Canada facing the third evolution of IT

Interview / Don Chapman, Novell Canada

“I still think we’ll continue to see a shortage [of IT professionals] as businesses see the Internet and the network are now strategic value propositions for them to be successful.”

IT training is facing many changes with the growth of technologies. With the expanding market in Canada, many Canadian companies are having their employees doing double-duty to have everything covered. Novell Inc. is one company that has set out to ensure that proper training is there for those who want it. Don Chapman, vice-president and general manager of Novell Canada Ltd., took time out last month to speak with ComputerWorld Canada contributer Cindy Steinman to discuss the issues surrounding skills management and how Novell approaches them.

CWC: What are your impressions for the area of IT education within Canada right now?

Chapman: I think it’s also the total market, but for Canada specifically, we’re into what I would call the third evolution or wave of IT. The first wave was kind of the mainframe wave, and the second wave was the PC era, and we’re now into the network era. And the method of implementation in each of those eras was very different, and the training requirements are very different.

I’ll give you an example: in the mainframe area, for people to make a decision they would do a proposal and a return on investment model. If the return was in so many months, they would get the funding and then do product management for its implementation. Part of the project management would be the associated training required to implement the project. Now we’re just coming out of the PC era, and that era was…the words I particularly use are the “order book era.” I mean, there was no justification going on, and people would just order them (PCs). And the infrastructure of delivery was almost based on that. Our resellers and our educational institutions, and manufacturers like Novell, were growing significantly during this period, and had to ensure the quality of the implementation and support associated with that. And because the volume is so great, the Novell authorized Education Centre Program was instituted to ensure a certain level of certification.

The area of the Internet, or the ‘net…the value proposition is very different. People, when they’re connecting to the ‘net, they don’t just see a benefit; they see tremendous value. Their business changes, and they can grow their revenue significantly, they can do business very differently, and it’s very strategic. What is happening when people go to deploy those kinds of opportunities is that they’re using the PC model for deployment – “Oh, they’re certified in this area, they don’t need anymore training” – and it’s adding to the delay of the implementation of these capabilities. The model of certification will continue to be required in that area, but there’s new, advanced technical training that’s required to do this implementation. And we’ve got to get people accustomed again to do the training first, before they implement. What’s happening is the IT training business in Canada is shifting to be able to deliver that from multiple forces. So we call it “advanced technical training,” and they can get it directly from manufacturers if it’s really advanced. The type of courseware that’s coming out is very different — they’re doing it on-line. But the message that clearly has to get out there is that you do the training first, which they’re not quite used to in the market, and they’re finding that they should.

CWC: What are some of the skills that are required by IT professionals now, and down the road? Is there anything in particular that should be focused on?

Chapman: When we first got started – I’ll use Novell as an example – we were a LAN company and we would deal with network administrators and train them on the deployment of a network. And in the last five or six years for Novell, we’ve really been a network management company. We sell network management software, so we deal with higher levels of IT, people in the management level. This is like the WANs, like companies with multiple locations around the world. The type of training there has shifted to more solutions and different products.

The era that Novell is in, which is tied in where the market is…we’re a one Net…what (people) need to integrate, what (people) presently have to simplify, secure and then accelerate into a simplified business. So all of a sudden what you’re seeing now is our directory platform as a platform to be able to do this. The types of training (should focus on) the ability to integrate the different applications that I have in an organization, so I can create a single-user interface, and create an opportunity to have access from anywhere and have it totally secure. So the training requirements right now are very different to do that. And that’s what you see shifting.

CWC: A lot of information indicates that there are shortages of IT professionals – there are more jobs than there are people qualified to do them. How big of a problem do you see this to be, and what do you think can be done to remedy the problem?

Chapman: I’ve seen several analyses, nothing that’s really official…but you can estimate that there’s somewhere between 10,000 to 15,000 Canadian IT positions that will go unfilled. IT is a broader scope because it also involves support and development.

One of the issues – and this isn’t really a Novell thing, this is a Don Chapman thing – is about educational institutions in Canada. Students can learn more from the Internet at night than they can from the courses being delivered during the day…when they’re coming out of post-secondary schools, they’re not properly equipped and trained as an IT professional, and we’re not getting those positions filled. That’s one of the issues. We are working with schools and colleges across Canada through a program called Novell Education Academic Program (NEAP).

What we do as a manufacturer is, we keep it current for the schools and they teach it. And when the students graduate, they actually have some form of certification that allows them to take it further with commercial education centres, and also in the IT industry. So that’s one area where we are trying to solve this issue.

The other area is to reduce the demand. If I’m able to grow my IT reach by tenfold and require less people to do it, it also helps out. But I still think we’ll continue to see a shortage as businesses see the Internet and the network are now strategic value propositions for them to be successful.