How Stantec Is Using XR to Propel Innovation in Their Company

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How Stantec Is Using XR to Propel Innovation in Their Company

Episode Summary

In episode 3 of the PIXO Podcast, PIXO VR is joined by Eric Monteith of Stantec. Eric discusses how Stantec is leveraging XR technology to help drive innovation and efficiency in their business.

We discussed what Eric’s role is at Stantec and then we dove into what PIXO describes as their 4 phases of XR implementation and which phase Stantec is currently in. Whenever you are implementing a new technology into a company, there is going to be challenges, but the success of that implementation is determined by how you overcome the challenges. Eric describes some of the challenges that Stantec has faced while implementing XR, and how they have overcome them. 

Finally, we took a look at what he thinks the future of XR looks like for business, and they provide tips to new companies looking to implement XR and be successful with it.


Introduction: 0:00-1:07
What phase of XR is Stantec in currently?: 1:07-3:25
What are the use cases Stantec is using XR for: 3:25-7:53
Challenges of implementing XR training and how to overcome those: 7:53-17:30
AI and How will XR play a roll in business in the future: 17:30 – 23:38
Insight for companies looking to implement XR training: 23:38-26:24

About the Guest:

Eric is based out of Alberta, Canada and he is the Global Innovation Leader for Stantec.

Stantec is a large global engineering and architecture firm that offers a suite of consultative and technical solutions for their clients around the globe.

Episode Transcript:

Rosina: Hello and welcome to PIXO Podcast. We’re doing our innovation series. I’m Rosina Feser, Director of Sales and Marketing with PIXO VR. And today we welcome Eric Monteith from Stantec. Eric, thank you for joining us.

Eric: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.

Rosina: And you want to give a little introduction and who you are and where you’re from?

Eric: Sure, thanks, Rosina. My name’s Eric Monteith. I’m based out of Calgary, Alberta, and I am Stantec’s global innovation leader. And now Stantec is a about 26,000 person global engineering and architecture firm that really offers a broad suite of consultative and technical solutions for clients around the globe.

Rosina: Excellent. So thank you for joining us today. Again, we’re talking to innovation leaders, and you obviously qualified, and it’s fantastic. I know that Stantec is doing some stuff with XR, but first I want to kind of lay out why we’re talking to innovation leaders and where we see the industry going. So we’ve discovered, well, we have determined that there are four phases of XR innovation, and phase one being that a company is considering using XR. Phase two, that a company is using XR, either at scale or in a pilot phase. Phase three, that you’ve discovered more use cases for XR, so it wouldn’t just necessarily be training, but also potentially collaboration or exhibit hall or B2C even, I know not necessarily with Stantec, but, and then phase four being looking more toward the future where you have all of those use cases. under one umbrella and it’s a lot more of an interactive environment rather than needing to click in and sign in to each of those experiences. So with that in mind, what phase would you say Stantec is in?

Eric: I think Stantec’s probably in phase three. I guess with Stantec’s focus on solving some of our clients’ biggest problems, and obviously with the digitization of the world as it stands now, the consultative practice is changing and the role of the consultants and engineering consultants in particular needs to evolve. And the application adoption of digital solutions, including within the XR realm, it’s gonna, I think, gonna be critical us being able to sort of understand some of the problems that are facing our clients going forward. You know, these global mega trends, whether it’s climate change, population, demographic shifts, you know, financial pressures that are being borne out in certain municipalities or by people around the world, you know, mass displacements, food shortages, all these things that are big unwieldy problems that… You know, the ability to be more dynamic in the application of solutions, the understanding of, you know, mass amounts of data and the interpretation of the data to, to generate more, as I said, dynamic solutions that sort of can adjust in real time, uh, to help our clients navigate these problems is going to be essential to us remaining relevant and continue to be able to service the clients the way we have been for the last 60 years.

Rosina: So you’re adjusting your client service with the times and the new technology. What are the use cases that you’re using XR for?

