Consulting companies concentrating their energies on capturing a chunk of the lucrative e-commerce market are crying out for recruits with e-commerce savvy. And they're exploring all manner of innovative remuneration incentives and options as the consultancies compete to seduce the best of the best to fuel the engines they hope will inflate their margins and take them to the very topThe escalating battle for talent is creating all kinds of opportunities for IT professionals and reflects the huge appetite for e-commerce skills and the equal paucity of talent worldwide. Like all the other organisations trying to stake a claim in the e-commerce world, the big consulting firms know their success in the online world depends on their ability to attract and retain the right people.
Companies at the fiercest focus of the skills battle, like Cap Gemini, SAP, and Cisco, have already learned to pay greater heed to meeting employeeaspirations, delivering rewards and empowering individuals to meet their own professional goals and skills development.
Australian consulting companies wanting to build their businesses have no choice but to do the same, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu e-business head Peter Williams said.
"The biggest challenge [for e-business] is that given the amount of Internet-related work there is at the moment, there won't be enough people on the planet to be able to effectively implement it all," he said.
Williams is doing just that. For a start, he has a young lad sitting in his office who not only works for him, but runs an e-business on the side.
Both parties see the deal as a win/win situation. The young man gets exposure to some of the world's larger e-business projects. Williams gets the benefit of next-generation e-business experience and the chance to bounce ideas off someone who is already paving his own path in the new economy.
Deloitte Consulting's global operation intends introducing an equity-based profit-sharing scheme to try to stop employees leaving to join dot com startups, after losing 200 of the best of its 7000-strong US workforce in January alone. When the local arm recently acquired 20 per cent of the Eclipse Group, one of the fastest growing e-content providers in Australia, partners and staff were offered a 10 per cent interest for similar reasons.
PricewaterhouseCoopers' Management Consulting Services practice launched an organisation-wide e-commerce initiative last year. The new group cuts across all the New York-based company's consulting practices, including strategic management consulting. It's been hiring hundreds of people each month to staff the group.
It has also established a new Internet services offering called Determinet, which debuted in Australia and which brings together its Internet related application development capability and strategic consulting expertise.
Determinet will deliver "end-to-end" Internet/extranet/intranet strategic planning and development capability to global and Australian companies.
PricewaterhouseCoopers Asia Pacific IT systems integration practice leader Fred Balboni said the organisation's systems integration business had grown well in excess of 40 per cent over the last two years, with more than 70 per cent growth in the last year alone. "We don't see any slowdown in that whatsoever," he said.
That would mean opportunities for hundreds of people in the Australian market alone, he said. The company has also become increasingly oriented towards a performance-based reward system and a global task force was considering "alternate means to be able to create new ways of incenting people to ride the e-business wealth creation wave for everybody".
When it comes to e-commerce, there are very specific technical skills IT employers want their consultants to possess.
Depending on the size and volume of the sites to be developed, an e-commerce consultant or specialist should not only understand basic HTML, databases and Web server hardware and software but also a client's needs, so the client can manage the site after the consultants are gone. They must have team skills, since most sites contain more than just a Web page that's linked to a database and thus require a group development effort.
Employees must be able to lead a team that includes skilled people who know graphics, databases, secure credit-card transactions, e-mail servers, software client licence issues and server load balancing (for large sites) inside and out. They must also have reliable relationships with Internet service providers, in case a client needs to co-locate some servers away from its immediate premises.
And because the lines dividing IT consulting and management consulting are so blurred in the e-commerce arena, a strong business orientation is a real plus - so much so that universities like MIT are now creating degrees that combine computer science with more traditional business curricula.
Adam Weatherley e-commerce Internet recruitment consultant for Morgan and Banks Technology, works with e-commerce specialist consultancies, Internet service providers, application service providers and dot coms as well as the Big Five.
"The sort of person I would typically speak to at the senior end would be the strategist and business development manager for e-commerce," he said. "That person would require some networking skills, such as LAN/WAN, IP protocols and satellite mobile systems, and would certainly have some sort of certification in IT.
"They would have a knowledge of Windows NT and Unix as platform knowledge, because that's what an e-commerce solution would typically run on, and would also be familiar with the development of Web pages - which means having Adobe, Photoshop and Illustrator skills."
Weatherley also said that specialists in object oriented development, such as Java and C++, are high in demand in what is fast becoming a "candidate short market".
He said the ideal e-commerce recruit would come either from a classic IT background or have Web development orientation.
However, business knowledge would be a bonus as setting up an e-commerce system requires strategic alliances with other organisations like Web hosting companies, he said.
