Category Archives: Alumni reflections

What’s next – staying smarter after the SCC challenge

It has been 3 months since my Indian adventure – new year, new goals and new questions – what am I going to do in 2016 to at least match 2015? Working in Allahabad was definitely once in a lifetime opportunity  – I honestly do not anticipate going back as it is not on the typical tourist or work path for IBMers or adventurous tourists. However, the experience has encouraged me to take the passion for #experteering a bit more seriously – and not as a random thing that happens even at the most supportive companies.

I tried to express this on my LinkedIn post a few weeks ago. The idea is that we can all lend our skills anywhere, anytime. Today’s Oxfam report on the huge inequality of wealth distribution really hit it home for me. There is not that much I can do to change that – but I can do something, I control something. So my resolution is to lend my skills every year – it may not be as exotic and well organized as a typical Smarter Cities challenge or a Corporate Services Corps engagement (pretty sure it won’t!). In fact, it may be more local or less corporate and consultative – but all I can hope for is that it will be rewarding and impactful. Have you browsed through the Catchafire or Moving Worlds websites? Some amazing things out there… just takes time and a bit of a risk – and off we go… who knows, maybe I will see you working in Congo on a coffee farm….probably not with Powerpoint – but see you somewhere! Get smarter and make smarter….keep me posted.


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We’re on State Tech’s list of 50 Must-Read State and Local IT Blogs 2014

160x200xStateTech_160X200.jpg.pagespeed.ic.T0rSoWFFxdThe Smarter Cities Challenge Team Blog is thrilled to have made State Tech magazine’s list of the top 50 must-read State and Local IT blogs! Here’s what they had to say about us:

What better way to hear about smart city projects worldwide than from the people on the ground making those projects a reality. The blog tracks the adventures of IBM employees as they travel the world, collaborate with governments and tackle projects to improve city living for residents. IBMers aren’t all work and no fun: Their humor and adventurous spirits are sprinkled throughout each post and photo.

We’re in good company alongside the Harvard Kennedy School’s Data-Smart City Solutions, GovTech, GovLab, Next City, CityLab (Atlantic Cities) and others. Congratulations to each and every IBMer who has chronicled their SCC adventures on these pages!

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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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NTPD Technical PEP and my 3rd visit to Taiwan in 2013

I am very happy to say that I have been appointed as the Technical-PEP executive for New Taipei City Police Department.  I now have an even better excuse to go and annoy the team in Taiwan from time to time! 🙂

So, I was in the region in December, started in Seoul Korea, then on to Weihai and then Beijing in China and so I seized the opportunity and next stop was back to Taipei.

I ended up flying into Taipei just for one night instead of the planned two nights as I had to leave again for Korea and an urgent client meeting.

So I met with a client first thing in the morning which was a very good meeting, then had some business meetings back at the IBM offices, followed by a late lunch with the team and finally a dash to the airport for the flight to Seoul.


All in all it was much too rushed, however, as always the team is taking care of me, for instance they have continued to look out for interesting items related to my blog on toilets! Please see my blog entries from March 2013! I will not embarrass her by telling you who supplied the following interesting photo!


This interesting, but somewhat flimsy looking contraption is used to convert an “eastern toilet” into a fairly basic “western toilet” and is apparently commonly available in the stores in mainland China, who would have believed it!  I personally think this would be a somewhat risky proposition, requiring good aim and hopefully little “splatter.” However, the general availability of such an item does point to a fairly widespread need! I am sure that our engineers could come up with something more robust, if significantly less portable! Who knows, perhaps next time I will be able to write about the “new IBM Smarter Toilet” stranger things have happened!

By the way, they still have literally hundreds of new places to go and eat, amazing!

As always my time in Taipei was far too short, but hopefully I will be back for a little longer sometime in 2014.

Meanwhile, I continue to be in awe of the influence that those few weeks in March as a member of the Smarter Cities Challenge team have had on both me and my work. Until next time team, and there will be a next time!

