Columbus Collaboratory Accelerates Innovation In Analytics and Cybersecurity

Columbus Collaboratory Accelerates Innovation In Analytics and Cybersecurity

Ben Blanquera

VP Delivery and Experience

Columbus Collaboratory


Jason Skidmore 



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The VP - Delivery and Experience for the Columbus Collaboratory, Ben Blanquera, discusses disruptive technologies and how to continuously drive innovation . 

Hello, and welcome to the comSpark podcast, where you will get to meet today's technology thought leaders. To learn more, visit

JS: Hello, we're here today with Ben Blanquera, who is the Vice President for Delivery and Experience at the Columbus Collaboratory, which is an organization based in Columbus, Ohio with about 40 employees. My name is Jason Skidmore. I'm with Vernovis, and I will be your guest moderator today. So, let's get started. Ben.

BB: Good morning, Jason. How are you?

JS: I'm doing great. How are you?

BB: I’m doing great, thank you

JS: Thanks for joining me, I’m looking forward to our chat.

BB: On this early Monday morning? I love getting up and doing a podcast.

JS: Hey, nothing better in the world, that's for sure.

BB: Especially because you're the interviewer.

JS: Oh boy, here we go. You're laying it on thick.

BB: Absolutely!

JS: I love it.

BB: Alright, let's tee up some softball questions for me.

JS: I appreciate that. Let's do that! Let's start with some softball stuff. Innovation. That's kind of your area. That's your thing.

BB: That’s my thing.

JS: So why don't we start there? How do you fuel innovation efforts for your team and organizationally at the Columbus Collaboratory? What are you guys doing over there?

BB: Sure, so, um, just a little bit of context setting – our organization is called Columbus Collaboratory and we were set up and built to accelerate innovation on behalf of various companies here in, in this region. And we focus on a couple of areas – advanced analytics and in cybersecurity. But our main premise is innovation through collaboration. So, that is what we do. So when we talk about how do you fuel that, there's really a couple of key aspects around that because innovation is…can be, can be both disruptive but also incremental. So we have to think about where are the pieces about what we can impact. You start out with having a culture that you are very purposeful and design for your organization that says, “This is about looking for ‘How do we always do things better?’ “ And so the starting point is, is being explicit around this notion that it is a core value of our organization to be value based, but, but experiment, try new things. Always asking, “How can we do this better?”

So, the starting point is there's a culture of being very purposeful. The second point is hiring people who believe that this is how they act. These are the folks in their free time that will read the journals, that will go to user groups, that will lead other groups talking about, “Here's the new thing.” And so, these are folks saying, “What if we do this? What if?” And so, so we we've been able to hire fundamentally a group people that, that's their DNA is, “How about this, how about this, how about this?”

Third piece is to encourage them to collaborate. And what that means is, collaborate within our organization and collaborate with the broad user group committee as well as our member companies. Because what we believe is there is so much information, so new things coming around at one person and one group can't fundamentally absorb all this. So the best way to be able to manage this and to be able to absorb this is through this notion of collaboration. Because, because technology's moving so quickly that that we only see a piece of what that technology might be, and by collaborating with others who have different points of view, you come up with a more holistic point of view. And more importantly, you come up with a point of view that says, “This is how it can apply to my business.” So, it's about collaboration.

And then really the last piece is, it is really this, this…if we're going to err, we're going to err on the side of trying something versus talking about it. And so, we have a very active culture and we provide the tools and, and methodology around, “How do we do experiments quickly so we can learn?” So, there's a couple key aspects – culture, people, collaboration and active experimentation.

JS: Absolutely. Awesome. Well, obviously the whole concept of the Collaboratory in and of itself is innovative, right? I mean, it really speaks to the city of Columbus and how it thinks differently and anybody that knows you knows that you're a little bit of a disruptor yourself, in a lot of ways, in a very positive way. So tell me, when you look at that type of organization and the mindset and the culture that you just talked about, how do you use disruption within your own organization for positive change? Because you're all naturally inclined that way to begin with. So how do you continue to fuel that?

