Chicago’s Tech Reloaded + Nokia CTC


“Chicago developed as an attractive market for data centers for the same reason it became a hub for railroads: its central location. Much of the fiber optic cable the internet runs on was laid along railroad tracks, and Chicago acted as the connector between east and west. Plus, the city has reliable electricity and isn’t at risk for the hurricanes or earthquakes that threaten the coasts.”

Data Centers in Chicago.jpg

“There are 47 data center locations in Illinois.”

“Chicago’s position as a hub for connectivity also is demonstrated in the data center at 350 E. Cermak Road. Besides servers that companies have located there, the facility houses major telecommunications carriers, such as Sprint and Verizon, and other networks.”

Argonne Exacomputing.jpg

“Argonne’s high-performance computers provide […] the ability to model and simulate complex, dynamic systems that would be too expensive or impractical for experimentation. Argonne is home to a wide variety of computing systems, including some of the most powerful high-performance computers in the world.”

While working in Europe last month a peer asked me about Chicago’s tech environment during our lunch break. I managed to assemble some thoughts and, off the top of my head, I proudly shared these few ones:

  1. much of the country’s internet traffic is running through the Chicago area
  2. some of the world’s largest data centers are also located here around
  3. home of two of the most prestigious National Labs: Fermilab and Argonne
  4. Argonne is building one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world
  5. one of Chicago’s 20+ start-up incubators, 1871, has become the world’s #1
  6. and there is plenty of good talent coming out of prestigious universities



Photograph courtesy of 1871.

My workmate’s curiosity was somehow satisfied. He claimed to be impressed and we then changed topics. A month has gone by since and, interestingly enough, when listening to the local programming of NPR, National Public Radio, someone was talking about Chicago also being the best city in the world… which I wished I would have been able to add to the above list.


“Chicago is, in fact, the best city in the world right now, according to results from a new survey. Time Out said Chicago topped its global index of the most exciting cities for the second consecutive year (when considering the) town’s affordability, culture, food, drink, happiness, neighborhoods, livability, pride and friendliness.”

Chicagoland does not ony have an impressive research and technology pedigree, the city has a reputation for affordable quality of life. However, that would just be a tone-deaf statement if, at the time of writing this, one had chosen to simply ignore the city’s challenged safety record in the most underprivileged communities.

Nokia’s CTC, Chicago Technology Center, is based in Naperville. It takes about one hour drive to get there from downtown Chicago and 30 minutes from O’Hare Airport.

Those ETAs (estimated arrival times) apply to good traffic conditions. When accounting for Chicago’s snowy winter wonderland and summer’s ‘construction season.’ it typically takes quite a bit more driving time to get anywhere, which makes the local railway system a better option.

In any case Naperville is consistently ranked as “the best city to raise a family.”


“Niche unveiled its annual ‘Best Cities to Raise a Family in America’ and ‘Best Cities to Live in America’ for 2018, and Naperville achieved the No. 1 and No 2 respectively. Naperville also came out on top in the lists of ‘Cities with the Best Public Schools in America’ and ‘Safest Cities in America.’

Still thinking of further expanding my earlier list, here are is another compelling fact:

  • the Midwest compares to California not only in population size, but also in the number of patents, which makes Illinois (Chicago and Naperville are located in that state) jointly with Minnesota, Ohio and Michigan, be an R&D powerhouse.

In the area of computer science, the Midwest’s three National Labs feature the following leading edge research:

  • computational and decision science at Ames.
  • high performing, extreme-scale / exabyte computing at Argonne (noted above)
  • quantum information systems in partnership with AT&T and the California Institute of Technology at Fermi.

“The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) is home to some of the world’s fastest supercomputers dedicated to research on projects of national and global importance.”

It also makes sense to share these noteworthy research items:

  • new Army Research and University of Chicago collaboration facility
  • Fermilab’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) research proposal with Google to develop a co-design center addressing quantum computing systems.
  • new Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago.

