Experts Eye Technologys Future

February 13, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Michigan Department of Information Technology (DIT) wants to keep Michigan at the forefront of technological change, so it’s working to improve the effectiveness and delivery of information technology resources statewide.

That effort will require expanding broadband into all areas of the state, fostering technology entrepreneurs, educating future technology leaders and expanding business-to-government and citizen-to-government IT services.

“If we can expand the technology footprint in this state, we believe we can drive business for everyone and be an enhancement for private industry,” said DIT Director and Chief Information Officer Teresa Takai.

Up to this point, DIT has been very state centric, focusing only on providing services inside the state, Takai explained at a recent meeting of glimaWest, a nonprofit professional organization supporting the growth of the interactive and technology industries in West Michigan.

“I felt, and the organization felt, that we were really missing an opportunity to use technology to get out and partner with others to enhance what we could do in the areas of education, economic development, health and human services and homeland security.”

The agency, for instance, is trying to find ways to promote collaborative services, data sharing and aggregation of purchases among intermediate school districts and among units of local government.

“Another thing we’re looking at is other purchasing consortiums that we can create by bringing groups together and then working with the vendor community for guaranteed volume, and in exchange for that, reduced pricing,” she added.

In addition to Takai, a panel of experts from glima chapters around Michigan was on hand at the event to offer their views on tech trends and the future of technology in Michigan.

Panelists included Robert Nally, vice president of Battle-Creek based Innovative Software; David Holland, vice president and chief information officer of Genesys Health System of Grand Blanc; Phillip Bertolini, director of Oakland County’s department of information technology; John Channell, staffing solutions manager for Resource Technologies Corp. of Troy; Matt Hanna of Traverse City-based BCS Networks; and Darren Brown, founder of Irivium Inc. and current glimaWest president.

“One of our biggest challenges is getting people to understand how prolifically the use of technology has a positive impact on our workflow and our product,” Holland observed.

It’s a matter of getting the end user comfortable with the technology, and that’s part of an educational process, Nally added.

Channel said the most difficult situation is having a work force that’s used to doing things the same old way — because the old way is no longer workable.

To adapt to new technology, corporations and units of government have to change the way they work and think, which means educating staff, changing and re-engineering processes and workflows, perhaps moving staff around, and putting a management system in place, according to Hanna.

Education is crucial because a lot of people don’t understand how to leverage the technology, he said.

“It doesn’t matter how cool the technology is if you don’t show people how it’s supposed to work and change the process and cut out all the intermediate steps that really don’t add anything. Then you’re just making a bad process more inefficient,” Brown added.

In the local market, IT companies used to be able to live off of large employers that were doing a lot of big projects that required both in-house and outside IT professionals, Brown said.

“We have to adjust and focus a little bit more on helping the small- to mid-market companies grow and take over this capacity, because I think our days of the big, big projects are over.

“We have to innovate, and to me that means that the technology has to be a little more research-and-development oriented.”

Takai noted that DIT is seeing much more collaboration between a set of companies providing a solution collectively, rather than a single provider tackling the job.

Local markets aren’t necessarily local any more given the global economy, Hanna pointed out.

“People are looking for solutions,” he said. “The days of putting in a voicemail network, or a data network, or a video network or an imaging solution are gone.

“Everybody wants convergence, convergence, convergence. They want to spend money on one thing and do it all. That’s where the demand is.”

In the earlier days, IT people would walk into the manager’s or CIO’s office and tell them what the company needed, but those days are over, too, Channell said.

Today, he explained, the job is to go in and find out what the end user needs, and instead of selling a solution, coming up with a solution that works for the individual.

“That’s why the small- and medium-sized companies will probably do better in the short term than the big companies, because the big companies can’t get out of their own way yet.

“The trends are going away from the old school. I think it’s the trend in who’s buying the product and who’s selling that’s the biggest change.”

Today, IT professionals have to be more than just IT professionals, Holland remarked.

“We have to find out how we can add value to our organizations,” he said. “We have to know and understand our business and help create innovations with top technology that give our businesses competitive advantages.

“We have to be able to solve problems, to deal with issues and be able to come up with new ways of doing things using the technology.”

Nally expressed concern about IT talent leaving the area, which was especially evident during the recent economic downturn.

“Once they leave, the chances of recovering that talent becomes that much harder,” Nally said. “We really need to work on that focus of retaining business, because as IT professionals we’re supporting all those businesses.”

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