E-commerce courses swing to business focus: E-commerce courses aim to bring out the techie and manager in all executives

E-commerce: the way tomorrow's 'normal' business will operate. - How many times have you seen this splashed across magazine and newspaper headlines in recent times? Back when it all started it was just hype, but now this cliche is becoming a reality.

With this emerging reality comes an imperative for executives across all industries to develop a thorough understanding of what e-commerce is and how it can help them do 'better' business.

Perhaps cashing in, but also promising to enlighten, are the providers of many new postgraduate level e-commerce courses aimed at senior managers.

These courses are a different breed to the 'techie' fare which has been around for a while. They focus on the crucial business issues concerned with enabling e-commerce for both traditional businesses and new ventures.

E-commerce courses for managers emerged only recently in Australia and are already a sell-out. And if education trends in the US are any indication, the courses will rise even higher in popularity.

Adam Weatheroey, e-commerce recruitment consultant for Morgan & Banks, said it has become increasingly important for executives to have a fundamental understanding of what e-commerce is and what it can do for business.

"Not only will it increase business speedwise, but it will make life more efficient for executives, right from your graduates through to someone who has 20 years of commercial experience."

Managers with e-commerce skills are in great demand too, "if you look at The Sydney Morning Herald on a Saturday, I think every other advertisement has something to do with e-management," Weatheroey said.

"A lot of my clients are after people with either IT backgrounds or managers who can combine commercial experience with a fundamental understanding of e-commerce.

"Now you can get that [kind of insight] from reading about the subject in journals, but there is nothing like getting a really good understanding by attending a seminar or doing a course," Weatheroey added. Such training can be selected from a growing pool of postgraduate courses, ranging from six months to three years, as well as part-time, short courses, and full-day seminars that deal with the strategic business issues of e-commerceAssociate professor Andy Koronios, head of the department of information systems for the University of Southern Queensland, was surprised by the popularity a new e-commerce subject, e-Business Strategy, introduced to "test the waters". Offered as an elective unit for the first time in semester one last year, with the expectation of attracting 20 to 30 students, the subject had 87 students rushing to sign on. It was offered again in semester one this year and in semester two, and now has 187 students enrolled.

"This is a large number for a postgraduate unit," Koronios said.

This single e-business unit has since become a foundation unit of a full Master of e-Business.

With so many new courses emerging, Weatheroey said it is very important to do your background research, as these courses can be expensive.

"A friend of mine is on a short e-commerce course and it is on three Saturdays, 9am to 5.30pm at $1000 for the whole course. He looked at some other courses and they were going to cost him anything between $6000 and $12,000, ranging from a six-week to 10- to 12-week course."

"You have to do your research very carefully to make sure that what you're spending is actually going to be worthwhile and that it will be useful to you in the future," Weatheroey said.

In terms of content of these courses, Koronios said potential students really need to look at courses that will help them form the strategic direction for their organisation; how to take their vision and mission and "align it with the e-world".

Satisfying this "strategic" requirement is the aim of Professor Ernie Jordan, professor of management and director of the e-commerce program for Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

"We are aiming our courses at people who've got good business experience and we [intend] to enable them to lead and manage e-commerce projects," he says.

"We want students to work out a strategy for e-commerce [for their organisation] that [covers] information technology, logistics and marketing. They [find] that suddenly [these all] have to fit together in a new way."

Jordan said their courses focus on a 50/50 split between technical and managerial content.

"The technology content is just enough to show them that this is actually a challenge, we don't expect to make them techies. We want them exposed to a variety of technology so they have some idea how this technology works; the kind of skills needed and the management issues in this area.

"The person doing our course should be the project leader, but we expect that the project leader should be able to really understand what they are expecting their techies to do."

This sentiment is also shared by Koronios. "Our Masters course is basically for CIOs, CEOs and upper management - the people that will actually set the e-strategy for the organisation and look after issues of trust, marketing, customer loyalty and security."

Although many of the postgraduate courses in e-commerce offered by Australian universities are relatively new, both Koronios and Jordan insist their courses will evolve and already have evolved to allow for new developments in this fast moving area.

The length of many postgraduate courses can be off-putting for some busy professionals, as some courses can take up to three years to complete and some content may 'age' before completion. But Weatheroey insists that "you have to bite the bullet" at some stage and your investment in time and expense would be "well worth" it.

"The industry journals will keep you up to date with the latest information and you can drop that information into your coursework. Many people I speak to are actually doing a correspondence course by either online learning or distance education."

The online courses in particular are very easy to update and keep current, according to Koronios.

Short courses and seminars are a popular alternative to postgraduate courses. Weatheroey said for someone who doesn't have any idea of what e-commerce is, a three-week course would give them a generic understanding of the topic that can be built upon in the commercial marketplace.

Mirvac's information technology manager, Stephen Taylor, agrees: "I get most of my knowledge from journals, but I have been to lots of seminars and have found them to be very valuable. I'm mainly interested in short courses and seminars, as I don't have time to do university courses."

While David Tennant, national information technology manager for Domino's Pizza Australia, believes seminars, which highlight the issues, are more appropriate for management. "However, they do not give you the necessary skills," Tennant said.

Jordan agrees. He said he believes seminars do not deliver good value for money. "If you go to a seminar, in many cases the audience doesn't have to do any work, people just sit there, it's like watching TV. The fact is that university courses make people do things, set them challenges and it is an educational experience."

For any company whether it be a traditional industrial company or a leading edge software house, it is becoming more and more important that it has an e-commerce strategy in place. Managers driving the e-commerce programs need a thorough understanding of e-commerce, how 'doing' business will change, and of the technology to ensure the right people are recruited. Increasingly, it does look as though e-commerce will become the 'normal' way of conducting business, in the very near future.

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