Whenever tech is the subject, FAAMG always comes to mind: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google (Alphabet being Google’s parent company.) FAAMG is just the combined acronym for these company’s stocks.


They all have been growing their workforce in Chicago, though Apple’s focus was placed on their flagship store.

Amazon is looking into building its second corporate headquarters. Apple is planning to build a second corporate campus. Chicago is seeking to be the location of choice for both.

“Amazon announced just over a year ago its desire to create a second headquarters campus, saying the company planned to create up to 50,000 high-paying jobs in about 8 million square feet of buildings […] and was back in Chicago last month to take another look at a South Loop site along the river, as the e-commerce giant narrows its search.”

Apple Chicago Store.jpg

Apple’s new flagship store in Chicago.

“Apple is planning to build another corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers during the next five years as part of a $350 billion commitment to the U.S.”

“Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded with an enthusiastic and unequivocal “Yes” when asked whether Chicago would enter the heated competition for whatever kind of campus that Apple wants to build to augment its headquarters in Cupertino, California.”

“Chicago is likely to play up the strength of its technical talent pool and its relatively low cost of living.”

When thinking of the fact that “digital transformation” projects happen to be on every CEO’s must-do list, a quick look at who is who in the Chicago metropolitan area reveals a fairly diversified economy. That is basically a fertile ground for tech.

Thirty seven of the global Fortune 500’s multinational corporations are claiming Chicago as their HQ.  On that list, the are names such as Motorola Solutions, Boeing and CDW. But, to get a better picture of the local tech scene, there is a need for going further to include Accenture’s Chicagoan origins and home base. Ditto for Motorola Mobility, which was the result of splitting former Motorola into two companies.

Motorola Mobility was part of Google until sold to Lenovo four years ago. That business is centered on the “Moto” phones. The home device portfolio went to Arris.

In this context, it also makes perfect sense to position Nokia’s mark as follows. Chicago’s former Navteq (Navigation Technologies Corporation) had grown as the largest and leading provider of mapping and navigation technologies. The company was purchased by Nokia in 2007.

BWM Technology Coporation in Chicago.jpg

Five years later, what had become a Nokia business unit branded as “Here” was acquired by Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Nokia had also bought former Novarra in 2010. The company was based in Itasca, another Chicagoland suburb. They focused on web-based technologies and services, and BMW acquired that business in 2014 as well. BMW Technology Group is based in downtown Chicago.

Nokia acquired Motorola Solution’s wireless network infrastructure business (Arlignton Heights campus) in 2011 and, more recently, 100% of Alcatel-Lucent (ALU,) which includes Bell Labs. ALU’s purchase was completed in 2016 (Naperville campus.) We have consolidated Chicagoland’s locations since and are all now based at the Naperville facility, which has been rebranded as Nokia CTC, Chicago Technology Center.

Nokia Chicago Technology Center

Nokia CTC. 1900 Lucent Lane. Naperville, IL 60563. United States.

Discussing Nokia CTC also deserves a few more insights by connecting the following dots. Chicago’s history takes us all the way back to the late 1800s and the ground breaking technology innovations that came from the Western Electric Company out of its flagship Howthorne Works facility.

Western Electric

Encyclopedia of Chicago – Western Electric Co

Western Electric ended up owning 50% of Bell Telephone Laboratories (Bell Labs.) The other half was with AT&T. In 1915, the Western Electric Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T.

Let’s fast forward to 1995 when AT&T spun off Lucent Technologies, Bell Labs Innovations. Lucent was all set as an independent company and the successor of Western Electric. France’s Alcatel and Lucent merged in 2006 and together became Alcatel-Lucent (ALU.) As noted above, ALU was bought out by Nokia in 2016.

Whether we focus on Nokia’s 2016 acquisition to tell the story or, better yet, go all the way back to Western Electric’s foundation in 1869, the fact is that those of us working at the Nokia Chicago Technology Center get to enjoy a daily reminder of our legendary origins.

