IBM Argentina: Meeting the Innovators’ Innovator

Have you ever heard the phrase — the innovators’ innovator?  It refers to a person or group of persons that inspire people that are already viewed as innovators, to be more innovative.  And recently I came across a group of individuals in IBM Argentina, that truly inspire innovation!  To begin with, they don’t let anything get in the way of their curiosity, passion and team work. Their day jobs don’t have anything to do with the Internet of Things, directly —- but wow are they creating crazy cool stuff in their free time- in the IoT Open Lab they created. So how do they do it ?

They wanted to create a robot, but lacked space, skills, and materials.  Didn’t stop them. Their manager got them some open space, they designed and built a 3D printer, they taught themselves  robotics and electronics, they learned various software languages  to support the development boards they bought, and they learned natural language processing and computer vision —-all  on their own time !  The word got around about what they were doing — and that anyone interested could join. Volunteers came from different IBM business units and job roles. Volunteers learned new skills. And together, they designed and built a robot, Emma, literally from an idea and teamwork.

I met Emma and was amazed at her ability to interact with a human. The engineering feat here was no trivial task. First, the 3D printer to create Emma’s form, was designed and built by the team: wow! They shared the various design versions of Emma, and the challenges they overcame. And then the  programming of Emma to recognize and understand human voice, and recognize images, including human faces for recognition. They were leveraging what they could from IBM’s current capability, but adding much more to it. Emma can find you on sametime and send you a note that someone is the lobby waiting for you, for example. Looking at you, she can find you on Bluepages – quickly. Something I can’t do as quickly today even when I know who I am looking for.

But what was truly amazing – was meeting the team. The energy, enthusiasm, curiosity and openness to invite anyone to come learn new skills. And the skills they are learning — are in hot demand, just about everywhere. I loved their attitude — on let’s stop talking about IBM can could do in AI and IoT, let’s start SHOWING what we can do.  Emma is not their only project either. They showed us projects to monitor water usage, and one on determining how many people are in a building based on detecting mobile devices.

So often people complain about their jobs, not having the chance to do something really innovative. Well this team puts their energy into making things happen and not waiting for a job to give them opportunities….. they are making their opportunities.  And they are inspiring other to do the same. It is this type of grassroots, passionate pursuit that changes the world – and that is why this team of volunteers has become a symbol for me when I think of the best Innovators.

Introducing the AWESOME, and INSPIRING TEAM :

 

Agustin Spagnolo
Amelia Lourdes Balsamo
Andrés Trapanotto
Carlos Eduardo Monti
Carolina Monica De Napoli
Claudio Hernan Casillo
Diego Tabares
Emilio Gasco
Federico Ariel Carella Herrera
Federico Molinelli
Federico Pouyau
Fernando Basteiro
Germán Nicolás Gomez
Germán Santini
Giselle Balzano
Guillermo Hanula
Ivan Kuzel
Javier Pereyra
Leandro De Bueno
Leandro Ezequiel Villatoro
Leonardo Tagliabue
Lucas Castilla
Maria Cecila Bel
Martin Canteros
Martín Puppo
Natalia Carrizón
Nicolas Alejandro Gomez
Nicolas Eduardo Finamore
Nicolas Orlando Nappe
Norberto Sebastian Gonzalez
Sebastian Demetrio Bistakis

And their tremendous, supporting leadership team:

IoT Lab Sponsors:
CIC Argentina Director: Javier Szyszkowsky
Managers: Nicolas Pantuliano, Javier Morales and Nicolas Lorenzo

 

Most of the team

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San Isidro, Argentina : A Walk to Remember

When they said we were going to visit a famous graveyard in the city of Buenos Aires, where Eva Peron’s body had finally been placed, I pictured rows of headstones in a plot of land and thought … well, it’s a way to walk around and grab a breath of fresh air. As we walked around a beautiful high brick wall that surrounded the graveyard, all I could think was geez… prime real estate in the middle of the city and it’s just for the dead. Does that make sense?  My own parents are in two different locations. My dad died when I was very young, and we buried him near his childhood home. And I had not visited him for decades, having only recently remembering where it was. My mom, died over twenty years ago, but her ashes, in a very small blue green glass urn, the color of her eyes, sits in my dining room cabinet, overlooking the family dinner table, where she always loved to be…. surrounded by food and family.  So for me, the use of a land for a graveyard was …. well not practical  I guess.