BB: Sure. So, when we think about disruption at the Colab., first by, by creating an open environment that allows for each person's point of view to be heard and says, “Why don't we try this?” And in, in creating the open space for each individual to just try things, right? That, that's a starting point, is to create enough open space that, that if you hire the best people, you know, the best thing you can do is get out of their way.

JS: Right.

BB: And so we, we believe in hiring the best people, and getting out of their way means giving them enough time and space to try things so they can bring new things to the table. But we do that in a context of making sure everyone understands what the goals are, what the big picture is. So, the things we do, it isn't just experimentation, it's experimentation that we know implicitly, like, people on our team know I'm trying this because it can do this. And so, when we think about disruption, it starts out with giving the individual the latitude and freedom to experiment and try different things, and then to be able to bring that to the team. Because then we're able to, to whatever idea, uh, if someone comes to the table that says, “I've looked at this, this is how it relates to the big goal, why don't we try this?” Then we can all get behind it very quickly.

JS: Yeah, absolutely. Very good. Nice. So I think the question that everybody would love to ask you, given your insight on it – in your opinion, what's one of the most exciting disruptive technologies that's beginning to impact our lives, whether it's work related or personal?

BB: Sure. Um, well there's a couple of things to consider. I think we're seeing the…there will be a massive impact associated with this notion of security and privacy. I think that we have to balance out what is the value that is created by having devices know everything that you're doing. Because they know everything that you're doing, what, what becomes the privacy and security risks associated with that? So, I think there's going to be a lot of disruption, regulation that is not obvious to us, but is going to have a significant impact as, as we weigh the pros and cons of, of being sort of that connected to our devices and them knowing. Then there's a component of, um, there's this broad notion of IOT, which means there's lots of devices that measure lots of things that are happening, and everything's always connected.

So for example, if you have a connected home, right? If, if your doorbell knows it, first of all, you have a cam that someone's coming in, right? And then it triggers your phone, right? And then maybe if, if that person is your Amazon delivery person, they've got a special code to drop things into your household, right? And then, by the way, uh, and you've got something that when they drop it into your household, it notifies you, right? All right. And then, by the way... So, there's this whole notion of things sensing, right? These end points that have all sorts of devices that sense our movement, you know, that can send out alerts. And so, when you think about how that whole ecosystem starts evolving, the question is, what do you do with all that information, right?

That, that I think is going to be the disruption. The fact that we can sense and, and we have all these electronics – that's great. But the question is, the disruption is with all that information that is coming from all those end point devices that are connected, how does that make my life easier? Right? And so, embedded in that is the notion of, of sort of analytics and data. And I think, uh, I think we're just at the tip of the spear associated with the possibilities associated with that. I think the device manufacturers are way ahead of us in the ability to gather data, the ability to actually make my life easier.. That's a whole other matter right? Everyone gets enthralled with these devices, but is it making things better? And I think there's going to be a fundamental disruption in that. Then the third piece I think is going to be interesting is the whole, in the health tech kind of space.

JS: Yeah, for sure.

BB: There's two components. There's the, if we look at the, if you look at the healthcare system, you know, there's a lot of points of view that says it is ripe to take costs out of that system. Between, between the…there's technology associated with, with the clinical component that has to do with personalized medicine and understanding your DNA and how you interact with medicines and how you can start personalizing medicine for, so that you can just get the things that you need.

And then the other component of the whole system that says, you know, when we look at both the, um, the payment system, the insurance systems, the healthcare centers, I think we're going to see a lot more healthcare where healthcare is about you being able to stay at home and not actually go into a doctor.

JS: That's right, yeah.

BB: Because that fundamentally reduces the cost. So I think there's going to be huge disruptions in the healthcare, both in the healthcare system as well as the clinical that, once again, we're, we're just starting to, to understand. But I think a lot of that is, um, once you get it, it'll come back to it. There's a lot of data out there. And the question is, what insights can we get from all that data?

JS: Sure.

BB: So those are a couple of things that are some interesting disruptive technologies I think are out there.

JS: Great insights and at least two things that I heard:

a) No one is sneaking up on your house anytime soon and b) Uh, there's still a world of possibilities based on what we're learning as we go.

