Much Ado About Everything

With the Y2K dragon successfully slain, this should be the year the IT industry has the time to get proactive and tackle those burgeoning "To Do" lists. Projects such as e-commerce, knowledge management, application service providers (ASPs), and voice/data integration top the list for many IT professionals in 2000.

But the planned introduction of an Australian GST in July this year means that, ironically, some will be spending even more time "bug fixing" this year than last.

Here's what some IT managers, consultants, Web designers, software developers and network integrators will be focusing on this year.

IT Managers

It appears that, on the whole, Australian IT managers will be continuing the balancing act between business priorities such as e-commerce, with the legal need to prepare and respond to the impending introduction of an Australian GST.

E-commerce is a clear priority for Michael Young, vice-president of IT at Arnott's, but the focus will be on business-to-business rather than business-to-customer transactions. "Our focus for this year is fairly simple," Young said. "E-commerce is the big one. It's the overriding thing at Arnott's and Campbell's this year, mainly to do with the supply chain."

Young is hopeful e-commerce will take off this year: "There might be more action this year than talk. Last year there was more talk than action. It's a two- to three-year cycle. Some businesses hold back, so it takes a while to synchronise business-to-business e-commerce."

Business-to-business e-commerce will also be a priority for Sam Carter, national technology manager of business services chain, Kinko's.

"The main area of focus will be getting our online ordering system available on our Web site," Carter said. "The second order of business is to integrate all of our machinery into one country-wide network accessible from one central location. Last year was our first Australian venture onto the Web; 2000 will want to see us expand the capabilities."

Although the Y2K bug is no longer an issue, the need for GST preparation means that many businesses will still be in problem solving mode for at least the first six months of the year.

Kinko's Carter said that while Y2K preparation took about 1000 staff hours in 1999, he estimates GST preparation will take roughly double that time. Managing director of DA Consulting Group Gil Thew believes many Y2K consultants may find themselves at a loose end in 2000, but there will be plenty of work for those with the right skills.

"The IT skills shortage means we're about 30,000 short already. Releasing 5000 Y2K consultants means they will be sucked up into the 30,000 vortex," Thew explained. "A lot of Y2K consultants are basically code cutters and there is not a lot of reformatting left to do. There is an over-demand in e-commerce, Internet and intranet and virtual private networks (VPN) and an under-demand in application code cutting. Those with the skills will shift into Internet, intranet and e-commerce code cutting."

Thew anticipates a great deal of his work in 2000 continuing to come from knowledge management and enterprise resource planning (ERP).

"Knowledge management software and data warehousing will continue to be a big thing. It requires a lot of end-user training and implementation. I've been so tied up in the ERP thing, I never did Y2K."

Thew agrees that GST preparation is a huge issue for the first half of this year.

"GST will have a huge impact," Thew said. "Every slight change to the legislation will have a massive impact on business computer systems. We're getting ready for the surge of GST preparation. We have a couple of GST contracts starting January. Smart people will panic early. Some people will wait until May and then really panic. I tell you one thing: Mr Costello ain't going to change his mind. If you're not ready, they'll tax you anyway." Thew believes e-commerce will continue to grow in importance in 2000, but won't seriously take off until 2001.

"We will see a lot of pilots, evaluations and strategy papers this year and by 2001 it will be the accepted way to do business. It's a matter of when, not if it will take off. Businesses will start by using their Web pages for marketing because that poses the least risk to their financial systems and move into e-commerce from there."

ASPs, where software applications are hosted on a remote server and leased over a secure Internet line, rather than purchased in a box, will be an increasing source of income for consultants by the end of 2000, according to Thew.

"We are talking to ASPs now about providing Web-based training," Thew said. "End users still need to be shown. It's early days yet and there is a lot of work with systems and support."

Web Designers

The Internet industry will continue its boom, according to Webolution's Karl Veidis.

"A lot of people are fairly driven in the Internet market," Veidis said."Australia is where the US was 18 months ago. People are still floating break-offs and that certainly won't stop." Veidis said that 1999 was largely a year of "bug fixing" as businesses prepared their IT systems for Y2K.

Freedom from the Y2K burden would allow businesses to be more proactive in 2000, but Veidis predicts the GST would be a big focus for the first six months. "People have been focusing on Y2K and postponing GST preparation. GST will be a key issue for the first half of this year."

Unlike many Web companies with a more graphical approach, Websolution focuses on database solutions for the Web and offers a GST-compliant e-commerce product.

Veidis believes the Olympic Games in Sydney this year could provide an impetus for e-commerce but he draws shy of saying that e-commerce will take off this year.

"The focus of the world will be on Sydney during the Olympics and it would be the perfect time to put business on the Web," Veidis explained. "That may or may not occur. 1999 was supposed to be the year for e-commerce, but it wasn't."

Another issue Veidis highlighted was the recent government decision on high-definition TV, which could generate more interest in the Web TV space.

