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Is e-commerce moving out of IT?

As many companies split their e-commerce initiatives out of their IT departments, they look for IT executives with the right combination of technical and business know-how. Find out if you have what it takes to be a "veep of e-biz."


The year 2000 will likely see fewer IT departments handling e-commerce efforts for large companies. Instead, it seems clear that separate e-commerce units will be formed, and they’ll be headed by individuals with the right mix of business and technical savvy.

Whether they’re called vice president or director of e-commerce, or even CeO (e for e-biz, of course), these IT executives will head business units that oversee Web initiatives, the most important among them being to sell products and services online.

Do you have what it takes to succeed as an e-biz decision-maker? Read on to find out.

More e-commerce execs than ever
Computerworld’s Third Quarter 1999 Hiring Survey revealed that e-commerce jobs are some of the most in-demand among IT hiring managers. Indeed, a look at some of the top-performing U.S. corporations’ executive teams reveals that e-commerce initiatives are as important as traditional sales methods in the boardroom. Here are some examples:
  • ·        Bill Bass, a former analyst at Forrester Research, is now vice president of e-commerce at Lands' End. Bass is charged with increasing Web business to shore up falling earnings from its mail-order clothing catalogs.
  • ·        Jack Buffington, director of electronic business for Englewood, CO.-based OrionAuto, manages both tactical and strategic issues associated with helping independent insurance agents get the right insurance product for their clients. He partners with business leaders to develop technology software.
  • ·        Mary Cortina, Amtrak’s director of e-commerce, handles all the company’s IT strategy and technology decisions.
  • ·        Donald Foy is director of online operations for Manheim Auctions, an Atlanta-based car reseller. He heads both technical implementation and operations.
  • ·        Ron Kerver, e-commerce director for Jackson, MI.-based Consumers Energy, is a 20-year veteran of the company. He was instrumental in setting up Web systems that allow customers to solve problems and check and pay bills online.
  • ·        Ellen Minton, FleetBoston Financial Group’s director of Internet technologies, has 30 years of experience in systems development and implementation. In her post, she’s looking at bandwidth capabilities, personalization, collaboration, security, and wireless capabilities.
  • ·        Over the last year, General Electric has recruited more than 100 e-commerce leaders from high-profile companies such as DHL Worldwide Express, Pepsi-Cola, and Snap-On Inc. The new hires are spread out among the Fairfield, CT, conglomerate’s 11 businesses.
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Serving customers’ needs is critical
Because e-business is very different from running a help desk or training employees to use Microsoft Outlook, many companies are splitting IT into separate units for infrastructure and e-commerce. The CIOs and top-level IT execs who will survive this trend must rely on their ability to transform themselves and their skills to the business side.

Companies that intend to compete for online dollars will need managers with both business savvy and technical prescience. Most will have 10 to 20 years of experience, bringing to the table a combination of Internet development experience, management leadership, and an understanding of the intricacies of customer service.

“Our client requests for a high-level executive who can handle the needs of customers online has become quadrupled in the last six months,” said Chuck Pappalardo, a vice president and principal in the San Francisco office of Christian & Timbers, a nationwide executive search firm. “As e-commerce grows, it is becoming the newest mall in America.”

Because e-commerce is a virtual store and a form of direct marketing, Pappalardo said, “the new executives will come from the great retailers in America.

“We are going to look for executives who really understand how to anticipate customers’ needs and wants,” he added. “Taking that understanding and implementing it online will create the ultimate customer stickiness in e-commerce. You go back to stores that give a great shopping experience—people will do the same thing with an e-commerce site.”
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