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Engineering Change: The Appropriation of Computer Technology at Grupo ICA in Mexico (1965–1971)
April-June 2012 (vol. 34 no. 2)
pp. 20-33
Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo, Bangor University, UK
Thomas Haigh, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
The Mexican civil engineering firm ICA installed its first computer, an IBM 1130, in 1966. By documenting the development of ICA's computing efforts over almost 15 years, the authors trace the influence of personnel and company practices, examine the development of technical and administrative applications, and explore the computer center's story within the broader history of ICA.

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2. A classic call for attention to users in the history of technology is R.S. Cowan, "The Consumption Junction: A Proposal for Research Strategies in the Sociology of Technology," The Social Construction of Technological Systems, W.E. Bijker, T. Pinch, and T.P. Hughes eds., MIT Press, 1987, pp. 261–280. A recent, highly influential sampling of work in science studies on users was given in N. Oudshoorn, and T. Pinch eds., , How Users Matter: The Co-construction of Users and Technology, MIT Press, 2003.
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6. Expertise has been a central topic in science studies for many years. For a broad and recent examination, see H. Collins and R. Evans, Rethinking Expertise, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2007.
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8. Discussion of the appropriation of technology emerged recently as an alternative to the idea of its use or consumption. It implies a more active and creative role for the recipient. Early use was often intended to grant historical agency to members of marginalized social groups—as described, for example, in much of the work in R. Eglash et al., eds., Appropriating Technology: Vernacular Science and Social Power, Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2004. However, it has also been used to describe international transfer of technology, for example, see M. Hård, and A. Jamison eds., The Intellectual Appropriation of Technology: Discourses on Modernity, 1900–1939, MIT Press, 1998. The concept recently gained currency within the history of computing as a way of conceptualizing the international transfer of computer technology from the US to Europe, an idea discussed in a recent special issue of IEEE Annals: G. Alberts, "Appropriating America: Americanization in the History of European Computing" IEEE Annals, vol. 32, no. 2, 2010, pp. 4–7.
9. Mahoney, "The Histories of Computing(s)."
10. In addition to Yates' work, this includes D. de Wit, , The Shaping of Automation: A Historical Analysis of the Interaction between Technology and Organization, 1950–1985, Verloren, 1994. There has been an increasing interest in Europe for similar studies in banking as suggested by contributions in B. Bátiz-Lazo et al., eds., Technological Innovation in Retail Finance: International Historical Perspectives, Routledge, 2011.
11. On computing in Mexico, see A. Cantarell, and M. González, Historia de la computación en México [History of Computing in Mexico], three vols., Hobbiton Ediciones, 2000, and L.A. Lomnitz, and L. Chárazo, "Basic, Applied and Technological Research: Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico," Social Studies of Science, vol. 29, no. 1, 1999, pp. 113–134. Developments in Chile during the 1970s are explored in E. Medina, "Designing Freedom, Regulating a Nation: Socialist Cybernetics in Allende's Chile," J. Latin American Studies, vol. 38, no. 3, 2006, pp. 571–606, and E. Medina, "Big Blue in the Bottomless Pit: The Early Years of IBM Chile," IEEE Annals, vol. 30, no. 4, 2008, pp. 26–41.
12. Namely two UNAM civil engineering graduates— Antonio Dovalí Ramos (Aereofoto general manager, 1965–1969) José Piña Garza (computer center manager, 1965–1971)—, and two graduates of a private university, Universidad Iberoamericana: Luis Enrique Maumejean (civil engineering computer analyst, 1965–, 1973 and systems manager, 1974–1984) and Bernardo Bátiz-Echavarria (industrial relations operations manager, 1964–1984).
13. L. Hoddeson,, "Writing Recent Science: The Historiography of Contemporary Science, Technology, and Medicinem," The Conflict of Memories and Documents: Dilemmas and Pragmatics of Oral History, R.E. Doel, and T. Söderqvist eds., Routledge, 2006, pp. 187–200.
14. Among others, see F. de Rossi, El empresario mexicano [The Mexican Businessman], UNAM, 1977,, and S.L. Babb, Managing Mexico: Economics from Nationalism to Neoliberalism, Princeton Univ. Press, 2001.