But when we turned the corner and entered the graveyard, my breath was taken away. It was edge to edge mausoleums,  that stretched to the heavens with ornate figures of angels, young girls, trees, animals and many religious figures and scenes.

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Row after row, you could walk. Or sit at a bench under a tree. It was peaceful. It was quiet. As you look closely at individual mausoleums, and the design and incredible artwork …they seem to want to tell you their story. One tells you of the great pain of losing a loved one. The sorrow captured forever in stone. Another shows the great faith they have that they will be reunited with their loved ones, one day. Then there are those that are a tribute to a person, like the mausoleum of Eva Peron, who had several fresh bouquets of flowers, newly placed. And many visitors, like us, walked through row after row of these stories about people who had passed.

We talked about how times have changed,  and how so many children now move away from their childhood homes, as I did, and just aren’t near enough the family graveyards anymore to visit and pay tribute. So does it make sense to have graveyards? I look at the mausoleums, and each one in some way, stretches up to the heavens. Are they stretching towards home perhaps – where we all end up?  So maybe, these graveyards are a beacon to call us home, even once in awhile, to reflect on where we came from, and to remind us of the  stories from the people that preceded us.  And like a book, if you don’t read the preceding chapters, can you really understand the chapter you are in?  And so, if these graveyards in some way, can help us to write our own chapters , then they are worth every inch of real estate they sit on!

An immersive experience like the SCC, can really have a profound effect on you in ways you did not expect. It can change your point of view, attitude or even the way you think because you get to experience something in a way that you never have before.  So a parting note to myself — time to go visit Dad.

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Coming to the End of an Amazing Journey

The past three weeks in San Isidro have been bittersweet for me. I have had one of the best SCC experiences ever and as the project comes to a close I am feeling sad because so does the SCC program. IBM made a commitment in 2011 to work with 100 cities on their most pressing issues and we have far exceeded that promise!  I have had the amazing opportunity to work on the SCC program since its inception. I was fortunate to be a local citizenship manager when the pilot projects were chosen and my County of Mecklenburg in North Carolina was one of the first pilots in November of 2010. Then I was blessed to be given the opportunity when the program officially began in 2011 to be a part of the program team, working on each project’s logistics. I helped build the program in a small way from the ground up. I had the pleasure of being a part of a really amazing team of bright and enthusiastic people – Jen, Sophia, and Lyle to start and then later Andel and others who had amazing ideas and knowledge about how to make cities smarter. I like to think they kept me young and kept me on my toes.

The best part of the SCC experience has been getting to work with and know all of the amazing IBMers who have participated in the projects  over the years, from the local citizenship managers to the members of the teams.  I have always been amazed that you can put a group of IBMers together after only meeting virtually a few times and they bond quickly; the San Isidro team has been no exception. Then, after a week of meeting stakeholders and learning about the issue,  the ideas and solutions come to life just as quickly as they formed their bond.  The brilliance of our teams and those of the people running cities around the world is truly awe-inspiring. I have learned from them all – about  their cultures, their passions in and outside of IBM, but also about what drives them. I can say for every SCC team, the drive has been to make a difference in society – to give their all and come up with recommendations that are actionable and can help a community thrive.

Here in San Isidro we are helping the municipality plan for renewable energy, but what we have discovered along the way is that it is not just about lowering the cost of energy spend, but it is also about helping those less fortunate to start to help themselves. Isn’t that what we all want to do in this world, make it a better place for everyone!

Our team in San Isidro has just two days left. I am treasuring every moment with them. Yesterday I watched them present their recommendations at a high level to the Mayor and some of his leadership team. This was our final checkpoint with them before they present the findings and recommendations on Friday to a larger audience of stakeholders and citizens. Mayor Posse was so impressed with what the team has accomplished in just two and a half weeks and stated how vitally important their work is right now for San Isidro. It was such a proud moment for me on so many levels. I was proud of what the team developed and presented, proud of being an IBMer and of our company for supporting this type of philanthropic work and proud that I have been a part of this amazing program that has helped Mayors on so many pressing issues.