Eric: There’s the, you know, the AR VR realm, I think is becoming more commonplace, you know, the expectation is that clients can, uh, better experience and understand the solutions that are being presented, uh, the ability to, you know, walk through a future state, uh, by, you know, using an AR VR, uh, environment to understand what a post construction environment might look like. Uh, I think that’s becoming quite common. I think the where we’re going with that is again, the ability to more quickly run scenarios, to look at different opportunities or different solution, uh, options for our clients, I think rather than sort of a static design model like we have today where you apply variables and say, here’s your design, I think we’re looking at, um, more probabilistic type solutions saying, you know, when the likelihood of this happening, this is what the design might look like and using XR, you know, and even I think the future of XR is looking at that sort of more adaptive type XR to say, hey, if this is the scenario that plays out based on a probabilistic model of occurrence, you know, this is what the reality could look like, or, you know, if this is the, you know, if we’re looking at a more remote probability, this is what your future should look like. And this is what, you know, not just within a single variability, whether it’s a water utility or a building, but how they interact together or what the impact is on changing an industry within a community. How does that impact your traffic design, your utilities, your power consumption? So I think that’s where we’re going. And I think we’ve taken some big steps towards that, but I think working alongside the industry so that they can understand from a technical aspect you know, what’s required in order to be able to provide clients with that information so that they can start to design the XR tools to be able to be responsive to this type of dynamic design consideration. I think that’s where we’re going. And I think that’s where the industry needs to go in order to properly continue to service our clients with these big unruly problems.

Rosina: Yeah, no, that’s great. And it is interesting, especially in a VR, AR, XR environment where you can have those things where you pull a lever here and what are all the different ripple effects that can happen and make them randomized and make them in such a way that it helps you very, very much better prepare for the outcomes and probable solutions that can that can come from changing the lever pull from here to there, etc.

Eric: Absolutely. You know, what’s interesting in this space is that, you know, a lot of sort of the XR tools, you know, they were really focused on that experiential goal where people can, you know, how do they feel? How do they interact within that space? And where the engineering and architectural consulting firms came from is, you know, development of digital twins from functional perspective. You know, how do you adjust a pump or how do you adjust air within a building, you know, within using a digital twin to run that simulation and sort of those single element digital twins is sort of where we’ve started. But I think in order for this to come together to the ability for the, the technical subject matter experts, you know, where, you know, the engineering consulting firms have an abundance, including, you know, the 26,000 we have at Stantec our ability to help inform sort of the XR development world on that functional element in order to then make it applicable to that experiential focus that they’ve typically had. I think that when those two come together, then we have something really powerful. So, I think that’s a really good point. I think that’s a really good point.

Rosina: That’s very true. Yeah, that subject matter expertise is golden. That’s just absolutely necessary for these kinds of experiences and making it so that it’s as realistic and effective as possible. So in the implementation of the XR that you have, what are some of the challenges that you’ve had?

Eric: Well, being a big global firm comes with its challenges inherently. You know, we have a lot of people that have a lot of fantastic ideas and, you know, the ability to capture those and to, you know, provide a bit of structure around that. You know, our staff are used to, you know, identifying a problem and diving headlong in trying to solve that problem. And you know, sometimes they don’t have the time or the ability to stick their head up and say, you know, what else has been developed around the company? And, you know, instead, so the ability, I guess, to provide a degree of discipline around the development to make it more efficient, effective and more cohesive in a company of our size has been a bit of a challenge. And, you know, given the range of services, you know, from energy and resources to water, to buildings and architecture, to environmental sciences. Each of those have their priorities and they have their elements that they’ve focused on from a digital twin perspective, for instance, or their clients have a different demand with respect to the experience or what they want at various stages of design before the implementation of a solution. And so that has been their focus. And now the ability to look at that and say, okay, but what makes sense on a corporate level and how do we start to knit these together so that we have a cohesive strategy for the XR realm, whether it’s from Digital Twin through AR, VR, XR, so that we can provide a cohesive look, we can knit together all our different business units to provide a cohesive solution, which is what’s gonna be required, because as you said, when you pull a lever over here, something else wobbles over there, that happens across our various disciplines. And so for a company of our size to be able to capture all of that in one spot and into a cohesive tool is a challenge. And so I think partnering with, you know, the digital industry in order to come up with this cohesive solution, you know, is a critical next step. But before we can do that, we’ve got to a point now where we’ve, I think, uh, identified our parameters or our, um, our perspective. And we sort of define where we think Stantec belongs in that space and now I think we can really be a force multiplier and working with our tech partners to develop something cohesive.

