Innovating in the fourth industrial revolution


How does one innovate during the fourth industrial revolution? In this conversation, Dr. Jonathan Reichental, a multiple award-winning technology leader with 30 years of experience speaks to Elevoro CEO Hiba Sharief on the changes ahead and how IT leaders ought to adapt.

Hiba Sharief: How about we deep dive a little into the fourth industrial revolution?

Jonathan Reichental: If I think about my career 15 years ago, a big technology would arise, and I tried to get my head around it and I would use it to help the business I was part of, or the clients of the business.

Over time, the velocity of these new technologies have changes. In the last few years, one of the things I’ve been trying to think about is what’s the pattern and how are these things connected? It became apparent to me that all of these things that were happening everywhere couldn’t be in a silo. There had to be this storyline that is connecting this change that we’re all experiencing. I stumbled upon the World Economic Forum’s view of this. They coined this term- the fourth industrial revolution.

It really comes from this idea that we’ve been through as a globe three massive industrial revolutions. The first being steam, the second being electricity and the third being information technology.

Each of these, if you look deep into each of them, they all are transformational. They’re changing the way we live, the quality of our lives, they have historically extended our lifespans and given us more free time and more choice. On balance, most of the global metrics are all better. 

Now something else is happening. The introduction of new technologies and a new global political alignment is changing the nature of the role of countries. We’re seeing economic shifts. We’re seeing new powerhouses in places like Indonesia and merging in Africa. Of course, India and China continue to grow rapidly. We’re seeing a weakening of US political power and the changing nature of Europe.

When you take the scope of the change, the impact of these changes and the velocity, the speed at which changes are happening, it took about 50 years for 50 million people to get a cell phone. It took 19 days for Pokemon Go to reach 50 million people. 19 days.

Sharief: I attended a conference recently and I was listening to someone talk about macro innovation. Some people just assume innovation equals technology and that is by no means the case. There are so many different types of innovations, so many different ways in which to innovate. What drives your definition of innovation?

Reichental: I think we know it is about converting ideas into value and that’s my definition. It is about taking thoughts and putting together processes that enable the reinvention of how something is done or even the creation of something new.

So when I think why are we innovating more? The answer to that is to remain relevant. We have to innovate to be relevant. For me innovation is a response to remaining relevant. To your point, which I really like, it’s not just about tech. 

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Sharief: I think part of it is, to your point, what are we trying to solve for? It’s about continuous improvement. It’s about doing something better, not reinventing the wheel, but doing something in a new way that may be more efficient.

There’s been a lot of change, not only to global economies but also to different roles in organizations. The role of the CIO, the role of the CTO, the CISO, all these different titles. But there has been a convergence in roles.

Now there’s the transformational CIO. The focus on data, innovation, on being business-led or business-driven and product-driven. Can you give us a little bit more of your perspective on some of those shifts and some of those changes as it relates to our roles?

Reichental: There’s an awful lot of insight just in the question. So I appreciate you raising a whole lot of very interesting and relevant items there. As things change, as the fourth industrial revolution begins to unfold, roles and responsibilities are going to change. If you’re caught in an old way of doing things or an old hierarchy, I think quickly tension will increase there and then you’ll be challenged. 

In Palo Alto, I was a CIO in a community of CIOs. Figuring out how to collaborate and how to differentiate in those environments is a nice metaphor for all of our roles. As  CIOs, CTOs and IT leaders, we have to work with Chief Data Officers and Chief Marketing Officers who are now technologists and Chief Digital Officers. So the role of CIO cannot remain the same.

I also think that there is more pressure for that role to be more strategic. As someone who’s worked in an IT leadership role for almost 30 years, for a good part of that, I recognize that the IT leader was a reactive role. So you’ve got to have the skills and the confidence to be able to respond to these new questions in this period of change. 

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Sharief: What can help in driving more influence so that we can be more successful as leaders driving technology or driving change? What things have helped you become successful?

Reichental: By the time I was rocking up to my work at the city for an opening, we were getting over a hundred, sometimes 200 applicants. So something had radically  changed. Why was our department suddenly valuable? I think it really comes down to a couple of things. Number one is that I was not shy in sharing with the world what we were about. What we believed in. What ways would the role contribute towards a meaningful work and outcomes for lots of different people?

Communicating that vision outwardly, embedding it in the entire recruitment process really helped with bringing people into the city. I was able to build an amazing team who now is running the city as we sit here. People need to be really clear about what you believe in. Part of that is having a very well articulated vision.

You fail when you do the same thing twice. Success, I think, isn’t a particular learned skill.

If you come up with a vision and it’s not in alignment with the business, you’re in the wrong job. You as an IT leader have a significant role–as we’ve already discussed–in helping drive. Not only the vision of what role IT has, but also driving overall change in the business. So I think that’s something that you as a CIO or CTO need to focus on. 

Sharief: I don’t think it’s just vision. It’s being very transparent and being very specific as well. What are your values? What are you getting into when you join this team? Or what are the driving or guiding principles by which you operate? It’s not just about this vision. It’s being very specific with how we do it.

Reichental: Thank you for shining a light on that very important angle. The second part of your question I think was about my own personal success or failure. Well, I think it was Thomas Edison who said, there’s really no such thing as a failure. It’s just a way of finding out that something didn’t work. You fail when you do the same thing twice. Success, I think, isn’t a particular learned skill. It’s not like I’m good at programming databases. The skill is perseverance and factor in a little bit of patience too.

Sharief: It’s perseverance that you need to actually fail and hold on to that thing and just keep doing it. At the end of the day, it’s about being able to constantly think about the point when it no longer makes sense to have that grit and perseverance for that idea. 

It’s all about constantly reevaluating. It’s similar to the strategies we develop as CIOs. Anybody that tells me I’ve got a three year strategy, that’s great. But that may have worked when the rate of change wasn’t as fast. Anybody that’s trying to build something that’s more than a year out is actually just guessing because things are changing so fast. If we’re not constantly reevaluating every quarter, it’s also not very effective.

Thank you so much for being with us today. I really appreciate your time. Look forward to seeing you soon.

Reichental: Thank you Hiba. Really enjoyed it.

How do you innovate in the time of the fourth industrial revolution? Share your thoughts with other like-minded IT leaders here.

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