BB: Um, if we think about a little over a decade ago, we didn't really have smartphones. And if you think about, in the last decade, how a smartphone has changed how we live our lives, if we think about sort of the Moore's law exponential curve that, that says, uh, you know, the rate of processing speed doubles every several years and it's increasing, that can be related to the amount of possibilities associated with technology can create, is getting faster.

JS: Absolutely right. Yeah.

BB:. And so the question is, you know, um, where should you focus your time as those possibilities to keep, keep growing?

JS: Sure. So in one of your last responses, you spoke a little bit about cybersecurity, right? We got into that briefly. So, I would love to know from your point of view, for a company that still hasn't put a lot of time and attention into that yet, what would you recommend as a first step for that type of organization, where they have no security governance plan in place? Where, where do they go first?

BB: Sure. Oh, well there's, there's a couple things just simple. Just about in every city, um, there is an organization called ISSA [Information Systems Security Association] So, uh, just starting to go to those kinds of folks is…going to those meetings, to even understand what this world is. But I think if we step back at a governance kind of level, the starting point is: find yourself a firm that can help you put together an assessment and a roadmap so you know what…you at least have a framework. There's well-established security frameworks out there. And, um, I think the starting point for any company, without any governance or any real structure is: get yourself a framework that you can start measuring progress against. Because there is no right or wrong associated with security. The question is, what kind of risk are you willing to take? It's just like insurance, right? And so the question is, but how are you going to measure that risk and what are the types of risk and what is your readiness associated with, with these kinds of events?

But the, but cybersecurity is, uh, ubiquitous now, whether we, see it or not, it's going to continue happening as um, the folks attacking these, these are pretty sophisticated actors, right? These are pretty sophisticated actors. They are…once they have a set of tools and once they have a set of targets, they will go after them relentlessly. Um, so it's, it's a serious item, and you only need to…getting breached and getting your customer information out there? That only needs to happen once in your company's done.

JS: Yeah, absolutely.

BB: I mean, it only takes one to ruin your reputation. So, if you're a company that has gotten a reputation of being good, honest, and those kinds of things, and, um, professional, it only takes one breach to take away 20 years of brand equity.

JS: That's right. Well, to your point, it is very serious, and there's still a general lack of awareness with some organizations of just how critical that is, whether they're a channel partner to another organization or whatever the case may be. So, to your point, the answer to the question, “How serious do they need to take this,” is pretty darn serious.

BB: It’s pretty darn serious, and what we were lucky enough to be part of – for the state of Ohio, there's a cybersecurity force, task force that has been working with the Attorney General's office, uh, to put in place a series of educational, a series of legislative matters to, for small and medium size businesses to become more aware, to get educated and provide the legislation that says, um, if you're trying to get better, that there's a safe harbor associated with penalties and things like that, if what you're trying to – if you can show that you're trying to get better. So, there's both legislative awareness and industry input to, to help small and medium sized businesses. So what we're seeing is the larger firms in some, in many cases have at least an awareness. The small and medium sized firms? They don't know what they don't know.

JS: Right. Yeah, you're absolutely right. And that legislation you're referring to is pretty groundbreaking.

And probably getting ready to sweep the rest of the country based on what Ohio’s doing.

BB: Absolutely. When we see what's happening in Ohio, both from cybersecurity, there's some legislation that just got passed associated with block chain in Ohio that, uh, I think Ohio is positioning itself to be, uh, to catch the next wave of technology disruption, and be a friendly environment.

JS: Yeah, absolutely. Very good. Awesome. Well, I think we've used up our time here. Ben I, I can't thank you enough for your time here this morning and for everything that I know you're doing both through the Collaboratory and just, you know, in the, uh, Columbus and Ohio market in general with, uh, with, with all your work in innovation, disruption and awareness and pulling all of us together in communities. So thank you for that.

BB: Thank you, thank you, Jason. I appreciate the time.

JS: Okay. So thanks again. Once again, this is Jason Skidmore with Ben Blaquera. To learn more about us, please visit Goodbye, and until next time. Thank you.

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