That happens on our way to our offices when taking a peek at a rather unassuming yet memorable museum set up by volunteers. We celebrated our campus’ 50th anniversary a couple of years ago. 700 employees joined Bell Labs’ new Indian Hill (former campus name) facility in August of 1966. Naperville’s community transformed from a largely rural environment to a leading edge technology center. Note that Nabisco (Mondelez) and Amoco Chemicals (BP) also set up shop there around that time.

Nokia CTC Museum.jpg

Nokia CTC, Chicago Technology Center. Showcase (above) and Demo Center (below)

Nokia CTC Lab

Today, Nokia’s impact in Chicago’s tech scene is centered on the work that we do in Naperville. That involves teams from a broad cross-section of the corporation, namely: Bell Labs (BL,) Chief Operations Office (COO,) Nokia Software Group (NSW,) IP & Optical Networking (ION,) Mobility Networks (MN,) Fixed Networks (FN,) Global Services, as well as NokiaEDU, our training resource.

Nokia Software Group Project.jpg

Nokia CTC research on Advanced Decision Support Systems is showcased at global venues such as Mobile World Congress and at Nokia HQ’s Customer Experience Center.

Nokia CTC is also home base for our Technology Leadership Council (TLC,) a grass-roots and all volunteer organization, which I am a steering committee member of. There are quite a few things in the making right now, such as our annual Human Factors Engineering conference, Nokia HFE18, and more updates will follow for anyone interested.


As usual, welcoming feedback and input as a comment on this blog and/or over LinkedIn’s messaging… or in person if we happen to cross paths.



Argonne National Laboratory. Advanced Computing. Accessed 20 October 2018.

Baker, Suzanne. Naperville named 2018’s best city to rise a family. Chicago Tribune, Naperville Sun, 7 March 2018. Accessed 20 October 2018.

Cole, Craig. Why Does BMW have a technology office in Chicago?, 21 July 2017. Accessed 21 October 2018.

Day, Thomas. For Chicago’s tech scene, the mission is most definitely not accomplished. Crain’s Chicago Business, Opinion Section, 16 October 2018, Accessed 20 October 2018

Fermilab. Quantum Information Systems. Accessed 20 October 2018.

Fisher Amber. Here Are Illinois’ Fortune 500 Companies. Chicago Patch, 29 May 2018. Accessed 21 October 2018.

Gingold, Don. 50 years ago: Naperville’s population boom. The Summer Place, 20 October 2016. Accessed 21 October 2018.

Inside HPC. Argonne Steps up to the Exascale Computing Project, 31 August 2017. Accessed 20 October 2018.

Liedtke, Michael. Apple to build 2nd campus, hire 20,000 in $350B pledge. Chicago Sun Times, 17 January 2018. Accessed 30 October 2018.

Marotti, Ally. With and insatiable demand for data centers, some are worried that Illinois can’t keep up. Chicago Tribune, 19 July 2018. Accessed 20 October 2018.

Marotty, Ally, and Ori, Ryan. Amazon was back in Chicago last month, as its search for HQ2 narrows. Chicago Tribune, 26 September 2018. Accessed 30 October 2018.

Meadows, Jonah. Chicago rated ‘best city in the world’ for 2nd straight year. Chicago Patch, 30 January 2018. Accessed 30 October 2018.

Molina, Brett. What the FAANG is happening to tech stocks? USA Today, 9 June 2017. Accessed 20 October 2018.

Rekdal, Andreas. Hey, Siri: Chicago wants in on Apple’s expansion plans. builtinchicago, 18 January 2018. Accessed 30 October 2018.

Tai, Yur. 1871 Ranks 1st in the world in global study of business incubators. 23 February 2018. Accessed 20 October 2918.

Tekippe, Abraham. Nokia Siemens campus in Arlighton Heights sells for $28 million. Crain’s Chicago Business, 24 July 2013. Accessed 21 October 2018.

