Outsourcing Allows Utility to Refocus IT

Consumers Energy has hired an outsourcer to take over some of its day-to-day IT operations, and it hopes the move will allow its own data center workers to focus on projects that directly impact its bottom line.

Mamatha Chamarthi, vice president and CIO at the Jackson, Mich.-based utility, said internal staffers should now have more time to work on projects designed to help the company meet its goal of enabling employees and customers to access "any content, from any device, anywhere, anytime."

"They will be doing much higher-value work," she explained.

Most of the company's IT support tasks are being shifted to IT services provider HCL America, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based subsidiary of India's HCL Technologies.

The outsourcer has also been charged with offering training to Consumers Energy IT staffers on subjects such as mobile technologies, according to Chamarthi.

The utility, which supplies natural gas and electric power to more than 6 million people in Michigan, has already started providing customers with first-generation mobile apps, and it's now working to expand the capabilities.

By the end of this year, company IT executives hope to have completed internal work on a portal that will make any information an employee needs quickly available on any device.

Chamarthi says the demands on her organization are increasing, as is the utility's investment in internal IT operations.

The company turned to an outsourcer to reduce contractor costs and increase automation. It set this condition, however: It would only use an outsourcer that created jobs in the state. Chamarthi was also worried about her ability to hire people, since the state's IT talent pool has been depleted by brain drain in recent years.

Between 2009 and 2010, Michigan lost an estimated 18,737 people who held degrees in the so-called STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- while gaining 16,281 such individuals from other states and countries, according to data compiled by Ken Darga, Michigan's state demographer.

Chamarthi noted that of about 40 college computer science students who held internships at the company last summer, only three planned to remain in the state after graduating.

Other Michigan-based companies are also finding it difficult to recruit local IT professionals.

Detroit-based Quicken Loans, for instance, held a networking event in Palo Alto, Calif., to try to convince people with Michigan ties to return to the state and fill one of its 300 IT openings.

"The demand is definitely greater than a lot of folks realize," said Michelle Salvatore, director of recruiting at Quicken.

Company recruiters talked to about 100 people at the Palo Alto event, and Quicken plans to interview about 20 of them.

"One of our major goals is to show them Detroit, and show them that it's a cool, hip place to be," Salvatore said.

Quicken, which handled $30 billion worth of retail homeowners loans last year, is looking for a range of skills: engineers, business analysts, database administrators, Salesforce.com experts, .Net developers and "anyone in the BI world," said Salvatore.

HCL may face hiring problems of its own in Michigan: It plans to open a development center in Jackson in the next three or four months to service Consumers Energy and other local clients. The facility will initially employ 100 people, and HCL has said the total will increase to about 500 over the next few years.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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