Episode 44: Rise of the Co-Bots: LiveTiles Selects Rochester for Intelligent User Experience HubJune 4, 2018
Imagine never having to file an expense report again. Sounds pretty good, right? This and other workplace efficiencies are the mission of LiveTiles, a fast-growth Australian company specialized in integrating automation technology and user experience to make companies and their employees more productive. LiveTiles announced plans in May 2018 to open an Intelligent User Experience Hub – or IUX Hub – in Downtown Rochester New York, creating at least 500 new jobs. Rochester beat out locations in the Carolinas and others on the East Coast for the project. To get the full story, we talk to Dan Diefendorf, SVP of Americas at LiveTiles, and Matt Hurlbutt, President and CEO of Greater Rochester Enterprise.
Patience Fairbrother (DCI): Picture this. You’re out for a client dinner or a work-related meal, you’re having a great time until it hits you that this means filing an expense report. At the end of the month, when you file your report, you’ll need to remember where the receipt is, which client you were with, what part of this is billable and a variety of other factors you don’t want to think about when you’re out for a nice meal.
Andy Levine (DCI): So enter artificial intelligence. What if instead of taking those various steps, all you had to do after dinner was tell your smartphone, “Hey, I just had a client dinner,” your phone would then go into your calendar, see which client the dinner was with, take the picture of the receipt, and then marry the two together to submit your expense report automatically and immediately pay it off on your company credit card. That sounds pretty good, Patience.
Patience: It sounds great, actually. I would prefer to never file an expense report again.
So welcome to Episode 44 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.” I’m Patience Fairbrother of Development Counsellors International.
Andy: And I’m Andy Levine, also with DCI and Patience’s co-host of The Project.
Patience: So this week, we’re talking about intelligent user experience which is defined as the user interface that involves some aspect of artificial intelligence. The company at the center of our story is LiveTiles, a fast-growth Australian company that is a leader in this field.
Andy: LiveTiles work in automation for what they call the intelligent workplace. They like to refer to this kind of automated technology as cobots, or robots that collaborate seamlessly with people.
Patience: The company was founded in Australia in 2014 and is now headquartered in New York City. They announced plans in May 2018 to open an Intelligent User Experience Hub or IUX Hub, as they call it, in Downtown Rochester, New York, creating at least 500 new jobs.
Andy: Rochester beat out locations in the Carolinas and others on the East Coast for the project. To give us an overview of their software, we’ll hear from Dan Diefendorf, Senior VP of Americas for LiveTiles.
Dan Diefendorf (LiveTiles): So it used to be, when you developed a need for an application, you go off and a company would buy and they put it for their employees, but then you’re bouncing from one application to another. Now, with technology in the cloud and software as a service, like LiveTiles is, we can bring all that down, really down to a user level, without needing any code. You may be familiar with things like drag and drop, you can do all that very easily with our software so that you can give employees exactly what they need when they need it, so they’re not wasting time, looking for information or finding people when they can actually be just doing the work.
Patience: Essentially, LiveTiles wants to make the workplace smarter and employees more productive with technology geared toward user experience. So LiveTiles is an interesting global presence in that they’re a publicly-traded company on the Australian Stock Exchange but have world headquarters in New York City.
Dan: You know, New York City is obviously a hub for a lot of sectors and industries, but it also allows us to have a proper hub that sort of sits between Asia Pacific and our European clients and puts us close enough that we can service that base throughout the world in New York City. But through some of the growth, we’ve had other challenges which give us an opportunity to have to put more and more employees in a single location and to have sort of that more of that collaborative feel across our offices which prompted us to dream up the IUX Hub, this Intelligent User Experience Hub that we’ve since announced in Rochester.
Andy: When it came time for the location search for the IUX Hub, LiveTiles took a very broad approach.
Dan: We looked at Eastern Europe. We looked at the Eastern Seaboard, as well as the West Coast.
Andy: As LiveTiles began to narrow down their location search, eventually to the U.S. and then to the East Coast, three factors rose to the top. Number 1 was finding the talent that would mesh with their culture.
Dan: We really started to narrow down on the East Coast and the Midwest because of the time zone, and just some of the culture of the towns and cities that we were looking at. So the first and foremost factor was the talent and the people that we felt would be interested in a story like ours. We have a very strong culture, sort of a work hard, play hard culture, and we want to make sure that we could find people readily that would be interested in joining that journey.
