The President - Raising the Standard in E-Commerce

The stock market correction that targeted dotcom shares came as a surprise to no one. Industry observers had been saying for several months that a correction was inevitable because of the way that Internet-related shares were being grossly overvalued in relation to their earnings potential.

The key result of the market's reaction has been a far more sober approach to investing, which has in fact led a number of major IT companies to delay their initial public offering until conditions are more favourable.

The frenzy that for a time surrounded dotcom stocks has also permeated broader attitudes relating to e-commerce, to the extent that many companies approach their e-commerce activities with an urgency that tends to override their usual caution or attention to detail.

We've seen numerous examples of companies that have developed Web sites or e-commerce applications in a rush in order to be first to market, but without giving sufficient consideration to quality control or performance issues.

The result has been some widely publicised failures, which have highlighted the new paradigm in which corporate mistakes become very public when made online.

In the past, companies could usually prevent issues or failures from becoming public knowledge, but with the Internet, mistakes are visible to the world.

Not only can this reflect badly on an organisation's standing within its industry or the business community, but potential customers who become aware of errors or problems with a corporate Web site will naturally question that company's quality control and ability to deliver on its promises.

E-commerce systems often involve a higher degree of complexity than those previously used by most businesses, and issues such as reliability, around the clock availability, scalability, compatibility and usability play a critical role.

Add to this the spiralling costs associated with designing, building and operating a successful e-commerce site, and the current shortage of IT professionals with experience in this area, and the potential for failure is very real.

Because e-commerce is such a new and revolutionary area, teams of people from different disciplines are required. A large proportion of people operating in this sector do not have exposure to the knowledge, discipline and methodologies which have been built up by IT professionals.

E-businesses require the same project management, design and test skills used in other mission critical projects.

As technology continues to permeate every aspect of our lives, a more professional image is essential within this industry to ensure a consistently high standard of product and service delivery.

Nowhere is this more important than in the world of e-commerce, where the stakes are high, and professional skills, methodologies and ethics can mean the difference between success and failure.

The importance of government support for this key industry sector cannot be overstated, and I've already commented in my last column about my disappointment at the lack of focus on IT in the last Federal Budget.

I believe that for IT to further raise its profile within the corridors of Parliament House, we need to cooperate and collaborate more as an industry and reach a situation where we can lobby the Government with a unified voice.

I see this as a major priority for the industry over the next 12 months and the ACS has already begun working on a number of initiatives aimed at achieving this end. In South Australia, the State Government is funding the establishment of an industry-based body that will represent all key stakeholders' interests within the industry.

The SA-based IIDG will provide a more unified channel for the industry, in addition to each association having its own voice on specific issues, delivering benefits both for the industry and government policy-makers. The ACS is a founding member of this body and believes it provides a model that could also work well at a national level.

While those ministers representing IT&T understand the issues affecting the industry, they often face an uphill battle when it comes to persuading their Cabinet colleagues to be receptive to their requests for funding.

If the major industry bodies combine their efforts and resources to create a unified, strong platform that encompasses the key issues common to all of us, our efforts will be far more focused and persuasive than we can possibly be as independent entities.

The ACS has begun discussions with a number of key players within the industry about establishing a national version of South Australia's IIDG, and would welcome approaches from other bodies who would like to be involved.

This initiative has the potential to significantly raise the profile of the IT&T industry within the minds of Federal Government decision-makers.

We'll keep you informed of on-going developments as we work to see this take place.

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