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The future of professional skills development in e-commerce

By Prateek Khare - Posted on 3 July 2013

Prateek Khare, Strathclyde Business School alumnus, leads the innovation and entrepreneurship initiative at swissnex India. Here he discusses his recent report for Strathclyde Business School on whether demand exists for a dedicated MSc in e-commerce in Scotland. He tweets @prateekkhare

In the last decade Scottish businesses have experienced rapid growth in demand for digital services but many haven’t fully harnessed the potential for connecting with customers online. This comes at a time when a series of recent reports from e-skills UK, BCG, SQW and the Scottish Government have found that e-commerce could play a far more prominent role than it currently does to the Scottish economy.

Strathclyde Business School recently completed a report ‘Demand for MSc course in e-commerce’ in which we canvassed the opinion of more nearly 1,400 relatively high ranking individuals from the public and private sectors in Scotland, where the opinions were gathered through focus group discussions, telephone interviews and an online survey. 60% said their business depended on the effective use of digital technologies while 34% said digital was used minimally or not as a main tool in their business model.

Some common issues highlighted (specifically for SMEs) were:

• Website content did not reflect services
• Some portals were non-interactive
• In many cases there was no social media presence
• Development of ecommerce competence was not identified as a priority
• Dedicated staff were deemed unaffordable

The report also identified a need to address ‘awareness’ before organisations were ready to fully embrace e-commerce and its associated digital technologies. The results showed that there are a number of Scottish businesses who:

• May not know enough to determine the value of e-commerce
• Struggle to understand how to fully utilize e-commerce and e-business potential
• Cannot relate to technical jargon.

It was also clear that much needs to be done at a grass roots level in relation to school and university education and general awareness among Scottish businesses. This can be achieved through collaboration and dissemination. Interested stakeholders must collaborate with one another to avoid duplication, and build on the efforts of others.

Based on a review of existing courses from top business schools the research found that there appears to be a lack of an MSc aimed at producing well rounded leaders in the areas of e-commerce and associated digital business management. However, it was noted that the viability of a dedicated MSc would be dependent on a credible intake of students.

The study found that many organisations consider practical skills to be more useful than theory driven educational programmes. As the demand for skills already exists the study found that the needs of businesses could be better met through the delivery of standalone continuous professional development (CPD) modules rather than a dedicated MSc. 59% of those questioned said this would be their preferred method of delivery, with most respondents also saying they would consider funding places to help develop skills.

One major issue for any future MSc was content. In light of uncertainty and rapid rate of change the MSc would need to strike an appropriate balance between specific academic disciplines and industry. The rapidly changing e-commerce landscape casts doubt on the ability of academia alone to deliver relevant content.

A sustainable MSc may be developed over time but this will require close collaboration between academia, industry and government stakeholders to combine developments in theory and practice into the programme while supporting a sustainable flow of suitable applicants.

What issues does your business face in the modern market? Is your company looking to invest in e-commerce skills?

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