Chambers: Training, Educational Shortcomings May Derail E-Commerce



Cisco Systems president and CEO John Chambers warned today that cracks in America's educational system, poor employee training, and the country's growing income gap may cause U.S. businesses to miss out on much of the E-commerce boom.

Speaking at Comdex/Fall in Las Vegas, Chambers presented his vision of the near future, when everything from dry cleaning to gasoline delivery will be an Internet-based service. However, Chambers said, U.S. corporations could lose out to foreign competitors in these markets unless education and worker training in this country is revamped. "If we don't find a way to train our employees faster, we will become noncompetitive," he said, noting at another point that the country's primary educational system "is broken."

Chambers cited a statistic that ranks the United States 16th out of 19 developed countries in terms of K-12 education. He also said that if IT-driven companies are to cash in on E-commerce, they will have to take more responsibility for worker education. Chambers said 40,000 students are enrolled in Cisco's Networking Academies, and he expects that number to grow to more than 200,000 by 2001. America's income gap means E-commerce in this country could be hampered by some group's inability to participate, he said. "We're growing too rapidly at the top tier."

Those impediments not withstanding, Chambers said E-commerce is set to explode in this country. By way of example, he demonstrated an Internet-connected gas pump that will soon be test marketed in North Carolina by Gilbarco, the country's largest gasoline distributor. By swiping a loyalty card, users will be able to get personalized information--such as custom traffic reports and sports scores--while waiting for their tanks to fill. Because of these new types of "content-rich" applications, Chambers said that by 2003 at least half of the nation's gross national product will be tied to the Internet.

Chambers, no doubt hoping that much of this activity will occur across Cisco networks, also noted that electronic business-to-business links are letting companies reap huge savings in manufacturing, distribution, and administration. Cisco's own virtual manufacturing operations, whereby much of the company's outsourced manufacturing is monitored closely over the Internet, is helping the company dramatically reduce costs, he said. "The payback is huge."

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