New skills for a new economy

By Brett Mendel, InfoWorld |  Business

THE REVOLUTIONARY EFFECT of electronic commerce on corporate business models has
been well-documented, to say the least. The prospects of eliminating supply-chain
inefficiencies, communicating more directly with customers, and collecting more market
data than ever before have made even the stodgiest executives curious about the
potential of Web-based commerce.

But although the changes are already under way, the real IT revolution may not be
seen until after the millennium. Overburdened IT departments have had their hands full
with a variety of problems, notably the year-2000 nuisance.

That, in turn, has kept many IT managers from thoroughly dealing with electronic-
business needs, if at all.

"The move to e-commerce among our [Fortune 1,000] clients is being driven more by
people in marketing and sales," says Trevor Fagerskog, managing partner of e-commerce
at USWeb/CKS, a consulting company in Cupertino, Calif.

But that constraint will vanish next year, leaving the IT staff to adapt to the Web-
based world themselves.

"The current situation will radically change in the year 2000 when IT departments
have the bandwidth to focus on it," Fagerskog says.

Corporate IT looks ready to change in many ways because of e-business. However,
industry observers say that one major force will underlie those changes: The Web is
turning companies inside out, exposing more of their internal processes to the world
outside.

As that continues to happen, IT organizations and employees will need to hone their
business acumen and interpersonal skills as much as their technological skills.

"IT is getting sucked out of the enterprise," says Tom Koulopoulos, president of
The Delphi Group, a technology consulting and research company in Boston. "Rather than
responding to just the internal needs of the company, technology people will be used as
more of a peripheral sensory organ."

That will mean more contact with customers and business partners and greater
emphasis on business knowledge.

The new face of IT

Light-fixture manufacturer Lithonia Lighting has already started to experience the
trend. The company's IT staff has shifted from technocentric managers and developers to
business-savvy strategists with technological leanings.

"I now find my people in front of customers a lot, helping deploy solutions," says
Jeff Kernan, vice president and CIO of Lithonia, in Conyers, Ga. "They need to talk to
customers, communicate well, and understand the business implications of their
work."

Not surprisingly, Lithonia has seen the number of programmers in its 184-member IT
department drop from 40 percent to 20 percent.

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