It isn’t over yet! Still two more days of refining the recommendations, reviewing the presentation and of course enjoying the company of the team, the city staff and the citizens of San Isidro.

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Meeting Emma and Maria -Two Extraordinary Women of Argentina

Tuesday we conducted a Design Thinking workshop for the stakeholders we have interviewed as part of our project with the city. The day was extremely productive. At the end of the day we had the opportunity to visit the I0T lab at the IBM Martinez site, where the workshop took place.

EMMA wearing her IBM badge

We have had the pleasure of working with German Santini, during our time here. He is one of the brilliant people we have met at IBM in Argentina who are using their off time to develop an IoT lab. They are a group of dedicated IBMers who spend nights and weekends coming up with ideas on their own and developing some really cool stuff. We had the opportunity to meet Emma, a robot they printed! That’s right, printed using a 3D printer that they built. She can do some amazing things thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers who were able to enlist their manager to give them some space to learn, create and invent on their own. Here is a video of the creation of Emma. What is most amazing is that these dedicated employees who work in many different areas of IBM, did this on their own time. Seeing Emma in action was amazing and very inspiring, but meeting the men and women who created her from a role of plastic cord and code was even more amazing.

We had the opportunity on Wednesday to be inspired again. The team met the governor of Buenos Aires Province, Maria Eugenia Vidal. She was at Central Hospital of San Isidro where we installed the IoT devices  to announce some new health initiatives in the province. Before she departed from the hospital Dr Posse, Mayor of San Isidro took the time to make sure we met her and he shared about our work in San Isidro.  We felt very honored to be included. She is the first female governor in the provinces history and has already made some amazing progress in her short term in office.

L-R Marcos Melis, Paul Sidhu, Kim Reheiser, Dr. Posse, Mayor of San Isidro, Carolyn Marsh, Raquel Godoy, Governor Maria Eugenia Vidal, Anne McNeill, Nancy Greco, Rajesh Phillips, Lucas Tinta, and Eduardo Garcia Beaumont

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San Isidro Argentina : Work hard … Play Hard

Our program manager had told us at the beginning we would work hard, and we are, but we would also PLAY hard —– and we are… the Argentina way. That means lots of great food, learning to Tango, listening to Argentinian music (and American) and… riding horses at a ranch !!!  Giddy up and yee haaa!

Sunday Lunch at Puerto Madero

Lunch and a Tango show at the ranch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A part of immersing yourself into a culture,  is seeing the cities and the capital. We toured the city of Buenos Aires seeing the Pink House, Plaza Congresso, Plaza Lavalle, Palermo, and the neighborhood of Boca to name just a few.

Plaza Congreso

Boca Neighborhood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what about the people of Buenos Aires ? What are they like?  Well the first thing that struck me — is their greeting! Everyone is greeted with a “ cheek hug,” where you lean in, shake hands and touch cheeks. Sometimes even a kiss on the cheek. I have cheek hugged the mayor, the governor, countless city personnel, interpreters, business men and women, children in the Cava ( social housing) and my Argentina IBM colleagues.  On  a daily basis. There is something about a cheek hug, that genuinely says welcome to my home, my country. I’m from New York —where  a cheek hug to someone you just met,  could easily get you into some serious trouble.

But what really struck me, is after reading about all the turbulence Argentina has been through the past decades, financially and politically, and the tremendous strain they are still under to transform themselves back to the prosperity they once knew …. through it all …. and they have been through a lot, they have not forgotten their compassion for each other.  You are reminded of it every day, in every greeting, to every person, no matter what class they are from .    ” Allo … “cheek hug.”  Commo es ta?  ”

One thing I will always remember about Argentina is the warmth … not the climate, but the warmth they genuinely  have for each other. I am going to try and spread that warmth back home and start my own  ” cheek hug” movement, even if I have to blog about it from the police station, where  I may have been arrested for unusual behavior for a New Yorker.

