Envisioning a Smarter City in 3 Steps – Zapopan, Mexico

Posted on behalf of SCC Zapopan team member Patricia Waldron

Earlier this year, IBMers from US, Mexico, France and India — representing GBS, STG, S&D, Research and Corporate Citizenship — came together for three weeks for a Smarter Cities Challenge in Mexico. One team worked together to bring “agro-food” — a system of agriculture designed to shorten the path that food takes to get from farmer to table — to the city and municipality of Zapopan. Specifically, IBM worked with municipal leaders in Zapopan (located in the Mexican state of Jalisco) to bring to life their vision for an agro-food cluster and industrial park to connect local farmers, academies, companies and government to increase the area’s economic health and fuel a better quality of life for its citizens.

Zapopan team Mexico 8x10@300

The project, spearheaded by Zapopan’s visionary mayor, Dr. Hector Robles Peiro, promises to not only improve daily life for his constituents, but also position Zapopan as a role model for other communities at the state, national and global level. Thanks to IBM, Zapopan is becoming a smarter city.

Here’s how we spent our three weeks:

Our first week was devoted to discovery. We met with dozens of stakeholders, from research agencies and academics; to CEOs of Jalisco-based food manufacturers; to small, local farmers and entrepreneurs, and government agencies. We listened carefully to their challenges, pains, hopes and vision for the future.

Our second week was focused on solutioning. We pooled together our hundreds of observations. Then we documented, prioritized, and grouped them by theme. After arriving at three major themes, we reviewed them with our “coach” (the mayor’s advisor, Ian Paul Otero) and refined them based on his feedback. Using our collective knowledge of industry and technology — as well as knowledge from others in our respective networks — we then came up with a vision of the “art of the possible” for the agro-food cluster and its stakeholders.

Our third week was spent preparing, in this case a set of recommendations to present to the mayor and other key stakeholders. These showed a holistic approach to the project’s solution that truly brought together the best of IBM: solutions, research, consulting and infrastructure. Our proposal’s three themes were also its three recommended steps:

  1. Organize a governance model and roles for the stakeholders.
  2. Inform with a digital platform (supported by cloud, mobile, social and analytics) to engage and educate the stakeholders.
  3. Sustain the new agro-food cluster — financially, environmentally and socially.

“Listen for need, envision the future” — and its components — shone through as a core IBM Practice throughout this short but intense project:

  • Unite across IBM, and beyond. We worked together in Zapopan, brought in expertise from our extended networks of SMEs, and shared our experiences via social media, connections, blogs, and tweets.
  • Get it done. We immersed ourselves in the project — and in the local culture too! We gathered what we needed quickly, “divided and conquered,” and then came back together as a team for the final presentation.
  • Work with thoughtful urgency. With only three weeks available for the project, the team worked quickly and efficiently, with an agenda that made the best possible use of our limited time with the municipality and its stakeholders, allowing us to present them with a comprehensive vision and roadmap.

We presented our findings to Mayor Robles and his advisors, Ian Paul Otero and Vanessa Peres Lamas. They commented on the thoughtfulness and depth our or findings, and Mayor Robles had a true “aha moment,” telling us that we’d inspired him to think of taking the expected benefits of the cluster to the state level, for a greater impact on the citizens of the region and ultimately all of Mexico.

The initiative has wide-ranging benefits for the area. Farmers will benefit from improved, more concentrated access to agricultural markets and market data. They’ll also be able to utilize new technology to help them make better decisions on where, when and what to farm. Industries will benefit from the co-location, both physically and technologically, of farmers and food companies. These industries will have greater ability to sell high-value and more cost-effective products to the people of Zapopan and in the state of Jalisco, as well as for export. And citizens will enjoy a better quality of life due to better services, good jobs and greater prosperity for their city and state.

Following the presentation, Mayor Robles presented each of us with a plaque of recognition for our work and a figurine (appropriately made of corn husks – a key agricultural product) as a reminder of Zapopan. I’m certain the experience will not be something any of us will forget.

We presented our recommendations and final report in October, 2014. Work on the industrial site is scheduled to start now, just a month later, in November. This is a big milestone and represents tangible progress for all the stakeholders.

We look forward to following the progress and keeping in touch with the people we met and grew close to during this amazing assignment.

Our team included: Abhijit Majumdar, IBM India; Alan Foster, IBM US; Carlos Saucedo Maciel, IBM Mexico; Claude Basso, IBM France; Diane E Shimmon, IBM US; Manuel Avalos Vega, IBM Mexico; Patricia Waldron, IBM US.

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