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Utility sets IT department on path to self-destruction

Patrick Thibodeau and Jaikumar Vijayan | Sept. 24, 2013
Northeast Utilities in New England tells IT employees it may shift work to overseas firm, but hasn't set deal or severance plan if it comes to it

It's uncertain how much leverage the state has to keep the IT jobs. The utility is regulated, but it's also a private company. Last year, the Hartford-based NU merged with another utility, NSTAR, in Boston, to create an electric and natural gas utility with 3.5 million customers in three states. At the time of this announcement, the newly merged firms said they expect $780 million in merger savings over 10 years.

On Friday, the state attorney general, George Jepsen, and its consumer counsel, Elin Swanson Katz, asked public utility regulators to review the impact that the outsourcing of IT jobs could have the utility's ability to respond to major storm and outage concerns.

The Hartford Courant first reported on NU's outsourcing plans after it had spoken to some IT employees, with a promise of anonymity. An IT employee reached by Computerworld, who has begun a job search, said the company is telling them that the outsourcing contracts have not been finalized. All the employees are concerned, this worker said.

The IT job outlook for employees in the Hartford area, where NU is based, is mixed. The IT job market is not as good as it was five or six years ago, and the state is not seeing a lot of new industry development, said Santacroce. "We're sort of in this holding pattern," she said.

But NU has a reputation for having "a pretty good .Net shop," said Santacroce, and its developers may be in a good position, as will those with big data and business intelligence experience. IT desktop support, as well as telecom and network admins may have a tougher time, she said.

Santacroce said in a job hunt proactive people, who move quickly, will be in better shape, because a layoff of several hundred IT workers will "inundate the market fairly quickly."

Tom Mazzulla, a senior IT recruiter at iTech Solutions in Connecticut, said NU developers should be able to find something, but he said it's a difficult market overall.

"The employers are driving the market right now, and it allows them to be much more particular about who they are going to hire," said Mazzulla. "It allows them to take more time to hire, and it allows them to pay less."

One issue that has yet to arise is whether the offshoring the utility's IT services poses long-term security risks, particularly if work is moved offshore.

The mere fact that a utility company might be outsourcing IT functions to India, China or other offshore destination should not raise security red flags, said Joseph Weiss, managing partner at Applied Control Systems LLC and author of the book "Protecting Industrial Control Systems from Electronic Threat."


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