The National Laboratories Director’s Council. US Department of Energy. Accessed on 20 October 2018

University of Chicago. UChicago and U.S. Army Research Laboratory cut ribbon on ARL Central. UChicago News, 15 November 2017. Accessed 20 October 2018.

The rise of Digital Decision Support Systems and the Integrated Workspace

BI Summit Chicago


Digital Transformation drives today’s Workforce Automation and Business Intelligence (BI) initiatives where nimbler agile teams undertake tasks and jobs of unprecedented scale, scope and speed.

Digitalization also involves “Self-Service” business models which are based on the direct involvement of end-users and a frictionless customer journey, all relaying on seemingly instantaneous and automated mass-personalization.

Given that digitalization has become pervasive and that ‘making tech human’ has become a critical success factor, the new field of Genuine Intelligence (GI,) addresses holistic Human-Machine-Systems (HMS) leveraging collaborative environments comprised of networked insights, tools and processes. GI’s signature deliverable is Digital Decision Support Systems involving Integrated Workspaces.


This construct adheres to LeanOps and Quality by Design (QbD) principles for emerging technologies and, therefore, optimizes for (a) quality outcomes as gauged by consumer and operational experiences performed under (b) highly efficient operations and (c) advantageous resource utilization and effort levels.

Both value generation and productivity gains are constantly audited and iteratively improved throughout event lifecycles and over the lifespan of the system.

Nokia Keynote


Jose de Francisco is a Senior Design Director at Nokia Software Group. His 20+ year experience encompasses multi-disciplinary leadership responsibilities in strategy, product & portfolio management, research & development, marketing, partnerships and project & program management. Jose is a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff (DMTS) and has worked with Bell Labs on next generation platforms. He is a Member of the Advisory Board at MIT’s Institute for Data Systems and Society (IDSS) and is the recipient of an MBA in International Marketing and Finance (MBA/IMF) from Chicago’s DePaul University as a Honeywell Europe Be Brilliant Scholar. Jose also holds a postgraduate degree in Human Factors Engineering from BarcelonaTech (UPC) and can be followed on


My first 2+ years at Nokia

Nokia Team

“Nokia has transformed itself many times in its 150-year history, starting as a paper mill in Finland in 1865. (…) ‘In 2013,’ Nokia launched a dramatic, bet-the-company turnaround (…) ‘as’ a full-fledged network infrastructure provider, Nokia decided to retain its patent and technology licensing business in order to continue its legacy of innovation and reinvention (…) from the start of the turnaround through early 2017, the company turned over 99% of the employee base, 80% of the board, and all but one member of the executive team.”  (Nokia: Reprogramming for Growth.)

Nokia Banner

“The Finnish giant has exited mobile phones and doubled down on its networking business. (…) Nokia is a paragon of corporate renewal (…) this corporate phoenix has reemerged as one of the world’s largest telecom network service providers. (…) The fact that it subsequently became a vibrant business just emphasizes the fantastic turnaround. (…) In the summer of 2012, Nokia’s market capitalization was $5 billion and (…) enterprise value was $1.5 billion. By the beginning of “2017,” (…) market capitalization was close to $40 billion and (…) enterprise value was about $30 billion. (…) Out of some 100,000 employees today, less than 1 percent had a Nokia badge three years ago.” (Nokia’s Next Chapter.)

Bell Labs and Nokia books

linkedinBefore I started to write this post I pre-ordered “Transforming Nokia” by Risto Siilasmaa, Nokia’s Chairman. His book is coming out this October, which I will add to my Kindle collection for Bell Labs and Nokia.

Interestingly enough, my LinkedIn profile shows what it looks like my 20 year-long career with Nokia. Though, I need to share that I am among the 99% of staff who did not have a Nokia badge just 3 years ago. I became a Nokia employee with the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent in January of 2016.

Career Logos 2

My recollection is that LinkedIn does not show corporate logos for brands that are no longer in business. In my case, that happens to be the outcome of M&A (Merger & Acquisitions.)