Patience: The second key factor for LiveTiles was the ability to partner with local universities.
Dan: The second thing that we looked at was the universities, because we wanted to partner with local colleges and universities that had investment in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, but also understood the arts.
Patience: Intelligent user experience is unique in that it’s not a purely tech. It involves smart design and understanding of human behavior. So with that in mind, LiveTiles was looking specifically for schools that could provide training that couples human-centered design with technology.
Andy: At this point in the process, LiveTiles had narrowed the search to the Carolinas and New York state. The university piece was where the Rochester really began to stand out, thanks to work being done at the Rochester Institute of Technology, or RIT for short.
Dan: A lot of the skill sets that exist around AI right now are developing, not at big companies like Microsoft and Amazon and Google are still sorting out, even us, about what these types of roles look like, so we wanted to have a place where we could sort of have the foundational layer of talent but be able to train and mentor these employees that are gonna be working on cutting-edge technology. Ultimately, Rochester set itself apart, particularly RIT.
Andy: To expand on this point, we turned to Matt Hurlbutt, President and CEO of Greater Rochester Enterprise. Matt talked about the importance of getting the company a meeting with the Rochester Institute of Technology which happened the second time the company came to Rochester for a visit.
Matt Hurlbutt (Greater Rochester Enterprise): I think that’s the key piece that RIT, the fact that David Munson, who’s the new president here, took an hour to spend with their team as they reviewed options here and when into great depths about the plans RIT has for the growth of their information technology, artificial intelligence and that relationship between the engineering components at the school and beyond the school to the arts and creative sciences, I think, really helped us.
Patience: Finally, we’ve come to the third factor. LiveTiles was looking for a location with that “it” factor that would make their employees who work all over the globe feel at home. Here’s Dan again.
Dan: So what we do is we allow our employees to basically work from any location, either temporarily or permanently. Sometimes, they go on a vacation and spend an extra week at that location to work in an office. Sometimes, they’ll even go move to another location for three months or six months just to get a feel for the culture of a new office or new people, whatever it might be. So we wanted to have a place that would be a nice hub where people could experience not only the work culture but the surrounding area.
Andy: From Matt’s perspective, Rochester’s office options combined with its downtown revitalization was a big part for fulfilling this “it” factor requirement for LiveTiles.
Matt: Well, I’ll say that one of the things that we have going for our region is we’ve got a lot of interesting office options for technology firms, and there is a synergy and really kind of an ecosystem that’s percolating in Downtown Rochester for technology firms and we see that on gaming, software, information technology, business processing companies, marketing companies. There’s a lot of interest in Downtown Rochester.
Patience: Dan has an interesting perspective on this as resident of Brighton, which is just outside of Rochester. He’s been living in the area on and off for years and actually had a change of heart in his own perception of the area throughout the search process.
Dan: When we first started taking a look at Rochester, you know, personally, I wasn’t 100% sure that this is the best place for us to do this. And quickly, it shifted from understanding the town that I have been basically flying out of for the last 12 years and seeing all the change and reinvigoration, the innovation, the rebuilding the downtown and everything else, certainly the growth in universities, I kinda got to know my town all over again.
Andy: The incentive package was the final piece of the package for LiveTiles to select Rochester. We asked Dan at what point they entered this discussion.
Dan: It took a little bit of time to get all the responses back from the different locations so that we can properly compare apples to apples, but once we did that, the conversation was very clear that we needed to make this more about workforce development and everyone jumped right in. Everyone did their part, from the state, specifically, we have workforce grants that we can apply against. And then there’s a variety of other incentives as well. But the state package is compelling for us, particularly compared against some other regions that we looked at. And once we got to that point, it became a no-brainer.
Andy: The incentive package for LiveTiles include $7 million from the state, including a $3.5 million grant through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative, that’s a mouthful, and also $3.5 million through the Excelsior Tax Credit Program in exchange for job creation commitments.
Patience: So we’re going to share two fun stories to close out this episode, both deal with making the Australian company feel at home in Rochester. The first is from Dan who brought a number of his Australian colleagues to Rochester when the deal was in its final stages. He took them snowmobiling and apparently, it had a big impact on their impression on the area.
