Leading article: Net loss

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The Independent Culture
CONSULTANTS LIKE to pride themselves on having all the answers. They charge fabled sums in order to come up with unorthodox solutions - or, alternatively, to state the blindingly obvious. Suddenly, however, one of the biggest consultancies, PricewaterhouseCoopers, has itself been wrongfooted. About 200 of those who until now were pronouncing the fate of other employees have themselves been asked to leave. PwC says that it is hiring a slew of specialists in e-commerce to replace them.

There is some satisfaction in knowing that those who peddle crystal balls for a living get confused about what lies around the corner. PwC, apparently caught unawares by the e-revolution, is now desperate to catch up. But appointing yet more e-specialists may prove to be taking bluff to new heights.

The truth is that there is no such thing as a specialist in e-commerce. Business on the Net is so young that, even where strong opinions are in abundance, true knowledge is in short supply. "E-commerce specialists": perhaps they should be cross-referenced in Yellow Pages under the heading "Bluffers". Unless, of course, the e-commerce is merely a smokescreen for shedding some staff. A perfect use for the Net: the catch-all excuse for everything else that has gone wrong.