The war for talent is on

In our society "mature" is a euphemism for getting old. Analysts often describe a mature market as one without much potential and, certainly, mature markets can no longer sustain the high growth rates of the younger, often spryer market places.

Skills and knowledge have become the source of sustainable competitive advantage. Few doubt that e-markets that optimise business-to-business supply chains are the waves of the future. As a result, the Internet land-grab mentality has seized the "collective consciousness" of almost every industry.

The volume of information and the velocity at which it now travels in the community is increasing at an exponential rate. It is now widely accepted that the old industrial economy is rapidly being supplanted by an emerging knowledge economy.

What is less widely recognised is that this shift is having a major impact on our business and information management methods. To succeed in the knowledge economy enterprises today need to do more than just purchase new generations of IT -- they need to apply it to radically restructure business processes within their organisations and even entire industries. They need to replace the industrial-age automation mindset with one of creative business transformation.

Will IT leadership change?

IT leadership will include not just the CIOs or their direct reports but the CEOs and their direct reports.

The "new business" will change the role of the CIO from figuring out how IT can improve the performance of the enterprise to enabling their company to reinvent new infrastructures for wealth creation. Many companies are at this turning point now.

Although electronic commerce is, for many managers, just a way to do business without paper, it's their eyes, ears and mouth, it's actually at the very centre of their entire operation -- part of the company nerve centre -- part of the company brain. This is what ‘real' electronic commerce is all about. But understanding its true potential will require more than a few bullets and sound bites.

It will take time, patience and many "behind the scenes" explanations to deliver the whole message. Those who are successful will be those who are quickest to respond to the whims of the customer and the shifts of the marketplace demands.

The survivors will be fast on their feet, flexible in organisation and infrastructure, open minded, employing open systems and will have a committed workforce. To achieve this state, businesses large and small will require information that is accurate, timely, accessible and without the need of human intervention.

Changing shape

With the help of "Internet thinking", the rigidly structured organisation of yesterday is being replaced by one that is much more amorphous -- a geodesic dome-like structure with centres of competency interconnected to centres of information over an infrastructure based on e-commerce.

E-commerce is an extremely broad term that means a number of technologies and tools used to connect many disparate applications, personnel and departments internally as well as customers and suppliers. It's a lot more than software and services. It is a business strategy that enables the significant reduction of time, space, inventory and personnel costs, it's also the basis of the next generation of business process re-engineering.

The new tools enable -- and for many are forcing -- executives to see businesses differently.

IT leadership can't single-handedly drive change except within IT itself. For decades companies have been devoting more than half their capital budgets to IT, and in many cases managers have acted under the simplistic assumption that "improved information" results in increased productivity.

Interactions

Successful information systems must focus more on relationships and interaction than on information itself. Tomorrow's strategic investments will present more choices for organisations than they know what to do with.

Companies will also be able to set up the technology that best fits their kind of organisation -- rather than the other way around.

The value that organisations gain from these investments will depend on the foresight and intelligence that go into determining how people will use technology.

Technical wizardry was enough in the past to guarantee a reasonable amount of success. We can't rely on the company's old organisational chart anymore because there's barely any middle left, the top level keeps changing, and the bottom is becoming clogged with outsiders -- consultants and contractors. Resources must be committed early one, often without knowing the magnitude of the total investment, the end product or the scope of the likely impact.

Executives must have the vision and unwavering commitment to invest early enough to enable the business to make evolutionary adjustments and refinements to both the applications and their organisational requirements.

The search to find the best and the brightest will become a constant, costly battle, a fight with no final victory. The early skirmishes are being fought now, for the moment most of the action is guerilla warfare - brief raids in which most companies that are under attacked are unaware that they've been hit.

"If men come from Mars and women from Venus, then IT people come from Uranus"Glenn Norton, head of www.aussieshopper.com.au as quoted in the latest edition of The Industry Standard Australia, July 17, 2000. Look for it next Monday

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