The skills shortage is causing user organisations to scramble for network consultancy and outsourcing services and the situation is unlikely to improve before 2004.
Demand is being fuelled by the introduction of ecommerce and other Web applications, and 59 per cent of the 260 north American companies interviewed by IDC said they had to bring in outside help to cope.
Another 36 per cent said they did not have the facilities or resources to support their own networking needs, while a further 32 per cent said the growing importance of the Internet was forcing them to look for either consultancy or outsourcing skills.
Richard Brewer, an IDC analyst and author of a report dubbed "End User Demand for Network Consulting, Integration, Outsourcing, and Support Services", said: "The number one obstacle for customers is the lack of skilled support inhouse, but suppliers are feeling pain too in finding skilled people."
But, he continued, vendors had a better chance of attracting the few experienced individuals around because they could offer better contracts and more challenging projects than user organisations.
He believed the skills shortage would begin to ease in about five years, however, as college students finished their networking training, and added that opportunities for network services vendors were significant, although he had no specific market figures.
The most important criteria for customers when choosing a services partner were reliability and availability, which was quoted by 50 per cent of respondents.
Another 33 per cent cited technical expertise as a must have, while only 11 per cent said that pricing was their most important consideration. Brewer concluded: "This was surprising given that overall IT budgets are shrinking."
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