JR Reagan is the chief innovation officer for the federal practice at Deloitte Services. He teaches innovation and creativity at John Hopkins University and holds a masters in management information systems from Bowie State University and a BA in sociology from the State University of New York. In this interview he talks about Deloitte’s creative environment and how the company creates big data visualization. Furthermore, he talks about his vision of the future of the visualization space and open problems that need to be addressed.
Sramana Mitra: JR, let’s start by telling our readers about yourself and the program you run at Deloitte.
JR Reagan: I am a partner in our federal practice at Deloitte. I am our chief innovation officer for the federal practice, but I also run a unique center called HIVE (highly immersive visual environment). It is all about bringing the visual element to different problems – whether it is in the federal or the commercial world. My background is atypical and something one wouldn’t find in innovation or big data. I started in the military and did military intelligence for a while. Then I went to banking. I also did some startups. One of them went public back in the dot-com days. Then I went back into government consulting, having done consulting around the world to help governments solve lots of different problems, including cyber security or analytics.
SM: You said you didn’t follow a regular path. What do you mean by that?
JR: I think that a lot of folks grow up in a certain discipline, or they get into a career field and go through various corporate ladder steps to become successful. I had a different industry experience, and it wasn’t by design. I just found different opportunities in different places. I tell a lot of our young folks that I could not have gotten where I am today unless I had a bit of that zigzag path along the way. I am thinking about where I entered the innovation field. That was through a former boss who really took me under his wing and said, “From what I can see, what you are doing so far, JR, isn’t that innovative. Let me start putting you on a path where you learn what that is about.” Then I got the chance to study at Harvard and learn about disruptive innovation and similar things. I was very fortunate.
SM: What is happening in your program? What are you working on and what is exciting?
JR: For us it is a lot about visualization. I mentioned HIVE. Certainly the “V” in that really matters now. It is getting really tough – especially in the age of big data, when we are getting trillions of columns to make sense of – to see where the insights are. We are taking a different lens to that. We have applied design thinking into that approach to help our clients re-imagine problems and co-create solutions in a safe environment. For us, analytics and big data is certainly useful for algorithms and things that go on behind the scenes, but it is just as important to find unique ways to visualize problems and post them to the world. We spent 40 years digitizing data, and now we have to come to grips with how these problems collide – whether it is analytics, mobile, social, cloud, cyber, geo-spatial, etc. A problem isn’t a siloed analytics problem anymore. Our center helps people visualize and understand problems.