Rosina: So it sounds like, is it fair to say that the first challenge that you encountered was prioritization? So not only just prioritizing using XR as a solution, but also within the business units, needing to prioritize what within those business units would be used for XR?

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. You know, you can imagine with a company of our size, you know, our, we have such a wide range of services from buildings to energy and resources and power, water, uh, you know, um, transportation, you know, each of them have their priorities and each of them have their elements that would be an area of focus for a digital twin, uh, their clients, you know, have different expectations for experience for interaction with the design now as the, you know, XR space evolves. And so the ability to look at those and say, how do we knit those together? Because, you know, with the, the demands upcoming with these global mega trends, you know, things aren’t you in a discipline anymore. You know, the climate change doesn’t just affect the power grid. It doesn’t just affect buildings. And so the ability to talk about solutions in a cohesive manner across all those disciplines is going to be critical. And so the ability to create a cohesive XR experience. solution that considers the elements of each and then can build on that to be uniquely developed for each solution because there’s not one solution that fits all. It’s going to be the ability to take a tool and apply that XR environment to this multidisciplinary solution that can be bespoke for every condition. So it’s not an easy ask. It’s a difficult challenge. But as I said, I think that partnership of the subject matter expertise that the consulting space like Stantec can bring, you know, that partnership with the tech industry to really develop these experiential tools, to be able to be dynamic and to look at, you know, scenarios on a probabilistic basis is going to be really critical to making decisions on investment. You know, the need to invest is enormous, but the need to make intelligent investment decisions is maybe even bigger given the limitations and the vast number of priorities there’s going to be for that money.

Rosina: Right, so then the next challenge is where to invest and working with the right partner that can provide you that, as you say, knitted together solution so that you can probably, in terms of XR and development, reuse a lot of assets that would be the same across business units. It would just be that individualized scenario or randomization of what’s going on within each of those. Is that?

Eric: Absolutely. And you know, historically, you know, large capital investment has been on a pretty long time horizon. You know, you build a building for 50 years or you, you know, you design a water treatment plant with a 30 year horizon, but you know, the variables that went into, you know, estimating that size required for 30 years, you know, it’s just, it is too, it, it’s not static anymore, right? It’s, it’s changing in real time. And so the ability to have these tools to constantly update to assimilate big data in order to look at changing scenarios within, you know, in response to global shifts is going to be critical because, you know, you can’t invest in something and walk away and expect 30 years later that those assumptions that were made are still valid. So I think these tools, you know, and XR is going to be an enormous part of that ability to, you know, walk alongside that capital investment over the lifecycle to say, you know, is it still valid? You know, can we make adjustments or should we make adjustments? Should we be building it out in five-year or seven-year increments, you know, that allow it to be adaptive to changing conditions over its design lifecycle? I think that’s, I mean, that’s the way we’re going to have to go to protect capital investment.

Rosina: That’s very cool, actually. So yeah, that’s interesting to juxtapose how things used to be done to how they should be done given the enormity and speed of information these days. So if you could.

Eric: You can imagine, I mean, that’s a big, that’s an enormous shift in sort of supply chain. And, you know, decision-making right through, from decision-making right through to the investment side, right through to the construction side and how construction is undertaken.