15. R.A. Camp, Mexico's Mandarins, Crafting a Power Elite for the 21st Century, Univ. of California Press, 2002, and R.A. Camp, "Informal and Formal Networking Among Elite Mexican Capitalists and Politicians," Comparative Sociology, vol. 2, no. 3, 2002, pp. 135–154.
16. E. Cárdenas, "El proceso de industrialización acelerada en México (1929–1982)" [The Process of Rapid Industrialization in Mexico (1929–1982)], Industrialización y Estado en la América Latina: La leyenda negra de la posguerra [Industrialization and the State in Latin America: The Black Legend of the Postwar], E. Cárdenas et al., eds., El Trimestre Económico—Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2003.
18. J. Piña Garza interview by B. Bátiz-Lazo19 Sept. 2009.
19. J. Piña Garza personal comm. with B. Bátiz-Lazo21 Nov. 2009.
20. J. Piña Garza personal comm. with B. Bátiz-Lazo2 Dec. 2009.
21. M. Gónzales Sánchez, A. Cantarell Martínez, and M. Ortega Soto, "Génesis de la industria de computo" [Genesis of the Computing Industry], Historia de la computacion en Mexico [History of Computing in Mexico], vol. 1, A. Cantarell, and M. Gonzalez eds., Hobbiton Ediciones, 2000, p. 76.
22. R. Perea, "History of Computing in Mexico," Sept. 2000; .
23. Anonymous, "50 años de la computación en México" [50 Years of Computing in Mexico], c. 2008, Computo.html; Gónzales Sánchez, Cantarell Martínez, and Ortega Soto, "Génesis de la industria de computo," p. 77.
24. Gónzales Sánchez, Cantarell Martínez, and Ortega Soto, "Génesis de la industria de computo," p. 77; See also .
25. A. Cantarell Martínez, "Reynaldo Iruegas Vázquez," Historia de la computacion en Mexico [History of Computing in Mexico], vol. 1, A. Cantarell, and M. Gonzalez eds., 2000, Hobbiton Ediciones, p. 120
26. Gónzales Sánchez, Cantarell Martínez, and Ortega Soto, "Génesis de la industria de computo," p. 81.
27. J. Piña Garza personal comm. with B. Bátiz-Lazo24 Nov. 2009.
28. Fernando Espinoza the head of the Projects and Laboratories Bureau, was a driving force in the adoption of computer technology at SOP and was keen to see the success of the photogrammetry project.
29. ICA used aerial mapping until the mid-1980s and satellite sources only after 1990. "La Fundación ICA resguarda 800 mil fotos aéreas del país" [The ICA Foundation Saves 800 thousand Aereal Photographs], Milenio Online, 25 Nov. 2011;
30. A. Dovalí Ramos interview with B. Bátiz-Lazo25 Sept. 2009.
31. See Quintana_Arrioja ; Dirección de Relaciónes Públicas del Grupo ICA [Public Relations Division ICA Group], "El Grupo ICA a 1967" [The ICA Group: 1967], Grupo ICA, 1967, p. 1.
32. Ten of these were grouped into building and construction (Empresas Constructoras), four related to technical services (Servicios Técnicos), three into auxiliary services to construction (Servicios Auxiliares a la Construcción), one in real-estate management (Inmobiliarias), and 11 in heavy construction engineering (Industria de Mécanica Pesada). Dirección de Relaciónes Públicas del Grupo ICA, "El Grupo ICA a 1967," pp. 1, 5.
33. L.E. Maumejean interview by B. Bátiz-Lazo15 Sept. 2009.
35. B. Bátiz-Echavarria interview with B. Bátiz-Lazo15 Sept. 2009.
36. Gónzales Sánchez, Cantarell Martínez, and Ortega Soto, "Génesis de la industria de computo," p. 77.
37. B. Bátiz-Echavarria interview with B. Bátiz-Lazo15 Sept. 2009; J. Piña Garza with B. Bátiz-Lazo19 Sept. 2009., Sperry-Univac seems to have made inroads with some banks and CDC with insurance companies while Olivetti arrived in the mid-1960s to service newspapers. See further A. Cantarell Martínez, "Los convidados al mercado" [Invited to the Market], A. Cantarell, and M. Gonzalez eds., Historia de la computación en México, vol. 1, Hobbiton Ediciones, 2000, pp. 83–86.
