Accenture’s Iliana Oris Valiente on human innovation and giving back

Iliana Oris Valiente has been on the phone since 6 am the day of our interview, either talking with her team or connecting with clients in different time zones around the globe. Running both Accenture’s Canadian blockchain innovation group and leading the Accenture Canada Innovation Hub keeps her busy, but her work is far more human-focused than her titles may suggest.

#movethedial sat down with the innovation leader to learn more about her career so far, how Accenture solves problems for clients and industry, and asked her advice on how entrepreneurs of all sizes can approach problem-solving in the 21st century.

Growing up and finding blockchain

Born in Russia, Oris Valiente had a global upbringing, living in Cuba, Denmark, and now Canada. Growing up, she spent most of her time learning about the world around her.

“I spent a lot of time reading,” she said. “From Greek mythology to cookbooks to math textbooks. If I wasn’t reading, I was probably talking to people and asking questions.”

With varied interests and a global stage to grow on, she continued her education in a more formal setting. After moving to Canada in the late 1990s, she graduated from the University of Ottawa and started her career as a Chartered Accountant (CA). After that, she moved into financial analysis, never staying in one role for too long and always seeking out new challenges like working in tax and financial audits. “I got to ask lots of questions to understand what was keeping CFOs up at night.”

But it wasn’t until she ended up at Deloitte, initially doing valuations, that she discovered blockchain.

“I stumbled into the world of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies through network connections I had,” she said. “I had lots of friends in math and computer science. I started going to a few meetups when [cryptocurrency and blockchain] was very underground. I realized the power of Distributed Ledger Technology (another way to say “blockchain”) is vast and can be applied to a lot of places.”

After this realization – and a lot more reading and asking questions – Oris Valiente became the blockchain strategy lead at Deloitte, spinning out a company, AION, that still exists today as a venture-backed startup. She also founded ColliderX, a nonprofit that matchmakes between corporations looking for blockchain research and researchers looking for their next project.

Accenture’s global innovation bet

After her successes with ColliderX and AION, Accenture was her next move.

She initially joined as the managing director of blockchain innovation for the global consulting firm, helping clients around the world understand blockchain technology and how it applied to their businesses. Soon after joining Accenture, Oris Valiente moved into the Canada blockchain lead role and doubled up her duties by taking on the leadership of Accenture Canada’s Innovation Hub.

It’s in this hub, occupying three stories in an office tower in downtown Toronto, that Oris Valiente helps Accenture clients solve some of their toughest problems. It’s also where the consulting giant takes on industry-wide issues, using its influence and network to bring the right stakeholders to the room.

“What we’re noticing is that we work with individual clients is that certain things are industry-wide,” she said. “We’re starting to see trends emerging with companies looking at open innovation. The question we’ve heard is “How do we engage the startup community? How can we partner?”

This is all part of Accenture’s offering and all part of Oris Valiente’s day-to-day. She may be helping a company individually, identifying an industry trend, or connecting all the dots on a major societal issue, but the problem-solving frameworks are all decidedly human.

When it comes to how Oris Valiente helps her clients solve problems, it’s about “helping clients prioritize their ideas on impact and feasibility”. Only then does she pull out what she calls “internal enablers” like AI, drones, or blockchain. Put another way: innovation is about helping the humans, not just focusing on the technology.

The path to innovation: recognize, regroup, start

When it comes to innovation, entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have to work with Accenture to get access to their way of thinking. Not only does the firm post multiple articles online and sponsor public research, but Oris Valiente also shares the stages of innovation that she uses with clients.

“Innovation goes through a few stages,” she said. “One, recognizing doing the status quo is probably not sustainable indefinitely. It’s important to spend time on your core business but also to look at emerging trends. Two, spend time re-grouping with managing within the organization to think about the ‘art of the possible’ and look at what else is out there. Three, start. Transformations don’t happen overnight. It’s important to bake experiments into what you’re doing. Try a new customer segment. Try a new product in prototype form. You need to be thinking through the lens of client value.”

For startups and even big companies, there’s more to rapid innovation than simply shortening release cycles from three years down to one month. It’s about communication and expectation-setting with your customer base.

“When you’re doing rapid prototyping, you need to communicate that and find smaller groups of testers. Look for your organization’s champions who want to provide that feedback.”

How to #movethedial

From a kid reading books and asking questions to a global consultant doing the same thing on a bigger scale, Oris Valiente always wanted to learn more about people and understand what makes them tick.

Now she’s in a senior level position and is passionate about giving back, using her image and position to help others wherever she can. This is because of, at least in part, the people who took her under their wing.

“I’ve had people take me under their wing and ask me critical questions – like are you still having fun in the role? Having those mentorship relationships is important. Now, one of the things I find really rewarding is giving back. Many times, people will talk about career journeys and say: ‘I saw so and so doing this thing and it inspired me that I could do that, too.’ It’s important to give back. You can’t become what you don’t see.”

Guest Writer: Stefan Palios