Otherwise, LinkedIn would have featured the above four logos as part of my professional record. They happen to be part of different market conditions, job responsibilities, experiences and organizational cultures.

LeanOps at MWC16.jpg

Year 1: 2016

Make Tech HumanJoining Nokia was very exciting from the get go. The company’s motto was “Expanding the Human Possibilities of Technology” and had recently ran a public relations program known as “Make Tech Human” in partnership with Wired Magazine.

All of that was music to the ears of those of us devoted to Human Factors Engineering (HFE.) Moreover, User Centered Design (UCD) was pioneered by Bell Labs all the way back to the mid 1940s. Bell Labs is a legendary industrial research and scientific institution that became part of Nokia in 2016.

It’s hard to draw the line between traditional human factors and what we might call ‘user-experience’, aimed at human-centered design of interactive systems. Bell Labs was one of the pioneers in making this transition, starting with the first psychologist hired to design telephone systems in 1945: John E. Karlin. By the 1950s, Bell Labs definitely did UX work.” (A 100-Year View of User Experience.)

Back to 2016… our team at the Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) in Naperville, IL, worked tirelessly to create the system behind the LeanOps initiative showcased at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress 2016 as one of Nokia’s flagship innovations. That premier industry event became the first chance for many of us to come together as one-Nokia-team.

About month later, I was interviewed and featured in an article for “My Life at Nokia,” a corporate initiative capturing what it feels to work at Nokia. That same year, I was invited to join the Steering Committee for our Technology Leadership Council, a silo-busting and grass-roots organization lead by Anne Lee, a Bell Labs Fellow.

Year 2: 2017

LeanOps’ latest was selected again as one of Nokia’s innovations for Mobile World Congress 2017. Thereafter, the demo running at Nokia HQ in Espoo, Finland, became the most visited station of the company’s Customer Experience Center.

Nokia Innovation Award.jpg

A few months later, LeanOps was the recipient of Nokia’s First Prize in Product Innovation. We were made aware of the fact that there had been more than 500 submissions. One can only feel very fortunate and humble given the high-caliber work performed across the company.

Year -1: 2015

Digital innovation enables an impressive and unprecedented succession of emerging technologies and services. Some are improved versions of well understood staples, some are fluid and fast evolving, some other are yet to be invented and will rely on enabling capabilities to be in place… and there is such a thing as hybrid operational environments intermingling them all.

Back in 2015, I was deeply involved in a global primary research effort, whose outcome put the emphasis on execution and, therefore, Operational Excellence. Running highly effective and efficient ops is a critical success factor and top priority for Nokia’s customers, these are Digital Service Providers (DSP.)

No Service Provider would like to like be a victim of their own success. Briefly and in terms of leading (cause) and lagging (effect) indicators… that actually happens when demand grows exponentially, but systems fail to adapt and scale at speed. Lagging indicators then show subpar quality of customer experiences and dreaded churn kicks in to offset and even undermine early gains.

Digital Operation Centers designed for highly dynamic and complex systems should adhere to ‘Lean’ design principles for the purpose of executing system-wide lifecycle events at scale and speed anytime, and to do so in compliance with Service Level Agreements (SLA,) which are contractual obligations.

Most importantly, operational excellence calls for optimizing both users’ experiences and resource utilization levels, which entails financial considerations and business modeling. Note that ‘end-users’ applies to Business to Consumer (B2C,) and Business to Business (B2B) markets.

Back to Year 1: 2016

My focus is on (a) advanced visualization coupled with (b) cybernetics for workforce automation at high performance Control Centers, which happens to be a decisive source of innovative system requirements.

The fact is that nimbler operations teams are asked to be responsible for greater scope, scale and speed than ever before. This prompts a pressing need for equipping agile and interdisciplinary teams with next generation tools that set them up for success. So, no surprise that Human Centered Design is of the essence, and that any self-service capabilities happen to reinforce that point as ‘making sophisticated operations effortless’ is a must.

