Many IT organizations are scrambling to quickly assemble e-business teams, and many are mistakenly focusing only on technical skills.

Technologists clearly play a big role in the success of e-business (Java developers and security experts come to mind). But technical skills can be developed and are available from outside resources.

The real challenge for IT organizations entering the e-business arena is to augment existing staff with people who have strong business competencies, such as an understanding of business strategy, vertical market knowledge and project management skills.

These business competencies will ultimately have the greatest impact on the success of e-business projects. These are the competencies that IT organizations should be hiring for, cultivating and rewarding as they assemble e-business teams.

It’s not surprising that business competencies outweigh technical skills when we talk about assembling e-business teams. But consider the key issues that need to be identified for success.

Business strategists are accustomed to asking the following: What businesses an markets will we compete in? What are the competitive pressures in those markets? These kinds of questions are an essential part of e-business projects because, even at this early phase, it’s clear that existing business models don’t translate well to the Web.

Many IT managers may not be comfortable asking such questions. After all, if business sponsors don’t know the answers to these basic business questions, they have no business pushing projects to IT. Right?

Some say business people won’t listen to IT professionals when it comes to business, anyway. But this kind of thinking is antiquated.

E-business is changing the rules. It is IT’s responsibility to question the business case for e-business projects. But the IT department will be taken seriously only if it has a cadre of well-respected individuals with proven business experience.

IT organizations entering e-business need individuals who can lay out the business models that will be successful on the Internet. To do this, individuals need to be familiar with the kinds of e-business models that are already out there, and have a high-level understanding of current e-business technologies, as well as the business they are working in.

As a result, IT managers shouldn’t underestimate the importance of business knowledge when constructing e-business teams. To identify internal candidates for e-business positions, the following guidelines can help.

Seek out technical extroverts. These individuals, who are publishing in trade journals and speaking at conferences, are likely to have the mix of technical and business skills that e-business jobs require.

Remember that adaptability is key. An individual’s ability to adapt is essential to e-business because of short project life cycles (two to eight months, on average). Their adaptability will also help them to quickly shift their focus from technical to business issues.

Keep in mind that certain attributes must be present in all e-business team members. Unlike a traditional IT project team – where individuals with a variety of knowledge and skills can compensate for other members’ weaknesses – successful e-business teams are unable to tolerate significant deficits of key attributes in any member of the team.

Specifically, swift adaptation to change, a strong entrepreneurial drive, a high tolerance for ambiguity and strong communication skills need to be present in all team members.

Marketing and finance experts, as well as experienced project managers and IT consultants, are good choices for e-business converts. For each of these groups, much of their basic business knowledge will be easily transferred to e-business roles. In recent research by Gartner Group, we saw an interesting mix of individuals – everything from former software sales executives to Big 5 consultants – running successful e-business projects.

Typical incentive programs won’t work. E-business team members will expect to be rewarded as a group. They also may have some specific ideas about the form in which those rewards should come. The most content members in the groups may have a financial stake in the project, typically receiving a bonus based on the overall financial success of the project. Team members also cite client satisfaction as a key reward for them.

Consider a fast-track training program for e-business candidates. This is a challenge because there isn’t a lot of courseware around e-business, and e-business encompasses so many technologies that it would be impossible to give each trainee a solid grounding in all of them.

Finally, trainees should attend an e-business basics class that covers the broad spectrum of technologies. Such a class should give them an understanding of how e-business projects are planned and managed.

Barbara Gomolski is a research director at the Gartner Institute industry-research firm.

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