out the funky chairs. The COVID-19 pandemic forced IT services vendors and consultancies to shift to entirely virtual engagements, and TBR has been predicting an evolution toward hybrid sessions since the start of 2021. Over the last year, TBR has attended some virtual analyst sessions, which included avatars and kind-of-still-beta versions of the metaverse. Just as the EY-Nottingham Spirk Innovation Hub broke new ground in innovation and transformation centers, EY’s wavespace metaverse is breaking new ground in an entirely new space.

EY remakes the innovation space

From process to people to place, EY has crafted something unique

Every consultancy has its own process for digital transformation: a mix of design thinking, agile methodologies and sprints, usually starting with a business problem and resulting in application of a new technology-enabled solution (i.e., the “digital” in digital transformation). And nearly every consultancy and IT services vendor brags of end-to-end capabilities, from identifying the business issues to implementing a solution. EY’s Innovation Hub at Nottingham Spirk, however, does something: It actually delivers on that promise.

EY and Nottingham Spirk’s immersive process (enabled by wavespace), honed pre-pandemic and deployed throughout with virtual sessions, unpacks clients’ most intractable business problems and identifies potential pathways to resolving those issues, taking into account change management, technology enhancements and business model implications. Where a wavespace team — or similar group at a peer’s innovation and transformation center — would then hand off the client for the next steps, including innovation around technology changes and minimum viable products, in Cleveland the EY wavespace team simply walks the client downstairs to the Innovation Hub, where the next steps in the process begin immediately. And when the client’s needs include any kind of physical construction or prototyping, the rest of the Nottingham Spirk facility comes into play.

Critically, EY and Nottingham Spirk include every human professional involved in the process at every point in the process. A Nottingham Spirk designer and a Microsoft-certified developer participate in the wavespace engagement at the start, and the wavespace consultants follow the client through their entire journey, bringing life to “end-to-end.” In TBR’s view, combining the innovation process with the technological and physical capabilities of EY and Nottingham Spirk and capturing everything — and everyone — under one roof portends a sea change in how innovation and transformation centers will be run going forward. 

While extending innovation from business challenge consulting sessions into implementation of technology and physical solutions requires a commitment from EY firm leadership and business model shift for EY, the physical space EY and Nottingham Spirk have created warrants attention as a blueprint for future center construction.

Nottingham Spirk contains a maker’s dream space, with the tools, equipment and supplies to craft and test virtually anything. The main floors boast product engineering labs and countless examples of previous work taken from idea to commercialization. Attached to Nottingham Spirk’s manufacturing innovation paradise, EY built an IT innovation hub, outfitted with the latest tools from partners like Microsoft, SAP, Nokia and PTC, and key contributors such as GE Digital, PROS, Simio, and Blue Yonder. On the second floor of the innovation hub, EY’s latest wavespace offers room for large discussions or more intimate problem-solving sessions. Literally atop a hill and graced with a belltower, the facility allows clients, partners and employees to feel adequately physically removed from day-to-day concerns and fully focused on innovation. A visit to the Cleveland facility reinforces TBR’s view that innovation and transformation centers benefit from being physically separated from the vendor’s home offices.

EY-Nottingham Spirk Innovation Hub: To mark the opening of its first Innovation Hub and latest wavespace location, as well as its partnership with Nottingham Spirk, EY hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony and daylong event for local civic and business leaders, clients in the manufacturing space, and technology partners. TBR attended and spoke with EY leaders, attendees from EY’s technology partners, and multiple EY professionals, including Jerry Gootee, EY Global Advanced Manufacturing Leader (and EY-Nottingham Spirk Innovation Hub visionary); Greg Sarafin, EY Global Alliance and Ecosystem Leader; John Nottingham, Nottingham Spirk Co-Founder and Co-CEO; and Regan Grant, EY Global Advanced Manufacturing & Mobility Marketing Leader.