38. "IBM 1130 Computing System," http:/
39. One was Luis Enrique Maumejean, graduate in civil engineering from Universidad Iberoamericana, where he had worked with an IBM 1620 ( L.E. Maumejean interview with B. Bátiz-Lazo15 Sept. 2009, ). It is unclear when this private university installed its computer equipment, but undergraduate courses in electrical engineering had 19 lecturers and 50 students in 1957. J.J. Ledesma, Trayectoria Historico-Ideologica de la Universidad Iberoamericana [Historical and Ideological Trajectory of the Universidad Iberoamericana], vols. 1–2, Universidad Iberoamericana, 1985, p. 434.
40. J. Piña Garza personal comm. with B. Bátiz-Lazo29 Nov. 2009.
41. See further M. Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, MIT Press, 2004, p. 89.
42. To meet cash payments, the main printout was a tally of how many bills and coins of each denomination had to be inserted in the pay envelope. The actual cash handling was outsourced to a securities transport and armored truck company. In addition to weekly and annual taxes, the system also had to calculate weekly and annual contributions by individuals to the national health service (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social) as well as aggregate bimonthly reports. At the end of the calendar year, companies also had to make pro-rata payments of a fixed portion of after-tax profits to all employees (reparto de ultilidades). Some of the companies being serviced also required ad hoc reports by project or function so they could inform their cost and management accounting systems. J. Piña Garza personal comm. with B. Bátiz-Lazo2 Dec. 2009.
43. T. Haigh, "Software in the 1960s as Concept, Service, and Product," IEEE Annals, vol. 24, no. 1, 2002, pp. 5–13.
44. The Ley del Impuesto sobre la Renta [Income Tax Law] introduced a Impuesto sobre Productos del Trabajo (ISPT) [Labor Excise Tax].
45. "Establecimiento de un servicio público de computo electronic" [Establishing a Computer Service Bureau], Compañía Mexicana Aereofoto, circa 1970, p. B.
46. B. Bátiz-Echavarria personal comm. with B. Bátiz-Lazo29 Nov. 2009.
47. F.P. Guerrero, "Propuesta a Grupo ICA (1-1078)," Arthur D. Little de México, 5 May 1970, p. 1.
48. "PSI: apoyo técnico" [PSI: Technical Support], group bulletin, Departamento de Relaciones Públicas, circa 1970, p. 1.
49. The proposal considered a US$30,900 fee and plus US$5,500 in expenses. The consulting team consisted of Arnoldo C. Hax, Joseph J. Leshick, Fernando Pérez Guerrero, and José Sánchez Padilla. F.P. Guerrero, "Propuesta a Grupo ICA (1-1078)," Arthur D. Little de México, 5 May 1970, pp. 8, appendix.
50. J. Piña Garza interview with B. Bátiz-Lazo19 Sept. 2009. In 1972 Grupo ICA had 41 subsidiaries and took part in many joint ventures, plus holding minority shares in other enterprises ("Empresas ICA Sociedad Controladora, S.A. de C.V." [ICA Holding Company, Inc.], Empresas-ICA-Sociedad-Controladora-SA-de- CV-Company-History.html . For details of a successful nontechnology joint venture with a US partner in the 1980s and 1990s, see G. Gordon, and T. Williams, "How Do You Spell Success in Mexico? CALICA," Business Horizons, Jan./Feb. 2001, pp. 11–18.
51. C. Sama and J. Piña, "Consideraciones para la integración del centro de computo PSI-BANATLAN" [Considerations for Integrating the Computer Center PSI-BANATLAN], Ingeniería de Sistemas BANATLAN-Procesos y Sistemas de Información, circa 1971.
52. C. Sama and J. Piña, "Consideraciones para la integración del centro de computo PSI-BANATLAN," p. 1.
53. J. Piña Garza, "La ingenieria de sistemas del Grupo ICA" [Systems Engineering at Grupo ICA], ICATEC S.A. Consultores, p. 1.

Index Terms:
history of computing, computer centers, history, data processing, computer integrated engineering, ICA, Mexico
Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo, Thomas Haigh, "Engineering Change: The Appropriation of Computer Technology at Grupo ICA in Mexico (1965–1971)," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 20-33, April-June 2012, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2012.22
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