Pinnacle Award Finalist Dr. Rod Fontecilla: ‘Challenge The Status Quo When Things Are Not Evolving’

Dr. Rod Fontecilla, Dovel Technologies

The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.

Next up is Artificial Intelligence Executive of the Year finalist Dr. Rod Fontecilla, who’s chief innovation officer and chief data scientist at Dovel Technologies. Here, he talks achievements, future focus areas and rule breaking as an industry leader.

What key achievements did you have in 2019/2020?

My team and I set out to formalize and advance the AI and related innovation initiatives for Dovel. In the past year, we successfully developed the digital smart/digital first framework to help organizations quickly assess and optimize their digital maturation; Discover Dovel, a digital sandbox/lab to allow experimentation and solution building; and Eos, a natural language processing toolkit to allow organizations to understand and make better use of their unstructured data.

In addition, I’ve put a lot of time and attention to building our Innovation and Technology Group, full of rich talent that is helping us build the innovative solutions of tomorrow for our customers.

What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?

Around 2010, McKinsey came up with a report on how data was going to impact the world in the future. It made me realize that I could use my education (Ph.D. in numerical analysis) to build data products that will have a significant impact across many industries including the government. Suddenly, the algorithms I did my thesis on started being the key algorithms used in AI.

What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?

I’m really proud to be working for a company dedicated to improving, protecting and saving lives. A company where innovation is a key element of its overall strategy.

What are your primary focuses areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?

My focus is to continue bringing innovative AI/machine learning/NLP solutions that help solve mission-critical challenges across the federal government. AI is already changing the world and it will continue at a faster speed. More and more, machines will learn to do the work humans do much more rapidly and efficiently. It is imperative we continue to lead the creation of AI innovative solutions in areas such as health IT, life sciences, public safety and grants management.

How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?

I’m currently an adjunct professor at American University teaching analytics and emerging technologies. I bring my academic expertise to help educate government and industry leaders. In particular, internally at Dovel, we are constantly training our workforce in technologies such as AI/ML/NLP, which can bring significant value to our customers.

Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?

I would say challenge the status quo when things are not evolving for the betterment of the whole. “We have always done it this way” is not a valid reason to continue down the same path. It is why innovation is a critical part of strategy. You should not be afraid of changing old practices — there are constantly new ideas and technologies that allow for innovation.

What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?

Read, learn, experiment. Do this again and again and again. There is so much information available that you have to make learning and experimenting your top priorities. Do not be afraid of the unknown; you can learn anything you want if you put in the effort. Technology is changing so rapidly that everyone needs to build their own CL/CI (continuously learning, continuously innovating) environment.

Meet the other Pinnacle Awards finalists here.

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