PLYMOUTH — Hundreds of IT experts gathered at The Inn at St. John’s Thursday for Midwest Technology Leaders 2012, the annual technology industry management conference.

Experts discussed computer security, mobile technologies, and the increasing demand for applications and data on the go.

And they agreed that IT is a hot job category, especially in Michigan.

Longlong He, CIO of Detroit-based Quicken Loans, noted that her company hired 200 people at a job fair last Saturday and has 200 current openings in IT alone.

He acknowledged that “it’s really hard to find good people (with) subject matter expertise and a good personality. But now I have changed strategy. If I hire 10 people and one is bad, I’m OK. I’ll stick with the nine good ones rather than trying to find the perfect person.”

She also said Quicken CEO Dan Gilbert is big on keeping jobs in Michigan, so most of Quicken’s IT stays in house. Other CIOs on the morning keynote panel had other ideas, but some said they at least outsource to Michigan-based companies.

Dennis Hodges, CIO of auto supplier Inteva, said later in the day that he outsources his manufacturing management IT to Auburn Hills-based Plex Systems, so if issues arise, it’s only a short drive to the vendor.

Mary Alice Annecharico, senior vice president and CIO of Henry Ford Health System, said she’s outsourced IT to two companies, one to manage applications, another to manage infrastructure. And she said IT is among the aims of a new Henry Ford Innovations Institute housed in a former nursing school building on the Henry Ford campus.

Virtually everyone at the event said social media is among the next big things in communicating with customers. Ford Motor Co.’s director of IT and security, Rich Strader, put it this way: “Your neighbor is a much better salesman .. because you trust your neighbor.” He said the automaker will also use social media to communicate with and train dealership staff. Kelly Services Inc. senior vice president and CIO Joe Drouin said his company has “just scratched the surface” of social media potential.

Strader also said he doesn’t expect fully autonomous cars in the near future. Reacting to a business publication headline that “Your next car will drive itself,’ he said, “I think that’s overly aggressive, and not because of the technology but because as a culture we’re not ready for it. Our liability laws, our abiliyt to trust technology to do these things, is not going to be there in time for your next car.” He said technology is ready now to apply brakes automatically to bring cars to a stop safely in traffic, but people still want to do that themselves.

As for security, Strader — and others — said the big worry is organized, institutional hacking and identity theft. “Used to be people hacked computers for fun,” he said. “Now they do it for profit. It’s sponsored now, organized.”

And all said they’re working hard on making it safe for companies to allow their employees to use their personal devices — smartphones, tablets — to do company business anywhere.


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