Technology is changing dramatically, and it’s impacting all businesses in all industries, so you will see significant seismic changes as soon as in the next year.”
As the chief innovation officer at consultancy Guidehouse, Fontecilla finds opportunities for his clients to be at the forefront of the next technological advancement. He and his teams make recommendations to solve their clients’ issues using data analysis and pattern recognition. Though he began his career teaching computer science at the University of Maryland, Fontecilla eventually went into consulting out of a desire to solve concrete problems that businesses have. The amount of technology available to Guidehouse now only gives him more options to do so.
“Nowadays, working with technology is just fantastic,” he said. “The amount of data and computing power we have—it’s like being a kid in a candy store.”
With so much technology at their disposal, how do they determine what’s a good investment and what’s a fad? Fontecilla explained that there’s a difference between interesting technology and problem-solving technology; his work focuses on the latter. “One of our mottos is that we do innovation with a purpose,” he said. “As much as we love to play with the latest devices, if it’s not solving our clients’ problems, we don’t really pay attention to it.” For instance, Fontecilla is fascinated by the potential of quantum computing, a combination of computer science and quantum mechanics used to solve problems too complicated, even for supercomputers. However, this emerging field is not readily available to the public yet, so he keeps it in the back of his mind as an interest rather than proposing it to his clients.
Beyond quantum computing, Fontecilla’s technological interests include many of today’s hot topics—namely 5G networks, cloud computing, and generative AI. Though part of this fascination stems from his clients’ questions about migrating data to the cloud or creating content through a generator, he also sees the potential these technologies have to change the way things are done.
“When it comes to AI, we’re just at the beginning,” he explained. “Right now, we’re trying to figure out how much disruption will happen because a huge disruption is already happening.”
Businesses are already looping in experts in technology and innovation to discuss how to best utilize these new capabilities, which is a far cry from how the two sectors used to interact. Fontecilla began his career before the advent of the Internet when business leaders viewed technology as a separate world entirely. “If you go back to the late 1990s and the early 2000s, technology was the new thing, and nobody thought it would have the business impact it does now,” he recalled.
We have chief innovation officers, chief technology officers, and chief data officers sitting at the table with CEOs and making the decisions—technology is a part of every choice that’s made now.”
Which technologies could help with a business’s practices, what challenges might stem from using those technologies, and how can organizations innovate in the space—these are all questions being asked in boardrooms right now. Students pursuing business careers should come prepared to answer them.
Fortunately, Fontecilla hasn’t had much trouble imparting the value of technology to Kogod’s students. “I don’t have to preach too much about why technology matters—the students have smartphones. They’re online and on social media,” he said. “So, I emphasize that while business is first and technology is second, they need to be abreast of the changes in both.” Keeping up with said changes is no small task; technology changes so quickly that Fontecilla has needed to retool his curriculum several times during his seven years as a Kogod professor. Last year’s focus was digital transformation, this year’s is generative AI, and next year’s is a mystery…for now.
What Fontecilla hopes to impart to his students in this rapidly evolving landscape is not just to focus on a specific development but on how a business education can be enhanced by technology in general. Guidehouse and other local technology integrators offer internships to aspiring business professionals, and Kogod provides a myriad of coursework that combines business with technological advancement. These resources can help students graduate with the well-rounded skillset companies seek to face the future’s questions. “Keep an eye on the technology because the clients are, and they’re asking how they can use it for their businesses and their problems,” Fontecilla advised. “Bringing together that business acumen and tech savviness and understanding how to bring the latest technology to solve those problems? That’s the right combination.”