For Adrian Ballintine, executive chairman of e-commerce and Web development company MultiEmedia.com, the focus for 2000 is simple.

"What are we focusing on in 2000?" asked Ballintine. "ASP, ASP, ASP."

MultiEmedia.com is responsible for some of Australia's best known Web sites, including Thrifty Car Rental, Hamilton Island, Nissan Australia and General Motors Holden.

MultiEmedia.com is very focused on the ASP market, through its products like Zone Studio, which provides small and medium-sized businesses with the ability to create an e-commerce-enabled Web site for around $100 per month.

Ballintine also anticipates his company will be putting energy into developing applications and Web content for wireless application protocol (WAP) devices, such as mobile phones.

Software Engineers and Developers

The chairman of Software Engineering Australia, Tony Benson, highlights cost/benefit justification, scalability of e-commerce systems, and security and privacy issues as major themes for software engineers in 2000.

Benson believes the Y2K bug has made boards of organisations aware of their total dependency on their IT systems and the professionals who support them, and how expensive it can be to fix a single error.

"Boards concerned with their governance liabilities will now think very seriously about their processes for acquiring and developing software, to minimise the chances of such an exposure in the future," Benson explained. "They will start to consider software expenditure in the same light as any other large expense item - to be justified to the board in terms they can understand. This is turn will cause SE professionals to be required to present cost/benefit justification to boards and to be able to assure boards that their engineering processes are sound."

Benson said the processing demand of the Internet is increasing by five times each year, creating a great pressure to ensure that e-commerce systems are highly scalable.

"There is a distinct risk that the entire software superstructure on top of the hardware will collapse under this pressure," Benson said. "Professionals will be asked for assurance that the systems they are building or acquiring are able to meet future demands transaction."

Boards will also be seeking guarantees from their professional staff that the systems being implemented do not expose the organisation to unmanageable risk from security attacks or information privacy breaches, Benson said.

Mark Broadbent, the Asia Pacific developer programs manager of Sun Microsystems, believes knowledge management will continue to be a key issue in software development.

"As larger organisations grow, they become less able to respond to change and internal inertia sets in," Broadbent explained. "The Internet improved internal communication, but there is a need for something more formal. If you want to do 'X' you type that in and if somebody has already done that, it will come back with a report and a list of resources. Growth comes from the successful exploitation of ideas."

Linked with knowledge management is the growing use of Extendable Markup Language or XML, which allows the transfer of information between disparate systems.

Broadbent sits on a committee investigating XML for Australian use, and he believes this will be increasingly important in software development.

He is also a firm believer in the potential of Java as the primary programming language, and the advantages of Enterprise Java Beans.

"Of course you're talking to someone from Sun, but I truly believe Java will become the major programming language. It's already taught in schools and universities and it's become almost de rigour that this is what is used for development. Enterprise Java Beans allow the reuse of code, which is essential. It is too difficult to support the massive applications and operating systems we have now."

Network Integrators

While Y2K loomed big in the lives of software developers, it was less of an issue for networking consultants, according to Bill Nixon, the network consultant manager for Memorex Telex Australia. For Nixon the main change in 2000 will be a broadening of the capability and role of networks, with innovations like voice integration.

"There's a big push from a technological point of view," Nixon explained. "The biggest change will be the types of services networks can carry. For example carrying voice over the data network, so that you don't have to have a separate voice and data network. 2000 will be the year it is viable to have one network to do both. The advantage is a lower cost of ownership for the end user."

A continuing issue in 2000 will be network security, according to Nixon. As data volumes on networks continue to grow, the need to keep data integrity intact as it travels over the network becomes more important and more challenging.

E-commerce is top of the list for David Shein, managing director of network integration company Com Tech.

"E-commerce covers a lot of networking areas from Web development to call centre management," Shein said. "Our clients are among the top 250 companies in Australia and there is going to be a big change now that Y2K is behind them.

They can focus on being proactive rather than reactive.

The big organisations are embracing e-commerce. We play a role getting it up and running securely and providing infrastructure when necessary."

Shein also predicts work coming from Windows 2000 installation and training and - like Nixon - voice, video and data integration.

Whether they are IT managers, consultants, Web designers, software engineers or network integrators, and whether their time is occupied by GST, e-commerce, knowledge management, voice/data integration or ASPs, this coming year all IT professionals are likely to be considering their personal future. The IT skills shortage will continue to be an issue for employers in 2000, but the benefit for those in the industry is a greater degree of control over their careers and lives.

IT professionals across all sectors are mapping their careers and questioning where it's all leading, according to Sun Microsystems' Broadbent.

"The trend is gaining momentum in the industry," Broadbent said. "It's a matter of working out personal and professional goals and defining where you want to be and how to get there. Options include jumping into start-ups.

The skills shortage alters people's criteria for taking a job - it's not just about where the dollars are, but what opportunities and challenges you will gain."

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