From the MBA to the presidential campaign. Our Alumnus Jehudi Castro Sierra, Vice-Minister of Digital Economy in Colombia, shares his experience as Chief Technology Officer during Colombian elections.

  1. You are a consultant and an entrepreneur but during the Colombian presidential campaign, you played a different role. Can you share this experience with us?

My background is as a software developer and I have been leading software development teams in large companies like Red Hat and Oracle for some years. This experience led me to launch my own start-ups and, with the knowledge and experience obtained on the MBA, I also started doing consulting work on digital strategy for start-ups. So in the end, my role as CTO (Chief Technology Officer) for the presidential campaign was not that different ̶ I was in charge of the digital strategy for something that looked a lot like a start-up.

  1. What role did technology play in the Colombian presidential election?

Technology plays a big role in modern presidential elections. In Colombia, 63% of the people have internet access and these are the people we were serving.

We did so with tech-specific apps, websites and also with digital marketing. We created phone apps in order to communicate the government proposals and engage people in the campaign and also had specific apps for “electoral witnesses”, who are volunteers that help to protect the election results.

With the help of Artificial Intelligence, we were able to automatically answer the most common questions put to the campaign on social networks, especially via WhatsApp; this was very important in order to present and explain the proposals and also to clarify and deny the fake news which was being used to attack us all over the place.

We also used technology as a tool for researching public opinion, in the same way that traditional polls do. With the help of Big Data and natural language processing, we were able analyse the public discussion on social networks and forums in order to get insights into what was happening ̶ these turned out to be very accurate and in line with the results which came later.

  1. Can you give us an insight into the digital marketing strategy you implemented as CTO?

That is not possible in much detail due to NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) in general: Iván Duque is going to be the youngest president in the history of Colombia and, since we wanted to appeal to that new generation, it was necessary to look beyond traditional media and to use the new channels they are flocking to. What we did was to bring the campaign to the attention of each of those 63% of Colombians connected to the internet, making the campaign proposals more relevant to them according to their profile and geographical location. It was also very important to drive them on to action in order to convince more people, so that they were also part of the marketing strategy as multipliers. We used the networks most used in Colombia such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

  1. You earned an MBA with a concentration on Entrepreneurship and Innovation: how has your education prepared you for this post?

All my previous experience was key and the MBA played a very big role in making me suitable for this position. During that time, I gained a great deal of practical and theoretical knowledge, including hands-on experience in Digital Marketing and Strategy. My final project was also working on Big Data for IBM ̶  these three topics were essential in order to bring this task to fruition.

I gained analytical expertise, which stood me in good stead and the interdisciplinary approach of the MBA meant that I could adapt myself to a new field without difficulty. Furthermore, knowing that I had a broad base of knowledge which had also been tested and refined in the business world gave me the confidence to tackle this interesting challenge and make a success of it.