“IT and innovation is an exploratory journey,” says Dimitris Bountolos, Chief Information and Innovation Officer. “It’s about making connections and alliances in an open ecosystem.”
Bountolos is well positioned to bridge the worlds of IT and innovation across the Spanish multinational, which designs, constructs, operates and maintains transport infrastructure and urban services. He has spent his career bridging different worlds in business and entrepreneurship. He has a proven track record as Chief Digital Officer at Latam Airlines, senior advisor to the Chief Innovation Officer at NASA, and at the startups he has founded across the areas of aerospace, drone technology, and virtual reality.
We sat down with Bountolos to discuss how he is combining IT and innovation to drive change at Ferrovial, the impact of AI on the construction industry, and his mission to help sustainable infrastructure flourish.
Accenture: What is your approach to innovation? Can you highlight any groundbreaking initiatives?
Dimitris Bountolos: Our approach is conventional and unconventional at the same time. Conventional from the perspective of the sector, but unconventional because we are dividing our actions across three horizons.
Horizon 3 is about disruption—exploring new technologies and business models. We’ve developed new ideas around mobility, autonomous vehicles, and connected cars in Horizon 3, and new alliances to support that. We’re trying to interconnect our ideas and vision about a future ecosystem together with academia and research centers, using all that information to anticipate ‘what if’ scenarios to define archetypes and track the evolution of drivers. This will help us to better anticipate opportunities.
Horizon 2 is around exponential work. We’re bringing more mature capabilities and collaborating with startups. We’re continually scouting for different verticals, with the support of our different Centers of Excellence, particularly around mobility and digital infrastructure. We can improve the competitiveness of our existing assets and business units, for example, by using AI to monitor and anticipate the potential failures of transmission lines in isolated areas at a fraction of the cost. We have hundreds of examples where we’re working like this across the business.
Horizon 1 is about incremental, day-to-day improvements. We’re proud of our employees and the “intrapreneurial” culture we have. We run programs like Zuritanken to promote a culture of innovation where we receive hundreds of ideas. We recently promoted our finalists’ contributions —which represents an inventory of ideas we prioritize according to their potential to drive incremental value.
Accenture: Is data management a key driver to transforming the company for the better?
DB: For sure. The way we structure data and capture its value is the cornerstone of how we unlock potential. We’re trying to accelerate the adoption of transversal platforms and democratize the use of data.
It will simplify the way we interoperate with data, with API (Application Programming Interface) platforms and the adoption of domains and services. Before we start to work out any answer, we will first put the question in context of the data. Previously, we stored data, but did not use it. Now we are starting to discover ‘unicorns’, information that was in storage for 10, 15 years, but will now give us an incredible opportunity to train and develop models for the future.
Accenture: Where do you see Ferrovial in five years?
DB: Five years from now, Ferrovial is going to continue to be a global leader, with sustainable infrastructure in our verticals—from mobility at the airport to construction itself. We are going to keep playing an important role in society.
We will be the most efficient, data- and technology-driven type of new infrastructure and construction company, with responsible suppliers and subcontractors. We will be open to a society where startups, new technologies our future leaders and clients all work together to create that balance. And I think we’re well-positioned to go for it.
Accenture: What inspires you the most?
DB: It’s inspiring to visualize change. We belong to a sector that has an evident impact on society. Society is changing and we need to drive a positive impact through a focus on sustainability and equal opportunities—because every time we develop infrastructure, we create opportunities. We enable the transfer of goods, people, and cargo. Even during the pandemic, we are activating economic drivers at a social scale and that gives everyone in our company a sense of responsibility.
We’re in a time of great opportunity, because society is demanding change. As a group, we could represent a catalyst for that change. And that sense of responsibility is evident for our entire workforce.
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