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Iliana Oris Valiente - The Pioneer

There’s no roadmap for the uncharted frontier of emerging technology but that’s not deterring CPA Iliana Oris Valiente. She’s forging new paths as the lead for Accenture’s Canada Innovation Hub in Toronto and the lead of its Canadian blockchain practice as well as co-founder of the world’s first open-sourced research and development hub (R&D) for this game-changing technology — always with a focus on unlocking business value.

At the Consensus 2017 blockchain conference — the biggest of its kind — Iliana Oris Valiente’s name rung out as she rode down an escalator. Waiting at the bottom amidst the sea of attendees was the CFO of a major automotive manufacturer.

 “He said, ‘I wanted to say thank you’,” Iliana tells us. Four months prior, she was with the CFO at a conference in San Francisco where she adamantly insisted that he meet with a Toronto startup. They laughed as the CFO recalled how she led them to a room, bound and determined to collaborate.

It worked: the manufacturer and the startup decided to partner after their ideas-based conversation. “Two days later, they were on stage presenting the prototype they built for a connected car,” says Iliana, smiling at the memory. “You never know what ideas other people will have and how your slight interaction will impact their trajectory.”

“You never know what ideas other people will have and how your slight interaction will impact their trajectory.”

Iliana has not only made a name for herself as an authority in the blockchain space, but she’s also earned a reputation for building bridges between business and the tech world — often with highly profitable results. That connector mindset has helped pave the way for Iliana as the managing director of Accenture’s Canada Innovation Hub and its Canadian blockchain practice lead. Her focus is on growing the Accenture team to drive a broad innovation agenda to help clients tap into new opportunity spaces.

It can be a challenging trek: navigating uncharted waters while convincing others to embrace new technology such as blockchain — especially one they may only have a faint understanding of. However, Iliana’s powerful drive and futuristic vision have proven a potent combo for success.

“Innovation isn’t something that can be neatly summarized in one playbook,” says Iliana. “As a result, a fairly significant portion of my role at Accenture is to educate our clients about emerging technologies and how to think about them in the context of their business challenges and opportunities. Once it clicks, they say, yes, this makes total sense. Then, the real innovation journey begins.”

Iliana Oris Valiente recently joined the advisory team of CPA Ontario’s Emerging Leaders community. She is a managing director at Accenture where she helps Fortune 500 companies transform their businesses, leveraging human centered design principles and emerging technologies such as blockchain and AI. Her passion in the blockchain space led her to launch ColliderX, an open R&D hub for the innovative technology.

Iliana Oris Valiente on…

On the challenge of creating awareness with new technology…

It takes people time to process new information, especially if it’s surrounding emerging technologies and solutions.

The first step is awareness and education, and it’s something I’ve invested a significant amount of time into at Accenture while doing strategy and consulting work. A few years ago, many people hadn’t heard of the word blockchain, so they didn’t know that it was something they needed to start spending time on. Now, we’re working with clients on defining their business strategy, building proof of concepts, pilots, and we have a few engagements that have moved into production readiness. Once you get folks up to speed, you see the lightbulb go off in their head.

With groups such as ColliderX, an open research hub that connects researchers, funders, and academic advisors from all over the world, there is an ever-growing amount of information to help raise awareness of technologies. However, information and education on technology is only a start. The key is to apply the technology to meaningful innovation.

To that end, Accenture recently launched the Canada Innovation Hub in the heart of Toronto’s business and technology district. The hub is designed to help bring innovation to the doorstep of our clients by harnessing our global network of knowledge, expertise and technology.

As the Canada Innovation Hub lead, I get to focus on end-to-end innovation, with the first step of our clients’ journey being awareness. Awareness of business challenges, of opportunities, and of the enabling technologies themselves. We wrap all of this with a focus on understanding of the humans or end users who are impacted and being cognizant of designing a human-centred solution leveraging technology.

This is an approach that’s been successfully used for blockchain-based projects, as well as initiatives that leverage other emerging technologies.

On bridging worlds…

For me, I like having one foot in the technology community while also having the opportunity to walk in to a corporate boardroom alongside my Accenture colleagues to help shape strategy that has a broad impact on people. Bridging those two worlds is thrilling because at the core they are leading transformation journeys in their own ways.

At the end of the day, we strive to help clients be the disruptor, not the disrupted. Our teams are working alongside clients to co-innovate — ideate, rapidly prototype and then scale new products and services. This is applied across all diverse industries — from financial services to automotive to industrial equipment to technology.

Lessons learned from one world often apply in another domain — the key is being open-minded and flexible to see the connections.

On the importance of ethics in a new frontier…

When you don’t have a roadmap, it means you’re creating it. You don’t have a set of rules that say: “You cannot do this and, yes, you can do this.” It’s important to have a set of overarching values. For me, one of the questions that I ask myself time and time again: Is this something that aligns with our values and is something we want to be involved with? That’s the one asset that you have, your trusted reputation. This goes for individuals, technologists (think of the work in responsible AI), as well as organizations. As I continue to build my teams at Accenture, I’ve made it a priority to bring on independent thinkers that can be trusted to make sound decisions for our business and clients. Trust is paramount.

On the benefits of open-sourcing…

The decision to anchor ColliderX in the open-source ethos was a very conscious one. With blockchain research, because this is so new and foundational, we often see groups that are creating similar things. During that process they tend to have comparable technical questions, so we do ask: “Does it makes sense for one group to reinvent the wheel?” A lot of the research is foundational, so we believe that it would be smarter for groups to pool their resources. Together, they can get better access to some of the most intelligent people that are actively working to solve their big problems. 

On the power of the CPA designation…

Before I thought about going for my CPA designation, I was talking to someone who was trying to recruit me for a role in investment banking. I mentioned that I had an offer to get my CPA designation. His feedback was, “As much as I want to hire you, you should go do the CPA.” He said that as he looked around the boardroom at his bank’s executive team it was clear that a disproportionate number of its leaders had CPAs. So, for me, it opened my eyes. Just because you’re a CPA doesn’t mean you’re going down the traditional path. What it does is open up lots and lots of other opportunities.