#ibmcsc Taiwan #smartercities challenge

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Alumni Reflections: Peter Korst in Chile

SCC Valparaiso team member Peter Korst was interviewed recently by the alumni journal of his social fraternity at the University of Illinois. Reflecting on how he leveraged his college networks to add expertise to his Smarter Cities Challenge experience, he writes:

When I was selected for the Executive Service Corp I did not know the project purpose or location.  For the four weeks before we left for Chile we would get briefed for an hour each week on different aspects of the project.   On the first call I learn it is a transportation project and… I reached out to the U of I’s Civil Engineering Department and the hooked me up with one of the professor’s who is very active in traffic analytics.  He spent time talking with me about the current thinking and practices in this area.  And then…..he gives me the name of a Professor he knows in Chile as they studied together at Cal-Berkley.  I ended up meeting up with the colleague in Chile plus his mentor professor who is sort of the godfather of public rapid rail transit in Valparaiso…

When we introduced ourselves in the meeting with the Chile Transportation Secretary and I said I was a Civil Engineer from Illinois, she said “I am a Civil Engineer, too.  We are colleagues.”

Asked if he would recommend the experience to others, he said:

Absolutely yes.  I have been at IBM for over 30 years and consider this experience the highlight of my career.  Doing something completely different from the everyday, testing and stretching my skills, embracing a different culture, being someplace where it was challenging to communicate, trying to make a difference in a developing country, being a positive face for the United States. For all those reasons and many more would I recommend this type of experience.  And there are ways to do it.  You don’t have to be employed by a big global company.  Even IBM worked with a small company that has people throughout the world that help put these types of projects together.

Read more of Peter’s reflections at the University of Illinois Alpha Tau Omega website here.

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New Taipei City Revisited

Well, it is now the beginning of September and 5 months since we finished our work in Taiwan, I am sitting in a hotel in Bangalore, India thinking back on the last few days which started with client visits in Seoul, Korea but which to my intense happiness included almost 3 days back in Taipei on my way here.

Firstly let me say that my time in Seoul (and Basun) was terrific, the client meetings went well and I look forward to doing some great innovation there, but also the Koreans were wonderful hosts and the hotel was outstanding, couldn’t ask for a better experience, except of course for Taiwan.

Now I don’t want to set up even more competition between Taiwan and Korea than already exists, however, to be fair the Taiwan team have an advantage, first they know me very well, as our team spent 3 weeks there in march, and secondly they know to tag team me, Anny, Lisa, Mandy, Tina, Valeria (alphabetical sequence) were all in on the act, with Lisa and Anny directing of course.

Now, I should say a few words about business, I was in Taipei to follow up with our client from march, there have been some changes mainly on the IBM side, the client rep has changed so we had to help bring Renee (a warm welcome to the team) up to speed and make sure we were all on track. So, we had multiple long internal discussions, Thanks Shaun and Vicky for keeping us grounded and on track in those, and I think we have a good plan of action to support this client.

Unfortunately the Commissioner was called to a meeting with the mayor, so didnt get to see us however the Deputy Commissioner stood in and was extremely kind and welcoming, he made some very appreciative comments about the report from our teams work in March and how they were making progress on several of the recommendations we made. We also had a very cordial and lively meeting with the CIO and his staff and I think have laid the groundwork for an extremely beneficial partnership for both the client and IBM.


So, some long working sessions which went very well but of course the rest of the time we spent eating (and talking about toilets!)

Having been to as many restaurants as we had I could not believe that the team went over the list of places we ate at in March and came up with a completely new list for this trip, I have to admit to being very partial to the food in Asia, particularly Korea and Taiwan (except for Stinky Tofou which I just don’t like I am afraid) but the team outdid themselves.

taiwan seafood restaurant

I did have lunch with one of the senior technical leaders I mentor here, the seafood was superb (see picture above) and I made the mistake of commenting on it to Anny, Lisa et al, I think there is now not only a competition with Korea, but inside Taiwan there is the team versus Julian, I thought I was here to help close some business yes, but also to promote teamwork and cooperation, do some mentoring and round tables, etc. instead I seem to be starting multiple regional wars!

To the rest of my SCC team, you have to get back to Taiwan, having started these competitions you are bound to have an unbelievable time!

So, in summary the work was great, the food even more outstanding than ever, but what really stands out is the lifelong friendships I have made with some of the most friendly, loyal, intelligent and welcoming people I have ever met, it made the 3 days go by way too fast and so it was a very bitter sweet experience, extreme happiness to see these friends again, share new photos of my family and theirs and so on, but extremely sad that it was so short and had to end so soon.

I can only imagine that their families heaved a sigh of relief that I was gone so quickly and didn’t disrupt their family lives as we must have done during the team work in March.

So, it is with a smile on my face, and a tear in my eye that I sit here and write another blog entry that I hadn’t anticipated writing.

I look forward to working with the client on projects that will showcase them as an example of the Smarter use of technology in the world, Renee where is that plan???

