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Opinion - The gold rush -
(January 2000)
The floodgates are about to open. The Butler Group’s Mike Thompson looks at how Windows 2000 will affect training companies.

If there is one thing certain about the IT industry, it is that training organisations will never be short of work. Actually, there are two certain things about the IT industry; the other been that analysts will always have plenty to write about. For both groups of people, the biggest thing since the last biggest thing is about to happen – namely the release of Windows 2000. While a date is yet to be set, and even when it is it will probably change at least twice, the inescapable fact is that the time is coming close, and while analysts are sharpening their quill pens, training organisations will be bringing in extra seats to cope with the expected influx of eager managers, keen to learn about the wonders of this new platform.

Harvest time

Training organisations are set to reap huge rewards as businesses start to migrate to Windows 2000 and face the often forgotten costs of implementing new systems. These costs are not simply concerned with training, but also with the fact that Windows 2000 will bring with it an in-built skills shortage that is likely to last for at least two years. Anybody involved in training, especially those having to foot the bill, will tell you that it is not cheap. However, it is necessary, and it brings with it the added burden of ensuring that money spent on upgrading staff ability is then used for the benefit of the business and not just to give individuals a more marketable CV.

Windows 2000 may or may not be the best thing since sliced bread, it may be the end of Unix, and it may be the start of world domination for Microsoft. Most of these possibilities are irrelevant when placed next to the fact that if, as an organisation, you are committed to Microsoft, then – by default – you are committed to Windows 2000. The key here is whether that is sooner rather than later. The early implementers will have to bear the brunt of the training cost; they will also have to ensure that these newly trained personnel do not disappear into a welcoming market place. There are two main ways of ensuring employee loyalty in this situation – money or incarceration. The former, by way of salary increases or lump-sum golden handcuff payments, is likely to cause resentment among the rest of the workforce who will feel ignored twice over (once by not been given the chance to upgrade their skills, and again by losing out on the money). The latter is likely to cause even more complications, as most employee law expressly prohibits the locking away of workers so that they can’t get new jobs.

There is a third option – buy a few books and distribute them to the current workforce. Although this is not an ideal solution, it does have some value in that workers will be unsure as to how their skills measure up against their colleagues (as none of them will get bits of paper purporting to show a measure of intelligence); therefore, they will be less keen to join in the documented rat-race outside the organisation. The downside of this is, of course, that you could end up with a workforce that only half-understands what is going on and will make some monumental mistake that will bring your company crashing to its knees. The only sane alternative is to book up the training courses, and start picking out those people whom you consider loyal to your organisation – you will of course be wrong, and will soon be faced with smug people talking about marketable skills and percentage pay rises outside Government guidelines in the same sentence.

The waiting game

The measurement that really needs to be taken is how long can you afford to hold out against Windows 2000 (that is assuming that you are part of a committed Microsoft shop). The longer that you hold out, then the cheaper the labour cost will be. The contra measurement to that is how much competitive advantage will be lost if Windows 2000 proves to be the all-singing, all-dancing, platform for e-business. Leave it too late, and there may be no requirement for a workforce at all. It can be seen as part of the measurement for ROI that will need to be calculated, but I have the feeling that both the cost element (normally pretty easy to calculate quite accurately), and the revenue element are going to end up as figures plucked out of thin air.

Given the impact that Windows 2000 is set to have in the market, employers are going to be in a lose/lose situation. When faced with this, the only course of action is to grit the teeth and weather the storm. One factor to bear in mind is that what goes around, comes around; and before long, Windows 2000 skills will be classed alongside the ability to write the alphabet, and then you can start getting your own back.