commentary The economic outlook is extremely hopeful; but are we doing everything we can to make sure it lasts?
It's often stated that when it comes to the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, the only constant is change. This is true not only of the technology itself -- with new developments occurring almost every day -- but also in relation to the various social and environmental factors impacting on ICT professionals.
Our economic pundits predict that Australia is moving into a period of stable growth with at least consistent consumer confidence, an optimism that is apparently borne out by a healthy increase in employment opportunities for ICT positions in the last six months of last year.
The IT Skills Hub, which monitors these and other key indicators of the health of our business, puts job growth at nearly 19 percent for the last half of 2003 and for the first quarter of this year, a 30 percent rise over the same period in 2003 -- admittedly from a low base as the job market had bottomed out.
If the financial soothsayers are right, then the trend should continue and ICT departments can confidently start looking towards driving their capabilities forward at least in step, but hopefully in advance of the enterprises they serve.
Currently, I see the short term being a time of developing human assets, seeking more effective integration with the business process, and plotting a strategic future course rather than a rush into new technologies.
Organisations must also have an eye on technologies that will give them a competitive edge. Often those technologies come from smaller companies and larger companies can be reluctant to look at them.
As a very wise CIO once said, if we all buy the same solutions and expect competitive advantage -- we have buying insanity -- you will at best get the same results as your competitor.
There's still plenty of work to be done in fully exploiting business -- enabling technologies like Web services, open source, supply chain, Wi-Fi, and business analysis/intelligence before plunging into as-yet less-travelled areas like RFID and utility/on-demand computing.
It would be good, for example, if CRM could be brought sufficiently up to speed to start offering some of the returns promised on investing in it before lusting after the next new train set in the techno toy shop.
The practitioners who stand to gain most warmth from this ICT sunrise will be those who continued to invest in themselves through multi-skilling and cross-skilling as personal development during the freeze.
Of particular interest to the ACS is an increasing trend for employers to seek qualified graduates. As a society we have worked hard to improve the prospects of those seeking to find a home for newly gained university qualifications by offering business convergence courseware to supplement academic knowledge. However, we balance this by encouraging employers to always consider mature workers. Often they pick up new skills very quickly and add tremendous maturity into an organisation.
The ACS is particularly keen to see any mature workers who are "offshored" to be reskilled. With so many people nearing those previously artificial retirement ages, we need to ensure that those workers have the choice to continue working if they want, to everyone's benefit.
The ACS has started running "Boot Camps" for final-year students to better equip them to both get a job and how to behave in the workplace. Both skills do tend to be a visible gap in young people.
The whole question of skills development must start way ahead of tertiary level however. The Government's recent AU$5.3 billion injection for its "Backing Australia" initiative is to be welcomed and the fillip ICT will get from this investment in science and innovation will have a valuable trickle down effect.
But unless there is a better planned and implemented effort to develop computer literacy across the board, much of the growth benefit that can come from funding like this might eventually amount to nought.
Edward Mandla is National President of the Australian Computer Society (ACS). The ACS attracts a membership (over 16,000) from all levels of the IT industry and provides a wide range of services. The Society can be contacted on 02 9299 3666, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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