Open Text beefs up IT talent while others slim down

When hard economic times are causing companies to announce massive layoffs, enterprise content management vendor Open Text Corp. is expanding its Waterloo, Ont.-based headquarters by 200 urgent-to-fill positions, half of which are in IT.

The company held a jobs open house Wednesday in Waterloo for about 100 IT roles including software development, quality assurance, architects, algorithm designers and customer support. The non-IT positions are in finance and business, among other areas.

But while heavy weights like Sun Microsystems Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are laying off workers in an effort to weather this economic storm, Tom Jenkins, Open Text executive chairman and chief strategy officer, acknowledging the mayhem, said “without a doubt, we are seeing the impact of the global slowdown. When you’re a high growth company, the impact means you’re growing less fast. It’s not that you’re not growing, it’s just that you’re growing slower.”

That said, Open Text is in a position to be spending on talent growth, said Jenkins, because of some internal organizational restructuring several months ago that included layoffs and office closures in other parts of the world that the company did not deem growth areas. The company, he said, “made some logical decisions about where we have to make our longer term investments.”

The situation for Open Text and its content management focus, said Jenkins, is such that the Web continues to grow as does the content it houses, albeit a little slower given the tough economy. That coupled with the ever-increasing requirements around regulatory compliance of content, with two-thirds of Open Text product sales stemming from implementing regulations based in the internet, puts Open Text in a good position to be hiring, said Jenkins.

“We’re just in a happy circumstance here that for the Waterloo office and these particular product areas, we see a lot of opportunity and growth,” he said.

One area where Open Text can grow, according to Jenkins, is “just sheer scale,” in that products the company designed even five years ago are not appropriate for today’s demands. “We’re getting into petabytes of information. Ten years ago when Open Text started with search engines, we were very happy to get a 10, 20 millisecond response time to a one gigabyte repository,” he said.

And while this issue is partially allayed by hardware improvements, Jenkins said there haven’t really been that many improvements in hardware. Instead, the issue whittles down to algorithms in areas like resolving security and metadata, he said, a challenge Open Text is seeking to resolve with its job openings.

But architects and algorithm designers are additionally important to Open Text “because in our world,” said Jenkins, “we worry about things like document management, we worry about things like collaboration, workflow, search algorithms, and crawlers, so very much the stuff you would expect today from a MySpace, Google, Facebook.”

In general, the IT job vacancies at Open Text run the gamut in terms of expertise level, from junior to senior talent, and, said Jenkins, the required skill sets aren’t anything “super-unique.” He said, “If you’re a mathematics or computer science grad and have experience in various popular languages, then that’s the kind of role.”

According to Warren Shiau, senior associate with Toronto-based consulting firm The Strategic Counsel, funneling money into research and development is a good move even in hard economic times. “With a company putting money into R&D, there is almost always something positive that comes out of it. R&D is not a bad thing in technology,” said Shiau.

Open Text’s expansion of its Waterloo facility in light of massive layoffs from other industry vendors, said Shiau, must be considered in the context of where employment at Open Text has shifted. “So if they, on balance over the past two years, have got rid of x per cent of overhead staff like administrative staff, and they’re now replacing a portion of that with R&D staff or product development staff, in many ways, you can say that is fairly good.”

That said, after laying off workers and shutting down some offices in other parts of the world, the move to expand in Waterloo may very well be a consolidation of R&D and product development efforts, said Shiau, and “could end up being cost efficient for them.”

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