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Smarter City San Isidro : Day 5

Wow, it is day 5 already. What have we been up to, and where has the time gone? For the past 3 days since the kickoff we have been conducting in depth interviews across a multitude of disciplines to understand the problem details, scope and background. We have talked to electrical engineers, facility engineers, billing, urban planners, educators, and policy makers. We have toured the municipal hospital to see how it could be a pilot for some of the energy conservation and renewable energy actions that are being suggested.  We have compiled a large amount of data to help us understand the technical, financial and societal implications of moving San Isidro towards a leader in reduced energy consumption. The leaders we met are very passionate about finding cleaner sources of energy while reducing consumption, to lessen the impact on the environment. It is not a trivial task but they are determined, and uniteing across organizations to do it! We have been impressed and inspired with what they have researched so far — and their commitment to push forward.

Our task is to formulate actionable recommendations that will live up to San Isidro’s motto, “ we are different.”  So no business as usual recommendations – what can really give San Isidro the capability to pilot and learn, and then replicate the pilot into a large scale deployment of generating and concurrently reducing energy consumption? A part of energy conservation is making sure the equipment using energy, like air conditioning units, are working properly. As an experiment while we are here, we are attaching listening devices to the air conditioners, to create machine learning models that will recognize when a machine is acting abnormally, and notify a technician immediately of the fail. We needed to attach our “stethoscope” to the air conditioners, so Anne, myself and a small team of engineers, and our translator, made our way to the roof top units. We were not expecting to have to crawl through a window to reach the roof – but with a little help, a little push and a little catch – we were on the roof !

Over the window and onto the roof

Getting the devices ready for installation

We had to install hot spots to send the data to the cloud – and with 86 degree weather and full sun on the roof — we became hot spots too. And after fixing a network bandwidth issue, data was flowing ! Great teamwork !

On the roof of the hospital during installation    L to R: me, German Santini, Sustainability Specialist with IBM, Walter Occhiuzzi, Consultant to the Energy and Public Spaces Under Secretariat, Lucas O. Tinta, Technology Innovation Director at the Modernization Secretariat

 

 

And now the magic begins. No, not the analysis of the data and insights we get. Something more. Eight strangers becoming one unit, something far more than just a team. When you are immersed together in the same environment, tackling a tough problem in a limited amount of time – you have to depend on each other for the survival of the project. That heightens your awareness of each other’s skills and strengths, and heightens your own awareness of how to contribute. I am working with a very talented team and I have to bring my  “A” game to the table…and at the same time I am learning a lot about different approaches in getting needed information from an organization, defining and scoping a problem and brainstorming to solve it.

And living with each other day after day, you know what other magic occurs? Friendships!!

All that, and it’s only day 5.  Stay tuned.

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Teaming to the Tango

Each Smarter Cities Challenge team is chosen based on their expertise and experience to tackle an issue. We gather a globally diverse team of professionals to participate in the projects. Because the teams are global and IBM is a very large enterprise, typically the participants have never met or worked with each other. We are only together for three weeks to tackle the issue and prior to arriving in San Isidro we had only met via our pre-work video sessions.  It is imperative we quickly bond as a team.

What better way to get to know each other and become a close team quickly than by learning the national dance of Argentina, the Tango! On Saturday night, we all traveled to Buenos Aires for a surprise tango lesson. The team thought we were just going to observe a tango show.  At first everyone was shy and not sure if they could master the steps. Once we all took direction from the expert dancers we were laughing and tripping together over our own feet and each others.

The ladies practicing our part of the dance, while the gentleman get verbal direction on their next steps.

Rajesh and Carolyn practicing to the music.

We found the steps to be difficult, but once we watched the show, we learned that what we did was the most basic 8 step. We have one team member, Rajesh who took to the dance quickly and the rest of the team felt by the end of the lesson that he was ready to master some of the more difficult steps. Daily he asks when we will tango again. Perhaps we will find another time to dance, once we finish our work ahead.

 

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