I miss the rest of the team and wish they had been able to be here with me, perhaps when we deploy some groundbreaking systems with the client???

But most of all, to the team in Taiwan, 谢谢

“thank you” in Chinese


ps: Team, I look forward so much to next time, and yes, I will try and bring my family with me!

#ibmcsc Taiwan #smartercities challenge

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Reflections from SCC-BTV – Celebrating teaming and learning


Lutt, Len, Isabelle, Christian, Gaby, Robert
photo by Karen Pike,

We shared unforgettable experiences and learning, and made one of the best teams any one of us had ever been on.  THANK YOU, Smarter Cities Challenge – Burlington, for the opportunity!

As the assignment wrapped up, I polled the team to share more about our individual experience and the insights we were gaining from our time as a SCC-Burlington team.   Here is a fresh look at our reflections from April 2013… and I’d bet they all still hold true for us all.


Adding Value

  • There are many ways to make a meaningful contribution

Sharpening Skills

  • Communication skills: value and importance of being concise and to the point, for impact
  • Stakeholder Management: critical to gain buy-in, engage continuously and close the loop
  • Critical thinking: applied and increased ability for analytical thinking / system thinking
  • Industry knowledge: learned about smart grid and the Energy and Utilities industry, and what it means to deploy a full Smart Meter Infrastructure in reality, plus first hand view of a wood chip based energy production plant, and a geothermal installation
  • Public Sector client experience and learning about the complex structure a city has to deal with to manage funding and decide for projects


  • A real team is always “more that the sum of its parts” (Aristoteles)

    2013.04.18-19 019

    Farewell breakfast with our wonderful hosts and clients from the Office of the Mayor staff

  • Humor is not a secret ingredient for success 😉


  • great way to allow 6 IBMers from different countries and professional background to cooperate and focus on one complex topic with many elements entirely new to all team members
  • confirmation that IBM’s talent pool is really unique – our team was, from the first hour, ready to meet every challenge and was never down.
  • fantastic (awesome!) to see how this team of six (jet-setting) experts jumped into an unfamiliar subject and accomplished such a high quality level output, in a timely manner
  • experience in high-performance team creation, especially when facing an objective with a hard stop that requires the definition of roles and responsibilities to be fast and without the chance to take long discussions and negotiations
  • outstanding support from the SCC program and local IBM staff


Cultural Awareness

  • very interesting to get a deeper insight regarding the everyday life in the US (culture, expertise, businesses) – people there are much more relaxed and friendly

    Champlain Chocolate "Thank You"

    Champlain Chocolate
    Team “Thank You”

  • learning about American culture was also really good to invite re-thinking some of native country’s behavior
  • deep insights how the society and political system works in a US state

Personal Growth

  • mindful practice of letting go for the greater good
  • hard to not serve in core capacity (the “sales guy”), but it offered the chance to sharpen skills like listening, focusing on one subject and acting as an integrator
  • how to exercise patience, humility and perseverance to achieve an objective


  • meeting IBMers from all other the world, what rich personalities do IBM hire!

Fun Facts:

2013.04.18-19 096

Shelburne Espresso

  • there are various different “right” ways to make Mozarella
  • squirrels are of significant importance (inside joke)
  • if you search for it, you can find decent espresso in Burlington / Vermont
  • enjoying the beauty of the area, and lake Champlain, and the changing spring weather, which made each day so alive


  • unique and rich experience of being able to focus on one topic for 3 weeks
  • high positive visibility for IBM in Burlington and Vermont communities (launch event, local TV appearances:, press coverage)
  • extending IBM network, getting to know top IBM professionals outside my business unit
  • getting to know great people in Burlington, Vermont, and global IBM
  • participating in a challenging project where we could be the agents of changes to improve the quality of life in an entire city
  • experiencing in real life what “making a smarter planet” truly means

PASSING IT FORWARD (ways to apply program learning on the job)

  • referencing SCC experience and insights when working with Public and / or E&U Sector clients
  • sharing SCC learning experience with my team and colleagues
  • leveraging on new events where leadership and team building would be required
  • sharing the challenge of deploying a SG infrastructure as well as the transportation challenge with clients
  • helping my employees, colleagues and management to adapt key learning on our daily work:
    • act even more as ONE team
    • be focused on people
    • overcome business inhibitors through cadences & processes

For a longer stroll through MEMORY lane, check out a 7-min video we played before our presentation to share our experience:

#smartercities Challenge

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