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July 2 2020 Calgary Chamber

The Big Reset – Beyond the Fourth Industrial Revolution

On June 10th the Calgary Chamber hosted Ryan Peterson, VP, Solutions, Unity Technologies, for a webinar on the future economy, technology, innovation, and growing a business in Calgary. This blog is a follow up from that webinar.

With this new wave of technology and media, what is the opportunity for training and education, and collaboration between educational institutions and transformative companies like Unity and Finger Food?

As Finger Food, we were always committed to supporting training and education opportunities and collaboration between ourselves and educational institutions. From developing coding tools and robots to schools through our work with Sphero and SBI, to financial support for scholarships and bursaries in technical schools and universities and providing internships and co-op positions for students, we have been there to support the next generation. It’s only been a few weeks since we became part of Unity Technologies and we are all learning about Unity’s approach, but we will continue to promote these kinds of activities in the communities in which we live and work. We are always happy to entertain proposals along these lines and would be happy to discuss your ideas.

As the XR industry continues to grow in Calgary and Alberta, what are the skills/competencies required by developers. What does Calgary need to do to accelerate technology-based growth? What’s missing?

What is Calgary’s greatest obstacle in moving in this direction to diversify its economy?

These two questions are very similar. Clearly a critical element of technology-based growth and the diversification of the economy is a skilled and educated workforce. We recognize that the oil and gas industry, which has been the primary driver of the economy, relies heavily on a skilled and educated workforce as well. While there may be a gap between the skills and competencies that we require and what is available in Calgary and in Alberta generally, that gap is not as wide as might be expected. We are looking for a range of skills including business intelligence and data analytics, data scientists, back-end and front-end developers with knowledge of C/C++, SQL, Python, Node.js, cloud computing, etc., tech artists, designers, project managers, and a host of other skills. The bottom line is that we are looking for problem solvers who delight in developing solutions that will make people better at their jobs; people who are passionate about technology and who are driven by results.

What’s missing might be retraining opportunities to reskill those who have been affected by the economic downturn to enable them to more quickly transition from one industry to the kind of work that Unity does.

How do you see real time collaboration affecting the physical workplace moving forward?

The idea of real time collaboration, remote work, and the need for physical workplaces has been the subject of research and discussion for years, but it took the current pandemic to catalyze a quantum leap forward. Companies are starting to realize that remote work and remote collaboration can be effective, and this will have long term implications for the physical workspace. Companies may decide that they don’t need one desk per employee, while employees may also realize that remote work is not as easy as it might have seemed. As we emerge from the current crisis, we can expect that the new normal will include some hybrid of physical workplace and remote collaboration.

Real time data processing and real time 3D (RT3D) will be a big contributor in this new world. While we currently think in terms of knowledge workers as being the ones who will be able to capitalize on not being physically present, the adoption of VR/AR/XR technologies and RT3D visualizations will allow front line workers in many industries to identify and diagnose issues without being physically present. More and more the jobs that will require a physical presence will be focused on workers who need to take some action, e.g. maintaining and repairing equipment, rather than monitoring and overseeing.

What's Unity's process for defining a problem that Unity's technology can solve and implementing the technology at a large organization?

Unity has a couple of approaches to working with large organizations. In the first instance, if an organization has already adopted Unity, our professional services team will work closely with internal parties to make sure that the company is getting full value from using the technology. We’ll also ensure that users are fully aware of all of the broad spectrum of capabilities and offerings that Unity encompasses. In this kind of circumstance, the organization typically has already determined where and how it will be using Unity and our teams help to maximize their return on investment.

In the second instance, and this is where Finger Food excels, and why it is now part of Unity, we will collaborate closely with a company through our discovery and envisioning process to identify critical challenges within an organization and focus on a discrete number of specific opportunities where Unity might be useful. We will then propose an engagement to develop a proof-of-concept for those specific opportunities and work closely with the company to prioritize a project or projects. Once a proof-of-concept or minimum viable product has been developed it will be evaluated for broader implementation, and if it’s determined to be viable, a larger scale development project will proceed. Larger scale projects can take a variety of forms: they can be multi-year, they might involve multiple departments,, and they may only be the first step in a broader strategy. Every situation is different, and our approach is to work collaboratively to develop a unique tech stack for a company’s specific issues rather than to be prescriptive and implement generic solutions that may not fit a particular situation.

What is Unity & Finger Food overall plan for Calgary? Particularly in relation to growth.

We are bullish on Calgary and see it as critical to our overall growth strategy. We are in the process of building out space in the new space downtown and continue to hire personnel. We continue to believe, as we did when we first talked about setting up in Calgary, that the city and province offer significant opportunities. You have a well-educated workforce, the regulatory and tax environment is welcoming, and costs of living are much more attractive than in Vancouver and elsewhere. The current disruptions in the economy of the province create opportunities for companies like Unity that are not wholly dependent on the oil and gas sector and companies in this sector are looking for ways to improve their process, which presents us with significant opportunities.

Tech expertise is usually quite expensive, how did you find and align your technical co-founders at the beginning of your company to work on the project from the basement?

Finger Food was not a typical tech start-up in many ways. Rather than focusing on inventing and commercializing a product, the company provided professional services on a fee-for-service basis to companies that wanted to take advantage of the digital revolution that was spawned by the iPhone and other smart phones. This allowed the company to be measured in its growth and to mitigate risk. While it took time to build a client base, we were able to generate cash flow on a consistent basis and didn’t need to seek outside investment.

What is the most exciting product that you're working on with FF inside of Unity today?

What do you consider the most important “tip of the spear” technology — most disruptive over the next 5 years?

Which specific emerging technology are you most excited about and which emerging technology do you think Alberta should be most excited about?

I’ll respond to these with a combined answer since they are all in the same vein. There are lots of exciting things going on in Unity today and I am hard pressed to pick just one and “most exciting” or “most important.”

Unity has been primarily a product company with a focus on enabling developers to build games. While they have been doing more professional services work in the enterprise space, and one of the reasons that Unity acquired Finger Food was to make a strategic move into developing bespoke solutions for the enterprise using Unity. So, I am personally very excited about having a bigger platform to work on solutions for enterprise customers and believe that there is enormous potential on that front.

On the product side there are a number of developments that I am excited about; MARS allows developers to create AR experiences that fully integrate with the real world, Reflect provides a pipeline to get Building Information Management (BIM) data into real time 3D (RT3D) and has the potential to revolutionize major project development and asset management, PiXYZ is a tool for importing, preparing, and optimizing large CAD assemblies, point clouds, and mesh data for

RT3D visualization in Unity, and we are doing some really exciting stuff in simulations that will allow users to run phenomenal simulations.


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