Experts claim it's hard to predict what is going to happen in the e-commerce sector because it hasn't experienced a "cycle" yet. But Chris Seller explains how we can learn lessons from history.
When Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon.com, was asked to predict whether 2003 was going to be another tough year, he observed that the e-commerce business was too new to have experienced cyclical peaks and troughs.
He said, "If you talk to somebody like General Motors they can say 'well yeah, here’s an event and this is like 1972 and x, y and z happened, so this is what we think is gonna happen'. We don’t have that."
When it comes to predicting the fate of the ICT sector, pundits either take the long view, making the same claim that we haven’t experienced a cycle yet, or the short view, basing predictions on the short cyclical patterns that have occurred in the information revolution thus far.
However, Peter Drucker, in his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century, takes the historical view.
Drucker compares the information revolution with the previous one; the information revolution driven by Gutenburg’s printing press. Specifically, he parallels the rise and fall of the people who operated the printing presses with their modern counterparts, the IT professionals.
At first, printers were feted across the land and profited accordingly. Their skills were highly regarded and sought after. However, once the market for printers was satiated, their kudos slipped and they became just another trades group.
It was possible to dismiss the parallel as merely interesting until coupling it with a recent E-Skills UK report on the ICT sector which identified a decline in the workforce’s skills shortage.
The report also called for greater links between employers and colleges to make graduates "more work ready". If the declining skills shortage indicates a potential problem for ICT professionals, then the call for becoming "more work ready" is the solution.
The professionals of the last information revolution became just another trade because they failed to evolve their skill set appropriately.
While it is true that in the 21st century technology has ingratiated itself into every cranny of business operations, technology operators have not, and they risk becoming the blue-collar workers for the information age. If they want to avoid this fate, they should focus on becoming more business aware.
ICT professionals need to hone their business skills rather than pursue ever more specialised technology skills. They need to approach their profession, and their everyday functions, from the perspective of the business. It is only by adding value to the business that they will remain relevant beyond the trade of technology.
Momentum is gathering towards a backlash against the ICT sector. Businesses, having felt a loss of control over ICT investments, are less inclined to continue being led by ICT professionals.
Too often a divide exists between a business and its technology, and the people operating within each group. Ideally the responsibility to bridge this divide should rest with both groups, although ICT professionals would be well advised to take the initiative by improving their business skills.
By doing so, the fate presaged by Drucker’s parallel may not befall the ICT profession. After all, engineers remain a core professional body even though the industrial age is over. Chartered engineers that is, not the guys in overalls brandishing screwdrivers.
What do you think?
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Chris Sellers is the managing director of Digital Thinking Partners and co-author of the book, Harness the Beast!
This was first published in February 2003