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Meet the Finalists: Leaders From Children’s Health, Dallas Baptist University, Qentelli, and Istation

The Innovation Awards winners, presented by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, will be revealed at an exclusive virtual event on Jan. 21.
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The Innovation Awards 2021 CIO/CTO art

Leading up to our second annual Innovation Awards event on Jan. 21, we’re sharing excerpts from interview Q&As with the 51 finalists, one category at a time. Today, we feature our four CIO/CTO of the Year honorees.

For information on the virtual awards event, presented in partnership by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, click here. Tickets are just $20.

Chris Akeroyd

Chris Akeroyd

Senior Vice President and CIO, Children’s Health

ON INNOVATION: Innovation means disrupting the current way of thinking in ways that allow us to break into new markets or solve problems we couldn’t solve before. To be innovative, one must be comfortable with experimentation, encountering missteps, and using those missteps to foster creative energy.

LESSON LEARNED: Early in my career, I wish I could have been more accepting of change, as I realized that along with change come amazing new opportunities. Those of us who embrace this everchanging environment with enthusiasm find joy in leaving our fingerprint on everything we touch. 

RATING DFW:The community partnerships that Children’s Health leverages to develop and implement cutting-edge VR surgical planning, industry leading predictive analytics, and telehealth are a couple of the innovation examples that North Texas has afforded us. The strength and talent within this region will continue to be an influence globally and nationally, but most importantly, our local community benefits from all of us innovators. 

LOOKING AHEAD: “The value and use of data to improve medicine and quality of life, learn insights, and grow our perspectives is what excites me most about the future. Artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and virtual care, to name a few, will continue to change how we improve the health and care for this generation and those moving forward. The pace of innovation will never be this slow again, and to be a technology leader during this digital age is an amazing opportunity.

Bill Lowery

Bill Lowery

CTO, Istation

ON INNOVATION: Innovation is that spark of awareness and vision, combined with a willingness to take the risks and do the hard work necessary to see that vision completed. Innovating is a scary thing for most people—it means leaving behind ‘the way we’ve always done things,’ even when they seem to be working. True innovation is not change for change’s sake. Awareness and vision show a path for the future that will make things better, in several ways, but it requires practicality and pragmatism to implement that vision and make it successful. Encouraging innovation is my favorite part of my job. 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS:We launched a moon-shot effort in 2020, moving our app-based, game-like educational content to [our W3C standard] WebAssembly. This pivot allows Istation to be fully Web Native with our existing suite of products and [creates] wonderful opportunities for tight integration with future products. Istation has also released an exciting new speech-recognition product, Oral Reading Fluency, which enables the evaluation of students’ reading abilities without human intervention using a combination of traditional speech recognition and machine learning approaches. ... We are also working on a multi-year cloud transition for all our server-side components. This transformation will enable a new generation of applications for students, parents, and educators, while significantly lowering Istation’s expenses. 

LESSON LEARNED: “I started, as many software developers do, believing that the best or the coolest technology solution would obviously be the right choice for a company. Balancing the real needs of a business, stakeholders, and the entire ecosystem of technology choices is incredibly important. Early in my career, I spent time as a consultant, and this gave me a much greater understanding of the needs of all these groups. 

RATING DFW: North Texas is really good for innovation and growth! There are a lot of brilliant and talented people in the area, and the culture supports risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit really well. There are still places with change-averse mindsets, but I see great examples of innovation, especially in smaller companies, and there are many groups in the Metroplex that do a great job of encouraging innovation.

Prasanna Singaraju

Prasanna Singaraju

Co-founder and chief digital innovation officer, Qentelli

ON INNOVATION: Innovation has two formsdisruptive and continuous. Disruptive innovation reshapes industries and transforms long-established and traditional business models or those unshaken for years. As a

result [of disruptive innovation], these business models face steep penalties ranging from losses in market share, to ceasing operations or filing bankruptcy. Disruptive innovation originates from minimal resources but shakes up entire industriesthat is why it is disruptive. 

