Flores: Technology Helps to Build a Smarter Planet

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

IBM Distinguished Engineer and Master Inventor Romelia Flores’ advice to future engineers is to immerse themselves in The University of Texas at El Paso’s thriving environment and find the joy and comfort of contributing to society through the use of technology.

“I see a lot of synergy. I see the excitement that you have here on campus. I see how you're striving to get into high-performance capacity computing and how you're doing a lot with research and … that’s kind of what I do at (IBM),” Flores said during the University’s first Centennial Lecture of the spring semester on Feb. 19. “Surround yourself in things that you feel are important in life and I think you will succeed.”Romelia Flores of IBM talks about how technology is enabling today’s cities at UTEP’s Centennial Lecture on Feb. 19. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceRomelia Flores of IBM talks about how technology is enabling today’s cities at UTEP’s Centennial Lecture on Feb. 19. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Flores’ 40-minute presentation, “How Smarter Hits the Streets: Technology Enabling Today’s Cities,” touched on her impressive 30-year career at IBM, which involves designing IBM Smarter Planet solutions at the company’s Global Solutions Center in Dallas.

After meeting students from the colleges of engineering and business administration and attending the launch of the University’s Research and Academic Data Center (RADC) earlier that afternoon, Flores talked about the parallels she noticed between UTEP and the Global Solutions Center.

Both institutions benefit from a wide variety of talent that thrives in collaborative environments, and both are using different resources to create smarter technology.

“When you think about IBM, you think about our Smarter Planet endeavor. It's about all the data and all the information we have out there in intelligent devices. Things like our cell phones and iPads that we have at our fingertips but more importantly is how you integrate all that data … to provide new, compelling services,” Flores said.

“And I think that's what your (RADC) is going to be striving for: How do I build the right kinds of services? How do I enable all the different university aspects to leverage our high performance cloud infrastructure to provide these new services in our environment?” she said.

Throughout her career at IBM, Flores has seen technology undergo a huge transformation. The company is striving to make the world a smarter planet by creating smarter cities, she said.

In 2011, Flores was one of six IBMers from different business and technology backgrounds who took part in IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge: New Orleans. For six weeks, the group worked with the city of New Orleans to deliver recommendations to improve the collection, analysis and use of data. One of the goals was to apply technology that would make information available to the city’s residents, such as property ownership, what services and projects the city was prioritizing, and how the city’s budget was being spent.  

Flores also has traveled the world helping clients find solutions for their technological needs.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, Flores worked on a traffic advisement project that predicts traffic patterns. Her ability to speak Spanish helped her better understand her clients’ needs.  

“I encourage students here to leverage your bilingual skills,” Flores said. “I believe these are advantages that we as a Hispanic culture should leverage and continue to emphasize as we move forward in our careers.”

Her TransAlta emissions dashboard project used technology to monitor chemical emissions for the TransAlta Corp. in Canada. The project resulted in four out of the 14 U.S. patents she currently holds.

 “I think these kinds of projects are leading edge; they're coming up with new ideas, but more importantly, we’re working with clients to collect the right kind of information to then feed back to our product development teams and to our research teams and find ways to leverage that with other clients,” Flores said.

In addition to corporate clients, Flores also works with universities to create technology to keep young students, who are growing up with video games and 3-D systems, engaged and interested in learning.

Each year she also mentors 10 new IBMers who are fresh out of college to help them succeed at the company. They go through an extensive curriculum at the Global Solutions Center for a year before they are sent to different locations throughout the country.

She said the pool of new hires is filled with cross-disciplinary talent that IBM is looking for, which includes mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, business majors and bioinformatics majors.

“I think a lot of the program is meant to have them grow through some different aspects either by improving their communication skills, improving their writing skills, enabling them to understand patent processes that we have in IBM and certainly enabling them to understand all of our IBM technologies,” Flores said.

Ricardo Nuñez, a software engineering graduate student, said that the work IBM does not only helps computer systems but also the planet, from health care to financial systems, and the government.

“I thought it was really motivational,” Nuñez said about Flores’ lecture. “With an engineering career, you can actually not only solve problems within the corporation but also solve problems that affect the world in positive and innovative ways.”

Flores said the world has experienced a lot of wonderful technology trends, and while some may be apprehensive to embrace new technology, people need to take advantage of it. 

“Technology will continue to grow. We’re going to have new sensors and new kinds of devices that reach out to individuals, whether they are out in the street, in your car, in your cell phone devices – and you’ve got to figure out, ‘How do I leverage that information effectively?’” Flores said. “I guarantee you that if we don't, our 10-year-olds will.”

UTEP’s Centennial Lecture Series invites noteworthy speakers to campus to share their perspectives on a broad range of contemporary issues that are likely to impact society and culture as the University prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2014.