Your shout: The value of on-the-job experience

University is not the only place to study, and taking an IT degree is not the only way to gain IT skills.


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The value of on-the-job experience

University is not the only place to study, and taking an IT degree is not the only way to gain IT skills.

If the industry is serious about avoiding a skills shortage, organisations need to wake up to the importance of life-long learning, not scaremonger about a fall in graduate numbers.

Given the rate of change in the technical sector, degrees bring little concrete value to the business unless topped up with skills acquired on the job, whether through training or e-learning. Today, success is predicated by employees taking responsibility for their own learning, not just relying on a degree.

Barbara Greenway, managing director, Parity Training

You report the latest predictions from employers of a "skills shortage" due to fewer IT graduates coming on to the jobs market in the next few years. If only those same employers could find a pool of under-employed but experienced IT professionals to bridge that gap - people who would benefit from investment to bring their skills up-to-date and would stay with employers longer than the typical graduate.

But of course, these are the same employers that have been busy throwing their staff onto the scrap heap as they export jobs overseas, and refuse to employ anyone over the age of 35, as your letters page illustrates every week.

It is hardly surprising that few students are attracted to a career in IT that might only last 10 years before the next skills shortage coincides with yet more redundancies.

Chris Webster

Outsourcing to Eastern Europe

We welcome Gartner's outsourcing advice to businesses to consider Eastern Europe as well as established destinations such as India and China.

This advice comes hot on the heels of the news that Hyundai is following Volkswagon and Peugeot Citroen in investing in Slovakia.

Their choice is proof of the appeal of Eastern Europe to manufacturers as labour and manufacturing costs in Western Europe creep higher.

Gartner is right when it warns that a key criteria for assessing outsourcing destinations is software and hardware resources. Pilot projects need to be run to check the compatibility of enterprise resource planning systems, which need to be adjusted to handle differences in tax, currency and languages. International companies need to ensure their global operations comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations and the international financial reporting standards.

Increased investment in Eastern Europe is positive news, but we are advising customers that they need to consider these differences before moving their manufacturing to one of the new EU accession states.

Andy Eardley, vice-president EMEA, QAD

Taking the plunge and buying Linux

Many businesses today are still built on IT management decisions which are swayed by the name on the tin. When IBM ruled the world, no one ever got fired for buying Big Blue.

Now, when purchasing an operating system, there remains an almost religious belief that the brand which dominates the market must be the best, which inevitably pushes companies towards Windows.

However, Unix remains far superior to Windows as an operating environment. For example, Linux - today's most popular flavour of Unix - delivers a faster performance and is also more stable, more scaleable, more secure and substantially cheaper to run than Windows. All this guarantees a quick return on investment.

Linux was built for server computing. Windows aspired to it with the help of add-ons. But the lure of the established brand is powerful.

Managers narrow their eyes at the mention of open source, looking for the devil in the detail. There is no catch - just the risk of being seen not to buy Microsoft. Users should move away from making decisions based on the biggest brand and base them on benefit and value. Perhaps then Linux will move from cult status to an accepted religion.

Stephen Jay, director, Hansa Business Solutions

XBRL is a questionable choice of standard

I welcome the news that the Financial Services Authority is asking all financial firms to submit electronic reports by April 2005 (Computer Weekly, 9 March). However, the choice of using Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is questionable, given its proprietary nature and complex taxonomy controlled by national interests.

The implications of XBRL are profound. Analysts and stockbrokers would love a much easier and quicker way to receive and interpret results and for statutory filing to be far less error-prone.

Companies House and the Inland Revenue have stated intentions to use the UK XBRL dictionary in conjunction with the Institute of Chartered Accountants as a forerunner to wholesale adoption by the UK. But even they have become mired in the minutiae of detail for adopting XBRL. If national interests are this cumbersome, how can we expect international transparency in financial reporting?

We need financial systems to produce XBRL-based data for onward electronic submission, which is no mean task given the morass of different national reporting standards. So far the adoption by the main financial system suppliers has been lukewarm lip service rather then a concrete product.

The use of XML in this area makes a whole lot of sense. Common standards are needed if we are to move forward, and XML is clearly the most suited to the current environment (which is set to last for the foreseeable future). However, the choice of XBRL as the schema for statutory reporting is questionable.

Running a business is not just about orders and invoices. Financial reporting is the end game, and if you cannot do that credibly, all the sales in the world will make very little difference.

Eduardo Loigorri, managing director, Exchequer Software

Work smarter to comply with EU working hours

I read with interest your report on the suffering health and productivity of IT staff (Computer Weekly, 9 March).

The European Commission's Working Time Directive limits an individual to working 48 hours a week. So far, the directive has not had a major impact on professional services firms in the UK, but it takes just one employee to support the directive to upset the applecart.

Professional services organisations now have to face the biggest test of their existence to date - continuing to deliver above their client's expectations to ensure their service offering remains indispensable, without simply turning a blind eye to EU legislation and over-working staff to the point of burn-out.

To keep employees as satisfied as their clients, service organisations have to automate core business processes to improve project management, administration and scheduling of resources.

It is not about working longer or harder, it is about working smarter, which means matching the right skills to the right projects and making the best use of staff across the company - something many companies are unable to achieve because they are over-reliant on manual processes.

Only by having accurate data about people skills, attributes and availability in one snapshot are service organisations able to take action to address inefficiencies in workload and boost productivity of projects, profit margins and improve staff morale, and therefore staff retention.

Len Palmer, managing director, SharpOWL

Sun should make Java the industry standard

Last year was a difficult economic year for the software industry and 2004 is turning out to be a challenging year for an entirely different reason.

This year open source will either become a cornerstone of the entire industry or will wither and fade. If Linux is derived from royalty-bearing intellectual property, SCO shareholders will become wealthy as the industry pays. If SCO's position is disproved, Linux will then be the operating platform of choice.

If SCO wins, Sun's shareholders may also be happier, which may resurrect hope that Sun can rebuild its leadership in proprietary Unix.

Sun has reached a fork in the road with Java. Sun could embrace IBM's suggestion and make Java freely available and explicitly unencumbered from patents. A Trojan horse-free Linux would result in Linux and Java being the foundation for the entire industry. Or Sun can continue to guard Java and aspire to collecting future licence revenue to rebuild its fortunes.

Why should Sun and its shareholders act magnanimously? Could Sun build a new business on services and added value to open source Java? Or does it believe it could build a successful business from royalty-bearing software in opposition to Microsoft and C#?

Successful software companies are going to be those that help their customers get maximum and durable returns from investment. Sun should say yes to IBM and move on to the real opportunity.

Chris Horn, chief executive, Iona Technologies

See compliance as a business opportunity

CGI strongly agrees with the sentiments expressed by Jim Fleming, that the commercial environment is becoming more regulated (Computer Weekly, 9 March). Compliance is required in almost all aspects of the business, from health and safety to accounting standards and financial regulation.

Investment in new technologies will almost certainly help businesses comply with the changing regulatory environment and will encourage a rise in corporate IT spend. However, it should not be viewed as a drain on resources or as disruptive to business.

Compliance is simply bringing forward an inevitable overhaul in processes and will bring UK IT huge benefits in the long run.

Regulation brings a real chance to overhaul existing business processes, improve efficiency and, with careful planning, bring rich rewards.

Andrew Nightingale, senior business consultant, CGI Group (Europe)

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