GM bolsters IT ranks in push for more innovation

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. is on an IT hiring binge in Warren and across the country. The automaker expects to have 12,000 information technology employees by the end of 2017, up by 2,000 to 3,000 from original estimates.

Workers man computer terminals at the General Motors IT Data Center in Warren. GM has hired about 1,800 IT workers for its Warren innovation center — 300 more than its previous target of 1,500 announced in 2012.

That's an eight-fold increase in tech workers from what it employed in 2012, when GM had just 1,400 information tech workers around the world. That was the year the Detroit automaker announced a transformation that includes in-sourcing 90 percent of the company's IT workforce and reducing costs to reinvest in innovation.

The company has hired about 8,500 workers and has about 10,000 IT employees today, including about 400 who joined GM's four IT innovation centers across the United States this spring, Randy Mott, GM's senior vice president of global information technology and chief information officer, said in a recent interview.

A GM spokeswoman said the company upped its hiring target from 9,000 to 10,000 through 2017 after better assessing the company's needs. The automaker is looking to spark innovative ideas for customer service, vehicle development and logistics.

"We'll (hire) about 550 to 600 new college grads this year, which is pretty much on course with what we set out to do," said Mott, who joined GM in early 2012 after working for Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. "We're still having a great interest level and great candidates coming out of roughly 40 colleges."

Part of GM's growth in IT employment stems from hiring people who previously worked at companies under contract to GM, including 3,000 hires from Hewlett-Packard.

GM announced last month it will build a multi-story information technology building at the Warren Tech Center, part of $1 billion it will spend on the campus over the next several years. That investment is expected to create 2,600 new jobs. GM has not broken down its hiring plans, though some IT jobs are expected to be part of the total.

Mott said GM has hired about 1,800 for the Warren innovation center — already 300 more than its previous target of 1,500 announced in 2012. It likely will have more than 2,000 there by summer.

"It's a great story in terms of the talent we've been able to find in this area, with the colleges we recruit from as well as the professional hires," Mott said. "A lot of those professional hires are people that are coming home because there are opportunities here."

About 300 GM IT workers have been recruited in the past few years from Florida State University, said Ebrahim Randeree, associate dean of its College of Communication & Information.

He said 75 to 100 GM hires have come from Florida State's information technology department, while others have come from computer science and business. GM has become one of the largest employers recruiting IT students; many are intrigued by GM's vision, including delivering services to people in the car, Randeree said.

But with an uptick in entry-level IT jobs, there is growing competition for graduates, he said.

"Honestly, three years ago, if GM walked in and said we want to hire you for a job, people would be like 'Great, I want it,' " Randeree said. "And now I'm actually having kids tell GM 'no.' They've got a better offer from Microsoft, they got a better offer from Google, they got a better offer from J.P. Morgan. Trying to find talent right now is hard."

Michigan State University estimates about 20 computer science and computer engineering graduates have been hired by GM in recent years.

GM in the past few years has gone from having a small presence to a strong one on MSU's campus, said Garth Motschenbacher, director of employer relations and career engagement for the MSU College of Engineering. He said GM has hosted special events for younger college students, participated in job fairs and sponsored class projects and a hack-a-thon to raise brand awareness.

"GM was seen as an auto manufacturer, not a high-tech opportunity," Motschenbacher said, adding the carmaker worked hard to change that.

Mott said GM is looking for more data scientists who can help analyze data to help the business. And it needs candidates with security backgrounds.

He wants more people focused on innovation, not tech support. Three years ago, just a quarter of GM's IT workforce was focused on innovation. Today 70 percent is, and GM is closing in on its 80 percent goal, Mott said.

Staff have been able to shorten project times and are assisting dealers, customers and GM's departments through new applications, Mott said.

One is GM's Shop-Click-Drive tool, which allows shoppers to search for vehicles, get pricing, choose and apply for financing, and get an estimate on a trade-in and ultimately buy a car online. About 2,000 of GM's 4,300 U.S. dealers have signed up to use it.

The GMIT Data Center Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Warren, Michigan. (Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors)

Shop-Click-Drive has helped GM sell 28,000 new vehicles since it rolled out nationally in November 2013.

GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney said Shop-Click-Drive added a mobile version in mid-April and leads jumped 20 percent a day for two weeks. She said one-third of Shop-Click-Drive's traffic is from mobile devices.

IT workers have been able to use computer-aided engineering to develop aerodynamic cars more efficiently, cutting down on wind-tunnel testing and reducing vehicle development time.

Information technology employees also have created tools for purchasing and the supply chain to improve reporting on global shipments and provide simulations on changes in supply and demand.

"Technology's going to continue to change and we're going to need to continue to build different capabilities for our different businesses, whether it's engineering, manufacturing, our sales organization, our dealers," Mott said. "Really, all parts of what we do is going to continue to move forward and also the things that our customers use in terms of mobile apps and things like that we continue to invest in."

GM Information Technology

Innovation Centers

Total employment: 5,000

Warren: Announced fall 2012 with hiring target of 1,500, but has hired about 1,800. Will add about 200 more this summer.

Austin, Texas: Opened fall 2012 with hiring target of 500.

Chandler, Arizona: Opened 2013 with hiring target of 1,000.

Roswell, Georgia: Opened 2013 with hiring target of 1,000.

Source: General Motors Co.