Dan: I brought a number of Australians through Rochester. And I was curious how the Australian culture would gravitate towards Rochester. They’re used to very, very warm summers and not all too cold winters and access to the coast and the ocean and everything else. Riding fast on these machines and the snow is just something I think that they never thought they would do, but they had an absolute blast. I actually think it endeared them to the area. They love being outdoors and we just had a lot of fun with it. We had a lot of stories that came out of that.
Andy: The second fun story is one that we love to hear on The Project. It’s the one where the Economic Development Team really went above and beyond to show their commitment to eh company.
Patience: When Rochester got down to the finals, they had the great idea to tap into a connection that one of their lead economic developers had with the head brewmaster at Genesee Brewing. Here’s Matt.
Matt: One of the interesting times we spent together, that gentleman took a little time and created an Australian lager that I have to tell you was excellent, and we did enjoy some Australian lager and I think that was well-received by the team at LiveTiles, engaged with them and not only a business sense, but on a social sense, getting a better understanding of how they operate, how they want to operate and what kind of connectivity we can bring for them to create that quality of life and the opportunity for them to grow and innovate was really, I think, everybody on our team went above and beyond the call of duty on this.
Patience: So there you have it, snowmobiling and Australian beer won the day for Rochester in LiveTiles. The $17 million project will result in the creation of at least 500 jobs over the next five years, about 60 of which had already been created. It’s expected to be completed by 2023.
Andy: We’ll end with one final comment from Dan who emphasized the importance of these kinds of memorable experiences in the site selection process.
Dan: We talk about relationships a lot, but it really is about the experiences that we have along the way, that make you feel is this something that you really want to do on your own. The numbers are important, but I think it’s the experiences and how you feel you’re going to be successful in a particular place, and that’s ultimately what ended up occurring here. We all felt it at the same time, and we all felt it even…despite, you know, I live here, we all felt it together as a team, which was very important for us.
Andy: So we are up to the takeaways portion of this episode, Patience, you got to speak with both Dan and Matt, and Matt, we’ve spoken to before on a previous episode.
Patience: We have. This is his second time on the show.
Andy: Okay, what stood out in terms of profiling LiveTiles and their decision to move to Rochester?
Patience: First of all, I just wanna say how much I really enjoyed learning about automation through this process. It’s really such a cool company. The example we gave in the intro about the expense reports is actually a story that Dan shared with me, apparently, one of the VPs at their company had this dream. He literally dreamt about going to a client dinner and telling his phone, “Hey, I just had a client dinner,” and it filing the expense report immediately, so this company is literally constantly dreaming up ways to make the workplace more efficient.
Andy: The idea of the expense report, I think would really resonate with a lot of people listening to this. I mean, everyone hates doing this.
Patience: Everyone hates doing it.
Andy: If we can simplify that process, that would be fantastic.
Patience: Exactly. So really just a fascinating company. And the second piece on the location search side of things, I’ll mention that, you know, I think it came out loud and clear toward the end of the episode that the importance of creating memorable experiences for the company during this site-search process is really important, and especially for a company like LiveTiles that has a very strong culture, it’s really important for them to find the right people that mesh with it, to find a place that’s going to bring their culture to life, so just another great example, creating a custom Australian lager for their team is just a really fun way to show them their commitment.
Andy: Snowmobiling is pretty cool too, because I’m sure that’s the first time these Australian group had ever experienced that.
Patience: Exactly, and especially coming from a warmer climate and for those of our listeners who’d been to Rochester, it’s pretty freaking cold in the winter, so I think it probably went a long way for them to experience that fun side of it.
Andy: And I know they were competing with the Carolinas. Are we certain that the Carolinas also didn’t have a snowmobiling tour for them?
Patience: I’m fairly certain, although I cannot confirm or deny this fact.
Andy: Sounds good. Okay, great story. Thank you, Patience.
Patience: So that is a wrap on Episode 44 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.”
Andy: We wanna thank both Dan Diefendorf as well as Matt Hurlbutt for taking the time to speak with us about their stories. If you’re interested in the very hot topic of talents, specifically the talent of tomorrow, we have some fresh research for you. As of tomorrow, June 5th, you’ll be able to download DCI’s second talent-related research report which is called “How to Reel in Tomorrow’s Talent” and it focused on millennials and generation Z. To download the report, visit our website, that’s aboutdci.com, or look for it in your inbox as we’ll be emailing it out to a lot of different people who subscribe to the podcast.
Patience: We hope you will keep listening. There are many more projects to come.