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Tech Leaders Talk Social Media, Security, Collaboration

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This holographic 'virtual spokeswoman' was one of the vendor exhibits at Michigan Technology Leaders 2011

This holographic ‘virtual spokeswoman’ was one of the vendor exhibits at Michigan Technology Leaders 2011

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ROCHESTER (WWJ) – Well over 100 of the region’s top technology minds gathered at the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester Thursday for Midwest Technology Leaders 2011.

The day-long conference covered a wide variety of IT topics, from mobile applications to IT staffing to smart buildings to the smart grid to security to the importance of mentorship.

In a panel discussion that bore the theme title of the event — ‘Survival Of The Fittest” — several veteran CIOs described how they survived the Great Recession with their wits — and hopefully their staffs — intact.

For Auburn Hills-based Plex Systems Inc., chief technology officer Thomas DeCoe said, it was having a manufacturing management program that translated into the food and beverage and medical device industries when its legacy industry, automotive, slowed down.

One lingering problem remains, DeCoe said — recruiting IT staff to Michigan, based on its economic reputation. He said the company has forged relationships with Kettering University and other universities to bring in interns and co-op students so it won’t have to recruit from elsewhere.

Mamatha Chamarthi, CIO at Jackson-based utility CMS Energy, and Veeresh Nama, vice president of IT with Henry Ford Health System, both stressed the importance of mentoring — both being a mentor to others and always having mentors yourself.

“You pay it forward,” Chamarthi said. “You keep helping people, and you will get help when you need it, people will just do it automatically.”

Both Chamarthi and Nama also stressed the importance of eliminating geographic divisions and rivalries within Michigan. And Chamarthi said working in Jackson and outside the auto industry has made her more aware of the state’s economic diversity — large companies like Kellogg, Whirlpool and Steelcase. She said there needs to be more collaboration of high tech staff across the state and across industries.

“We need to pull together as a state, that’s the most important thing,” she said.

Nama added: “We need to focus across the board, not geographically, and across the various industries. We have a good base of education, a good base of research.”

Chamarthi also said that going forward, utilities in Michigan will need more IT staff to create the smart grid.

“We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to convert our electromechanical grid into a smarter grid, with meters that transmit data to us about customer usage, that we can use to help them become more efficient with their usage,” she said.

MTL ’11 also saw the kickoff of the Elevate Program, a new mentorship program from the new nonprofit WeBuildCharacter.org. A cohort of 20 mentees will be offered a structured, 12-month mentoring program in IT with practical learning experiences. The program is being led by former Compuware executive Donna Ventamiglia. More at www.webuildcharacter.org.

Later in the day, a social media presentation showed sometimes skeptical IT staffers that they will wind up owning their employer’s social media efforts eventually. Raj Patel, partner at Plante & Moran, said that will happen to organizations’ social media efforts, just as Web sites started out as amateur-hour efforts by marketers and PR staff, but are now tightly controlled by the IT pros.

He said professional IT staff can best evaluate the benefits and risks of social media usage, and identify appropriate technology resources and services.

He said a coherent social media strategy consists of identifying goals and objectives, determining how they will be measured, determining what resources are available, finding out what your competitors are doing, monitoring and measuring information about you and your organization through Web sites like icerocket.com, radian6.com and socialmention.com, repairing damaging commentary quickly, and involving legal and compliance staff.

And if nothing else, he said, get out there and monitor your personal or corporate Wikipedia page — and correct it, if need be.

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