Meanwhile Andersen Consulting has established Andersen Consulting Ventures, a global venture capital fund that will invest $1US billion in new electronic businesses over the next five years. Two Australian submissions are under consideration by the Ventures group.
The company has also announced the establishment of 17 dot com launch centres around the world, including one in Australia. This is a dedicated group of Andersen Consulting personnel with strategy, technology, operations and administration skills in e-business, who work with venture capital firms, law firms, and incubators to arrange funding, organise IPOs, expand nationally and internationally.
"These are post incubation' centres for start-up and spin-off businesses that already have initial funding and the core management team in place. We work with these businesses to rapidly take them to revenue generation, market expansion and often IPO," Andrew Macpherson, Andersen Consulting managing partner, e-commerce program in Asia Pacific, said.
"We have received positive responses from the Australian marketplace because of the size of our commitment, and because we are helping companies through that critical expansion stage of growth. A further attraction is our ability to help these organisations to expand rapidly into the US and Europe. These initiatives will create employment opportunities for technology and business people to work in eBusiness. As a part of the dot-com initiative I have established technology-build centres in both Sydney and Melbourne, staffed with full-time e-business specialists."
Meanwhile Cap Gemini and Ernst & Young have reached an agreement on the terms and conditions for combining their consulting and IT services in a bid to become a leading player in the sector.
Although the initial agreement covers Ernst & Young Consulting businesses in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, Australia is expected to join the agreement shortly.
Information technology consulting firms, both large and small, are reorienting their strategic focuses, creating dedicated e-commerce divisions and hiring dozens, if not hundreds, of people. It's part of a worldwide trend that has no end in sight.
Year after year, says Cambridge Technology Partners in its New Economy Primer, the gap in value creation is growing between companies that employ intellectual capital and those with an asset-based business model.
"As more of the world's business migrates from asset-based economies - tons of iron ore, barrels of oil, acres of bananas - to fundamentals of creativity and innovation, intellectual capital will become the dominant source of value creation for both customers and shareholders alike."
And while asset-based businesses will continue to be players in the New Economy, the work that takes place in these companies will rely less on physical labour and more on the knowledge-based engines of productivity that ultimately shape their business models and dictate their economic viability.
"If you don't invest in recruiting and rewarding the bright sparks who'll fuel the innovation engine that inflates your margin, your competitors will. And if you don't connect all that intelligence, you're wasting it," Cambridge says.
"Businesses must match this new orientation and create the right recruitment and retention infrastructure to reap its benefits," Forrester Research says.
Williams agrees the incentives will become increasingly necessary as businesses battle with new dot com organisations to attract and retain e-commerce staff.
He said he talks to dot com staff every day that have come out of IT consulting firms, more traditional IT shops or marketing departments.
"These guys are all good people, and they're just walking out of everywhere," Williams says.
The e-commerce market is expected to generate more than $US20 billion in revenue worldwide this year, according to market researcher IDC.
A few months into maternity leave, Cathy Benko received a call at home from her boss, the chairman of Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group. Would Benko like to oversee the company's worldwide e-commerce service initiative, which would likely include the creation of a dedicated business unit? her boss asked.
It was an opportunity Benko was hard-pressed to pass up. For Deloitte & Touche, establishing a separate business is unprecedented, said Cathy Benko, who oversees the company's worldwide e-commerce service initiative, and drives home just how important this area of the marketplace has become to IT consultants and their clients.
Benko is working to create a business plan that will enable the company to support its clients with end-to-end e-commerce services that integrate business strategy with leading-edge, Web-enabled technology.
Although the plan is still in the works, the human resources needed to staff the unit are clearly immense, says Benko. Early estimates show a need for at least a dozen senior-level partners supported by perhaps hundreds of people with varied levels of experience and expertise in business strategy, enterprise computing, Web design and interactive marketing.
"With the kind of market that is looming right in front of us and outrageous growth rates that keep increasing, we're looking inside and outside for talent," Benko says. Moreover, she says, Deloitte & Touche is looking to recruit people who are outside the stereotypical hiring profile for a Big Five consulting company.
In Benko's unit, pinstripes will sit alongside ponytails and jeans. The key prerequisite for new hires, she says, is prior hands-on experience with e-commerce. But finding people who fit that description is no easy task, and it's the difficulty of the search that's causing companies to break traditional hiring moulds across the IT consulting arena.
IT consulting firms are looking for people who, as members of a team, can help clients integrate both existing technology and business processes with new online business strategies - endeavours that increasingly involve complex transaction processing that goes well beyond simple order-taking.