Pythian's new Westboro office positions firm for growth

There is still much to do on the outside and a little more work to do on the inside, but Pythian celebrated the grand opening of its new Westboro office Friday.

While workers in hard hats and steel-toed boots might make it difficult to find the main entrance at 319 McRae Ave., the IT service company has been fully functional at its new digs since Dec. 7.

“It’s really exciting to see the whole thing come together after all this time,” CEO Paul Vallée said when he gave OBJ a tour ahead of the grand opening.

Mr. Vallée said he knew by the beginning of 2013 his company was going to outgrow its space at 1200 St. Laurent Blvd.

The firm’s headcount had cracked the 400 mark and even though more than half the staff don’t call Ottawa home, the St. Laurent office was “bursting at the seams,” he said.

While McRae Avenue might have a completely different feel from St. Laurent Boulevard, there was one major similarity that was appealing, according to Mr. Vallée.

Neither location is in the downtown core.

With most of Pythian’s clients coming from out of town, Mr. Vallée said there was no particular benefit to being in the heart of the city.

“You pay more money,” he said. “It’s not that you’re more convenient to anybody anyway.”

Westboro was attractive for other reasons too.

“This is a really hot up-and-coming neighbourhood. Not only are there already pretty good restaurants and amenities,” he said, “the investment that is happening in this neighbourhood is sky high right now.”

Being close to the Transitway and eventually the LRT Confederation Line was also a bonus, said Mr. Vallée.

Mr. Vallée estimated the old office, which included additional space rented across the street, was about 28,000 square feet. Pythian has closer to 40,000 square feet at its new space on the fifth and sixth floor of the new Westboro development, he said.

A bigger office could be seen as somewhat ironic for a company that delivers its services electronically, allowing many of its staff to work from home.

What that means, Mr. Vallée explained, is that he expects the new space to be able to accommodate Pythian’s continued growth for its full 10-year lease.

“We really tried to create a very modern office feel with a lot of hoteling opportunities so people who don’t want to be in the office full-time don’t have to be,” Mr. Vallée said.

The sixth floor features many open, unassigned spaces, the necessary board room and plenty of smaller rooms for quick conversations or just the opportunity to work in a different space.

Mr. Vallée points to a La-Z-Boy reclining chair in one of the rooms.

“You can settle in, read, relax a bit, take a break,” he said.

One of the rooms features high tables designed specifically for standing. In fact, users can book the room only on the condition that they stand while working or meeting.

The abundance of open space will be helpful when the company hosts its quarterly conferences, called Pythian Days, for its clients who fly in from around the world.

Making a personal connection with customers really does matter, Mr. Vallée said.

“It’s what makes electronic delivery possible. Once you have a personal relationship with someone, then you can deliver electronically. That’s a really important part of how it works,” he said.

It’s clear Mr. Vallée is fond of the area he calls the café, a space not just for lunch but for the company to hold various events. Featuring two secure entrances and an adjoining patio, it can accommodate about 260 people.

“Because it is separately secured, you don’t have to worry too much about how to manage the security in the case of an event like that. I’m really pumped about that,” he said.

Mr. Vallée said he sees versatility in the café, hoping it becomes the social nerve centre of the company.

“The concept is to try to create ad hoc meeting space where you don’t need to have a booking. You just say, ‘Well, let’s just go to the cafe and figure it out.’”

The patio will also serve a work-related purpose for Mr. Vallée, a self-described “pacer” who said he’s anxiously awaiting spring.

“I’m looking forward to just walk out there … walk up and down and have my phone call in the sunshine,” he said.

The office is the latest example of the modern office design taking over the capital, but it also features some unique traits meant to reflect the Pythian philosophy.

“Some of the cool little touches that I’m proud of,” said Mr. Vallée, pointing to an image on a sign by one meeting room that shows a man heading into a meeting.

“Some of them have women. Isn’t that cool?” said Mr. Vallée, who recently became an executive sponsor of Women in Communication and Technology’s Protégé Project, designed to promote women into top decision-making roles in the knowledge-based economy.

Pythian also recently became the first Canadian tech company to reveal the gender ratio of its workforce. Through its Pythia Program, the company is actively recruiting women who are difference-makers in the IT world.

The meeting rooms are also given city names, reflecting the places where the 18-year-old company has either a significant client or staff footprint, Mr. Vallée said.

There are still some kinks to work out. Along the tour, we pass some staff figuring out how to work the blinds. The view, while breathtaking, can also be blinding at certain times of the day. Mr. Vallée said he also hopes the reception area, with a stainless steel Pythian sign over a wooden background, will be finished soon. The company is still waiting for permanent furniture for its boardrooms too.

While the sixth floor is for “delivery,” home to the executive service delivery teams, the fifth floor is what Mr. Vallée calls the “platform” floor, home to the HR, IT, R&D, finance and legal departments. Essentially, the work done on the fifth floor allows the work done on the sixth floor to happen.

While the sixth floor has the temporary work space for staff who spend most of their time working from home, the fifth-floor staff tend to come into the office every day. There are smaller board rooms and a smaller kitchen, as Mr. Vallée said the intent is for people to use the café more.

The fifth floor has more of a neighbourhood feel, including furniture from the old office that was still in “perfect condition,” he said.

“We steam-cleaned it, we unbuilt it, we rebuilt it.”

The floor is less open too, Mr. Vallée said, adding that it’s more of a maze because activities on the fifth floor are a bit more security-conscious.

If there’s any indication – temporary furniture aside – that the company has just moved in, it’s in the IT department, where monitors, various other pieces of hardware and cables are strewn throughout the space.

“I don’t know how long it is going to take them to tidy this up. It looks like an infinite backlog of work, but that’s what happens when you need to fit up an entire building and keep everything around and ready,” Mr. Vallée said.

The IT team were responsible for the “technical guts” of the move, he said, at all hours of the day and night.

“This is a bunch of people who have not rested a lot the past little while,” he said.

The move actually started in July when the building was still a shell because a lot of the networking technology had to be built right in.

Pythian started in 1997 offering services to companies that had revenue-generating systems. With the emergence of software-as-a-service technology, that market is exploding, and the company now has clients that include the likes of American Apparel, National Geographic, Fox Sports and Harvard Business Publishing, to name but a few.

Mr. Vallée compares his company to a soccer team, helping clients on both the defensive side of their business – security and performance – and the offensive, by keeping them efficient, competitive and on the road to growth.

The company works to help clients leverage the assets they already have, he said.

“Almost always we’re talking about data.”

Mr. Vallée said there is no end in sight to the SaaS trend.

“I don’t think the SaaS transformation is done. I think it’s really just beginning,” he said.

Pythian now has the space to accommodate that anticipated growth.