E-Business Skills Shortage will Eclipse IT Gap

BOSTON (06/05/2000) - We all know about the current shortage of IT professionals. International Data Corp.'s Michael Boyd calculates that this year, there will be a demand for 4.5 million IT professionals in the U.S. vs. a supply of 4.1 million.

Scary. But not as scary as an even bigger shortage on the horizon: e-business professionals. These are the people running the online companies and divisions that are going to drive trillions of dollars of e-commerce over the next five years. They are online marketing executives, busi ness planners and strategists, content creators, product line managers and so on. Some are even IT professionals.

As part of a recent e-commerce forecast, I had to estimate the number of individuals involved in making those trillions happen. Some are IT professionals, covered in the Boyd numbers, and some are non-IT professionals employed by vendors. But most are professionals working in the e-businesses themselves. A small percentage of them work in dot-com companies, but a lot more work in brick-and-mortar companies.

The numbers don't look too bad today. I estimate that there was demand for less than 5 million e-business professionals last year, and most of that demand was filled. It may have been filled with kids under 30 years old or by executives drafted from off-line business units, but it was filled.

But if e-commerce meets that multitrillion-dollar prediction, the demand for e-business professionals will grow to 20 million positions, making it bigger than the worldwide community of IT professionals.

Where will these people come from?

The two best sources will be enlightened individuals in off-line business units and IT professionals with the right personalities and attitudes.

What does this mean for you?

If you're an IT professional with "crossover" aspirations, some business background or acumen and the right personality, you'll have much better job opportunities. You can leave the IT profession behind and become an e-business executive (and your IT background will help).

But if you remain in IT, you will increasingly work hand-in-glove with e-business colleagues, many of whom will either be inexperienced in business but big in the online stuff, or experienced in business but clueless in technology.

We already see this dichotomy in the world of Internet start-ups - the laboratory for tomorrow's Internet economy. There aren't enough people with both business and online experience, so we see companies hastily formed around business plans and populated by young people with little real-world experience and whatever wizened veterans the venture capitalists can find to give their investments a fighting chance.

Since a lot of tomorrow's e-business execs are likely to be draftees, the opportunity for IT professionals to have real impact on company strategy, product plans and sales will rise dramatically. When the business is e-business, the technologists have to be in on the ground floor and at the inception of the business. For many, this will be a heady experience. But it isn't risk-free. You'll be helping to make decisions that affect the future of your company, not just implementing the decisions of others. I hope you're up to the task.

John Gantz is a senior vice president at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts. Contact him at jgantz@idc.com.

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