Some Assembly Required

Dan Lavin

There ought to be a flyer in the NEXTSTEP Developer box that reads like this: "Some Assembly Required. Skilled NEXTSTEP contractors not available for purchase, but may be rented for upwards of $100/hour – if you can find them."

The ever-increasing price of NEXTSTEP programmers is a symptom of a real problem: demand is outstripping supply. This is a critical issue, because a successful NEXTSTEP solution depends on reasonably priced skilled contractors. Further, custom solutions in NeXT's target markets require programmers, trainers, and integrators who are knowledgeable about, for example, telecommunications or financial services.

NeXT must foster the creation of enough of these skilled personnel or the Object•Enterprise engine will grind to a halt for lack of oil. Here is a status report. Programmers/Consultants. This group is critical because it takes a full year in most cases to create a competent NEXTSTEP programmer. Every skilled consultant we know of has essentially a full work load. Who is going to service the 250-percent growth in the NEXTSTEP market that NeXT is forecasting for 1994?

The registered consultant program is a good start; there is finally a defined bundle of services that support independents. NeXT's mentoring program, a promising initiative, gives active on-site tutelage to corporate customers converting their in-house staffs. Still, consultants get a discount on training that is only half that of third-party developers. To recruit and train more programmers, NeXT should spread the word in computer-programming journals. Do direct mail to lists of programmers. College campuses might yield a strong crop in future years if courses in NEXTSTEP programming are followed by a strong internship program.

Integrators. Companies like Pencom, Systemhouse, and Peat Marwick are bright spots for NeXT. They get large sites up and running, providing them with a wide range of consulting services. At any one time, it seems that each has about a zillion openings for experienced NEXTSTEP workers of all stripes. To service the range of customers and customer budgets that will come into being over the next few years, the base of integrators must be broadened significantly.

NeXT has taken an important step with the creation of special sales channels to support small integrators, dealers, and the like. This addresses sales issues, but the real need here is for detailed technical knowledge and support. If a car carrying all the people who really understand how to deal with complex device driver issues had an accident on the way to get pizza, NeXT would be having an auction at headquarters instead of the factory. Somehow the real high-end knowledge must be shared in an effective manner.

Training. NeXT has been excellent on this front, with a long-term strategy for building infrastructure by training third-party trainers. It's im-portant for this trend to continue. Give third parties the heart of the business rather than cherry picking the market for NeXT-branded courses.

The alarm bells are ringing now. Continued NEXTSTEP sales depend on successful installations, and that depends on a ready pool of qualified consultants, integrators, and trainers.

Dan Lavin comments on business issues in NeXT Ink.