Mobile skills are key to the future

E-business applications skills are rapidly falling from favour, according to the most recent SSP/Computer Weekly survey of IT...

E-business applications skills are rapidly falling from favour, according to the most recent SSP/Computer Weekly survey of IT skills and salaries. But it is a little early to start poring over those old mainframe textbooks just yet.

We are standing on the threshold of a brave new world of mobile services and, as more and more organisations begin to explore this world's many possibilities, for IT professionals it could prove to be a land of milk and honey.

Forrester Research is predicting that the UK's nascent mobile payments market will be worth £2.8bn by 2005. Already, examples of practical applications are surfacing.

Two weeks ago, for instance, mobile phone operator Vodafone unveiled M-Pay Bill, a mobile payment service that allows consumers to pay for low-cost items online and have them charged to their mobile phone bills.

This week brings the news that cash machine network the Link is in talks with the major mobile operators to offer customers the facility to top up their pay-as-you-go mobile phone accounts via their ATM machines.

Meanwhile, the concept of using a mobile phone or other handheld device to retrieve cash from ATMs more speedily and safely by carrying out the transaction remotely looks close to becoming a reality.

Once providers offer services that enable us to link mobile payments services directly to point of sale systems, and so turn our devices into electronic wallets, the mobile market should go through the roof. The expected boom in third-generation (3G) mobile phones and services will leave banks, service providers, retailers and mobile network operators competing in a gold rush, both for competitive advantage and for appropriate skills.

Getting yourself trained in the most timely and lucrative skills is, in the IT industry, a matter of second-guessing at the best of times. But in the current climate, where feisty business application projects are thinner on the ground than they have been for many a year, backing a racing certainty can mean the difference between dosh and dole.

Mobile business will throw up killer applications that will send some companies into orbit, and consign others to the pages of corporate history. As these applications materialise, we can expect companies to rush headlong into project implementation phase.

As mobile operator links up to bank links up to service provider, skills in mobile systems development, back-office integration and project management will become like gold dust.

Web designers, billing systems specialists and IT professionals skilled in 3G, Java and mobile platforms such as Palm OS and Symbian can expect to find themselves in great demand in the coming months and years. And, of course, there are the security skills and considerations that will clearly need to underpin mobile business if it is to flourish.

Put simply, that little plastic device in your jacket pocket that insists upon chirruping at the most inopportune moments could turn out to be your passport to a secure future.

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