Rosina: Yeah, absolutely. So if you could break down how you have overcome those challenges of both prioritization and knitting together, or are you in the process of overcoming those challenges right now?

Eric: No, I think we’re well on the path. We haven’t solved them all yet. But it starts back in fall 2019. I credit the vision of our CEO, Gord Johnson, in determining that innovation has always happened. We’ve been around for 60 years. Traditionally, innovation in the consultative space has been can I design something more accurately and more quickly? But he recognized that we have to look beyond that. And so at the start of 2020, we stood up an innovation office. So we sort of formalized the innovation program. You know, we just had our 26th annual innovation summit. So innovation is not new to Stantech, but the innovation office and the mandate of saying, Hey, we need an office that we invest in that’s focused on looking towards the future. Like what does, you know, what are the micotrends that are going to be affecting our clients going into the future? How can Stantec play a part? to walk alongside our clients to solve those problems? You know, what are we not doing that we should be doing? How do we take our enormous depth of subject matter expertise and instead of selling that intelligence one hour at a time, how do we capture an hour of insight and sell it multiple times, you know, through digitization, through partnerships with tech companies, through XR, you know, different ways that we can sort of force multiply the expertise of the engineers. Cause you know, one of the trends also facing the world is that there’s going to be a shortage of technical expertise. You know, there’s a big demographic shift coming. We’re losing a lot of intelligence from the space. So we are going to have to harness, you know, the resources we have now, you know, in a way that allows them to be deployed more effectively, more broadly than one hour at a time.

Rosina: Yeah, those are all excellent points, especially the loss of information, essentially, right? I mean, that’s something that we always look for in digitization of information, and so that you don’t lose tribal knowledge, you are able to replicate it, and well, keep it and have it carry on. And in the case of XR and even AI, you know, have it continue to learn and work and grow with you.

Eric: I mean, adaptive AI is, or generative AI is such a, you know, it’s such a huge talking point. All of our staff are obviously very excited, you know, about figuring out how do we apply generative AI. And, you know, there may be some concern with this to plant the need for consultative engineering. And, you know, like any other tool, you know, I don’t foresee that, you know, a tool is great but how do you apply the tool? To be able to understand a problem, articulate a solution, and then bring the correct tools to bear to solve that problem. I mean, that’s really where consultants exist, where the consultative A&E world, that’s our sweet spot. And so I see generative AI as just another tool, but it’s gonna play an enormous role in helping to inform us of maybe sort of removing the need to do some of the more repetitive tasks to allow us more time to work on the interpretation of the data, the application of the data, the articulation of the problems, the generation of the solutions. And I think generative AI is going to be a big part of informing what we do, but the ability to apply that into the XR space, you know, to then inform that, you know, the AR, VR, XR worlds, you know, I think that it’s going to play an enormous part in being able to assimilate mass amounts of data and then apply it into that more adaptive solution.

Rosina: That’s how I see it as well. So I think that it’s really interesting that, you know, in the world of where AI exists, and I feel like it is one of those just tools that can help you and it doesn’t take out the human element. In fact, it just enhances where we can focus our abilities and as you say, just kind of add more to the process instead of taking away from the human side. Ok, so I have one final question for you. And we’ve talked a lot about the future of XR and how you see it in StanTech and the industry, but my question towards the future is how soon do you think that it will be part of everyday process?