Continuous innovation is making sustainable and impactful improvements in existing products, services, and processes. It gives short-term, competitive, and first-mover advantage over other players. In any organization, culture plays an important role in continuous innovation. A  good example is Spotify, which beats competitors in speed, performance, and user experience. Continuous innovation can have profound downstream effects in cost-savings, operational gains, customer experience, and product and employee performance. 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: When Qentelli was conceived, we identified two critical obstacles that companies faced: too many manually intensive business processes and a lack of maturity and synchronicity between business and technology leaders and teams… To help our clients overcomes these obstacles, we have built a suite of tools, leveraging AI and machine learning technologies that accelerate digital transformation journeys and facilitate a culture that says yes to new challenges…

A few examples of client success using our innovative engineering approaches are: 

  • One of the world’s largest quick-service restaurants with a presence in more than 84 countries increased their mobile commerce revenue by 23 percent in year one with our Quality Engineering, DevOps services, and Value Stream Visualization framework, TED.  
  • A global network of young chief executives, with approximately 30,000 members in more than 130 countries, was trying to gather insights on its core applicationa CEO-only network portal. Using our AI-infused big data solution, Datamorphix, we were able to get actionable insights from the data, which helped to understand the end-user patterns and behavior while interacting with the core application. Qentelli used this data to help redesign the platform and increase member engagement directly contributing to the top line by 40 percent. 
  • One of the world’s top five media and entertainment conglomerates engaged with us to improve their engineering processes. Qentelli helped them achieve a 55 percent increase in their engineering release productivity, leading to faster time to market. 

LESSON LEARNED: In the initial years of our lives, we are advised to avoid failures. Our minds are trained to succeed. With time, I have realized the old saying, Failures are steppingstones to success, is true. I have learned some of the best lessons in my life after failing… You cannot innovate without failing and without starting over quickly and applying learnings from the last failure. To innovate something simple, you need to have a culture that enables experimentation and pushes people outside their comfort zones. This is a skill that I have practiced and inculcated. I have tried my best to build a company around a failure and innovation culture.. 

As a result, after five years, we have six patent-pending, AI-infused frameworks, which allow clients to realize significant improvements and increase revenue more quickly. We have also doubled our company revenues and workforce each year since inception and continue to set Qentelli’s goals high…” 

RATING DFW: North Texas has earned a strategic position to support innovation and growth. It holds all the key ingredients required to become a successful innovation economy, including, a growing ecosystem of talent, areas for generating creative and innovative solutions, and proper resources to scale and implement those ideas.”  

LOOKING AHEAD: “I am excited about the next phase of Qentelli’s growth and the promising projects and technologies we are working with... With the ongoing health crisis, businesses have realized that digital transformation has a significant economic profile and benefits. Technology leaders are leading organizations during this crisis by elevating technical capabilities. That makes this a good moment to convince clients and prospects to accelerate their digital strategy with Qentelli, as a partner... Qentelli started with an initial investment of $150,000. Five years later, Qentelli has elevated from a home office operation to now serving many Fortune 500 companies, boasting more than 450 employees, and innovating six patent-pending accelerators. I am sure the future is going to be bigger and brighter

Matt Winn

Matt Winn

Vice president of Information Technology, Dallas Baptist University 

ON INNOVATION: Innovation means doing something that wasn’t possible before, or even just bringing an organization up to speed. At the end of the day, we want to make processes more efficient, effective, and secure. Innovation doesn’t always need technology: Sometimes, it is just a fresh look at a business practice and working to improve it.

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: In some cases, we were very prepared with online education, and in other cases, we had to innovate to fasttrack planned implementations or change or improve business processes so that they could be executed well in a totally online, remote environment. We were also able to rapidly develop a COVID-19 case management system on campus to track and communicate cases and coordinate disinfectant and safety efforts. 

LESSON LEARNED: “[I have learned that] things always take longer than expected. Not only will there be unexpected obstacles, but changing culture takes time and can’t be underestimated. We are all working to maintain relational capital. We need to take every opportunity we can to build on that balance so that when we need to make withdrawals with bad news, or unwanted changes, it doesn’t bankrupt the relationship or erode trust. 

RATING DFW: We are very fortunate to be in North Texas. Not only do we have many local vendors and representatives, but as a university, we are able to draw upon local expertise to improve our students’ experience through hiring DFW-based adjunct professors and creating local internships and jobs. 

LOOKING AHEAD:COVID-19, while terrible for families, public health, and the economy, has been a pivotable time for us. Those of us in the IT world know how technology can improve various business practices across the university, but now people who have historically been slow or reluctant to adopt new technology are now seeing the benefits. This is creating a culture of innovation and excitement that I hope we can continue to capitalize on for years to come.

Click here for more information on The Innovation Awards.