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Talent, And How To Use It

In the two-and-a-half years I've been writing about IT for CMP Media, I've noted one thing over and over again: IT is not mainly a 0s and 1s business or a hardware or software business, but a talent business.
In fact, every business is. If you ID, acquire and keep talent, the other stuff tends to happen. Keeping talent is as crucial as the other two components because the financial hit you take from disrupting your organization, committing time and money to retraining and integration of new talent, etc., is almost always a lesser option than paying a little more for the talent you already have. And it's the responsibility of ownership of any company to recognize this and make sure that happens.

That lesson is reverberating in a couple places in the Boston area today. Red Sox Nation is still digesting the loss of young, innovative general manager Theo Epstein after he and club ownership couldn't agree on a contract and working conditions that would keep him aboard. Who could have imagined that one year and four days after the team hoisted its first World Series trophy in 86 years, the architect of that win would be gone? It's hardly good PR, and probably dumb strategically too.

Up the road a few towns in Waltham at Novell corporate HQ, the focus may not be as intense, but the talent drain may be more so. Novell is looking at a workforce cut of as much as 20 percent of its entire operation, and the hack is going to include a chunk of the SUSE Linux team.

Wall Street may be placated by this "streamlining" for a while -- at least until the next quarter. But at a time when Linux is advancing as never before -- particularly as a server platform -- this is a horrendously backwards strategy. Novell can't possibly drive SUSE as a maturing enterprise product if the're canning the people who will keep it fresh and useful in the market. Investment analysts and customers aren't pleased with CEO Jack Messman and his team, but Novell insists that the moves are part and parcel of a strategy ready to show results. We'll see over the next year whether the company can translate less talent into better software and more sales.