Eric: That’s a tough question to answer. If you look back and watch back to the future, we should have already had flying cars and they moved forward to this timeframe. But I think it’s already happening, right? So we’re already starting to see, as I mentioned, yesterday’s innovation is today’s just normal with the business. People are already applying the XR environment to the experiential side. The digital twins are becoming more commonplace. They’re starting to become expected in designs as opposed to something new and novel that’s offered as a differentiator. As I said, moving from single element digital twins to system digital twins is the next evolution. Rather than just controlling a pump, understanding that, hey, if you’re Influent water condition is different. This is how the system should react to that Um, you know, this is what we’re working on now. This is what’s starting to be Uh implemented, you know the conversations I think that the consulting space is just starting to figure out, you know Where they exist in the fourth ir let alone the fifth ir So so we’re a little bit behind on that side I think the digital companies are starting to wrap their head around where you know The subject matter experts the the architecture and engineering subject matter experts belong in the conversation and they think they’re starting to realize that there’s a limitation in terms of developing a digital tool that provides information as opposed to the technical insight required to help that decision making because clients need that help too, right? So to have a digital tool that gives you information but you don’t know how to understand the problem or articulate a solution, you can’t get the maximum value from that. And I think the digital companies are starting to understand where the the subject matter expertise from the A&E space can start to participate there. I think once that comes together, it’s gonna move quite quickly, but we still have quite a few steps because, you know, there’s a well-entrenched supply chain that needs to shift. There’s a decision-making process, you know, whether it’s through private industry or certainly through public, you know, funding, that is pretty cumbersome and has a lot of established steps that need to be adapted. So I think over the next 10 years, there’s going to be an enormous shift towards that. I don’t think we’ll get all the way there necessarily within 10 years, but within the next 15, I think you’re going to, you know, and if the generative AI continues to advance at the levels we see, I mean, I’ll bet they’re off, right? Like who knows how quickly that can disrupt, but I think you’re going to see a steady increase in the adoption of XR, the adoption of adaptive design, the questioning of the supply chain methodology as pressures like climate change, like, you know, financial limitations, aging infrastructure, start to create ever like increasing pressures. There’s, they’re the ones that are going to be the catalyst for disruptive adoption, but you know, nothing’s going to stop. In my opinion, nothing is going to stop the, the continued adoption expansion of the application of XR and adaptive design to solve these bigger problems.

Rosina: Great. Thank you for that. I actually do have one final question, so I lied. If you were to talk to somebody who is just considering using XR in their enterprise, what piece of advice would you have?

Eric: Uh, well, with everything we do, my, my first question with any innovation is what problem does it address? So what are we trying to solve? You know, how do we, how do we serve our clients? So if you’re looking at the XR environment, like what are you trying to achieve at the end state and stay true to that and what need does that meet? And then work your way backwards from there.

Rosina: Excellent. Yeah, that’s the advice that we give as well. So that’s good to have that validated by somebody who’s going through it. No, that’s great. So with that, do you have any parting remarks before we close out for this recording?

Eric: Just that I appreciate being here and have an opportunity to have a discussion around this. I think it is immensely important. I think that there’s so many conversations going on around this space. So the ability to get together and start to put some form on that conversation, start to look at it, you know, I think from the technical, uh, engineering architecture and science side, often I think that’s been left out of the conversation because it’s seen as potentially separate from something experiential on the XR side. But the ability to talk about how those two can come together meaningfully to solve these problems, I mean, I’m very passionate about that. I spend a lot of time looking at issues facing our clients, issues facing the world, and how can Stantec be a positive agent to assist and help in solving those problems, because ultimately that’s what motivates us. So the ability to come together and discuss. You know how the marriage of those two can come together to be a force multiplier to help us solve those problems You know really appreciate the opportunity to do that really enjoyed it

Rosina: Thank you, and we really enjoyed having you, and truly thank you very much for joining us on this. It’s great conversations to have to push the XR, well, push XR and enterprise forward in everyday life. I mean, hopefully it will be sooner than 15 years that becomes part of everyday process, but I do understand the timeline, and it’s obviously moving in leaps and bounds for how quickly people are adopting, so Yeah, it only helps and benefits people as a tool. So that’s why we’re here talking about it. So thank you very much for joining us. Thank you for watching, listening, everybody that is. And if you know anybody that would be a good person to interview on this podcast, please do reach out and let us know. Thanks and have a great day.

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