About this time last year, my work in Decision Support Systems (DSS,) was shortlisted among the top 10 concepts for the first phase of Nokia Applications & Analytics’ (A&A’s) ‘Intra’-preneurial Program, which processed hundreds of submissions involving a wide range of applications and technologies.

After the “hacking phase” the panel’s evaluation recommended taking further steps in the context of the existing product portfolio. By the way, Nokia’s former A&A is now known as Nokia Software Group (NSG) and DSS is my current area of work.

Bell Labs

Year 2+: 2018

Admittedly, things got even more exciting for me with the turn of the year by being promoted to a Senior Studio Director position reporting to the VP of Solutions Engineering. This is an entrepreneurial department tasked with complex end-to-end systems and chartered to deliver the superior value of the whole.

More recently, I became a Bell Labs DMTS, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff, which I am very proud of. Anecdotally, just a few weeks ago I ended up in Cloude Shannon‘s Bell Labs 1940s office in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Shannon was the father of Information Theory. I couldn’t help taking a picture with his lifesize cardboard cutout : )

The photograph on the extreme left shows Telstar, the first communications satellite and commercial payload in space. The one on the extreme right was taken at the anechoic chamber, which held the Guinness record for the quietest place for some 30-40 years. That space was instrumental in the invention of the microphone. It is a bit hard to tell in that picture, but I was standing on a fairly thin net that is set way above the ground, which makes one feel like floating in mid air.


Nokia also allows a fairly active life beyond the company’s conventional business. Some examples are my current participation in the Advisory Boards for MIT’s institute of Data, Systems & Society, and the Design Thinking conference for the events held in 2017 and 2018 in Austin, TX. I would also like to highlight Nokia’s own HFE (Human Factors Engineering Conference) that I am honored to co-chair.

Last year I spoke at Service Design Week 2017 in Boston and also received Chicago Public Schools’ Science Fair plaque for my five years of service as a judge. My focus was high school projects in the areas of Computer and Behavioral Sciences. Chicago’s Science Fairs were held at an incredibly engaging venue: the Museum of Science & Industry (MSI.)

Earlier this year I was invited to speak at IEEE Emerging Technologies Reliability Roundtable (IEEE ETR-R) and I also joined a panel discussion at IEEE’s Communications Quality & Reliability (IEEE CQR,) both held in Austin, TX.

Interacting in industry and academia turns out to be a highly gratifying ‘give & take’ exercise. By sharing and helping others a healthy feedback-loop develops. That experience takes the shape of a virtuous circle neutralizing negative ‘echo chamber effects’ while exposing and promoting diverse optics: a re-energizing effect and a source of personal growth.

Long story short… my first 2+ years at Nokia have been packed with a number of good and even thrilling experiences.

I have been given the opportunity to be involved in the kind of high visibility projects that I happen to enjoy. As a Human Factors practitioner, I value Nokia’s Intellectual Capital above a number of other considerations because commonplace work ethics and working with and learing from exceptional and thoughtful professionals makes all the difference.



Aspara, Jaakko et all. Strategic Management of Business Model Transformation: Lessons from Nokia. May, Accessed 19 Aug. 2018.

Baeza, Ramon, et al. Nokia: Reprogramming for Growth. BCG, 13 Nov. 2017, Accessed 19 Aug. 2018.

Gertner, Jon. The Idea Factory. Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. Penguin Books, 2013.

Nielsen, Jackob. A 100-Year View of User Experience. Nielsen Norman Group, 24 Dec. 2017, Accessed 19 Aug. 2018.

Siilasmaa, Risto and Catherine Fredman. Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead through Colossal Change. McGraw-Hill, 2018.

Siilasmaa, Risto and Rik Kirkland. Nokia’s Next Chapter. McKinsey Quarterly, Dec. 2016, Accessed 19 Aug 2018.

Weldon, Marcus K. The Future X Network: a Bell Labs Perspective. CRC Press, 2016.