The Internet age is not over just because a few dotcoms have run into difficulty, says Martin Butler, who believes that the continuing skills shortage should be of more concern
The cold winds of recession may not have hit the global economy just yet, but there are chilly winds starting to blow around parts of the IT industry. Some 30 years ago, it was miners, shipbuilders, car workers and steel workers that were facing the prospect of being without work. Now, it is the IT corporations that are laying off their workforces in large numbers.
If recession is an indication of a mature market then the Internet age seems to have come and gone very quickly. And how does the shedding of staff equate to the skills shortage? Accepted, there is a skills gap to take into account, but although miners might have found it hard to become Internet whiz-kids, are we really to believe that there is no possible skills update roadmap to follow? Is that boring phrase 'the rate of change' actually being understated? The rate of change, given these two factors - people out of work, and jobs available in the same sector that they can't fill - must have exceeded anybody's imaginations.
Swallowing the truth
Perhaps the truth is less palatable, especially for those e-businesses that thought anything Internet related was a licence to print money. Any new age has its share of disappointments. Not every new start-up company at the beginning of the Industrial Age made it through to become a multi-national organisation. Many folded in the first flush of youth. Similarly, even those that survived to become household names didn't do so without some digression from the straight and narrow path to success.
What is happening in the IT industry at the moment is no more than a reflection of this. The market is immature. People are trying out new ideas. This is not a bad thing, it is not something to discourage. However, we must be wary of tarring everyone with the same brush when failure occurs.
A couple of dotcoms run into difficulty, and every man and his dog prophecises the end of e-business (before it's really got started). This is patent nonsense. E-business is not going to fail simply because some dotcoms didn't have a real business model.
The people who should be worried are not those that are investing in a strong e-business infrastructure, but the get-rich-quick merchants who saw an opportunity to continue the culture of the 1980s and early 1990s and brought to market solutions that never stood any chance of success. Not only were these people trying to continue the culture of that period, but in many cases they were bringing along the business morality (or lack of it) as well.
I cannot believe that the whole future of business is going to be put in jeopardy by the actions of a greedy few. This is not to say that every company that has failed has done so by reasons of bad management or that the motives were not genuine, but there were some who climbed aboard what was seen as a gravy train of immense proportions.
The skills gap that appears to be a constant state of concern is more worrying. With experienced people available, this chasm should not be as large as it is. Organisations have to take responsibility in training their personnel in the latest techniques and systems. The barrier to this is now quite visibly disappearing. The old argument that spending money training staff was just an open invitation for them to leave for a higher paid position is becoming weaker by the day.
Change in the info age
The thought that people will be lured away from positions were they are respected and in which they have operated effectively by the promise of huge share options and instant fortune no longer holds true. If people like that still exist, then you are probably better off without them anyway.
The information age is going through rapid change. This change, or maturing, is just the same as any other market repositioning that has happened in the past. All we have is the same set of circumstances compressed across the timeline.
The base on which we are all trying to build the new business model is not fatally flawed, as some would have us believe. The fact that one organisation in a specific solution space loses 84% of its market value in a year, does not make the relevance of that solution type invalid, it simply means that this specific solution did not match up to what was required. It was the business model that was wrong, not e-business itself - even though they were playing in that large market space.
Recently C&A - the high-street clothes retailer - closed its stores. I failed to hear any 'expert' saying that this would mean we would all have to walk around naked, because 'clothes didn't work'.