Demand for talented information technology employees will continue to outstrip supply at least through 2003, said a new report from Meta Group Inc.

An estimated 400,000 information technology jobs are expected to go unfilled this year in the United States, according to Meta's 1999 IT Staffing and Compensation Guide.

Companies expanding their information technology staffs are paying higher salaries and granting signing and project bonuses to fill jobs and retain employees.

"Y2K issues initially acted as a catalyst for raising awareness of the IT labor shortage," said Maria Schafer, program director for Meta Group Publications. "However, other factors, such as large-scale implementations of enterprise resource management software packages and the declining number of IT graduates over the last 10 years, have exacerbated the difficulty of meeting the demand for IT staff."

Demand for information technology services is growing at an average rate of 25% a year in the United States, the report said.

Meta Group said 54% of 150 organizations surveyed said their information technology organizations had grown since last year. The greatest average growth was reported by companies in the insurance (27%), services (20%), financial services (18%), and health-care (18%) sectors.

The total of information technology workers nationwide has grown 33% over the past two years, to four million.

NEEDHAM, Mass.-North American securities firms increased technology spending from $11.5 billion in 1996 to more than $18.4 billion in 1998, according to Tower Group.

Straight-through processing and Internet delivery emerged as two major areas of spending, said the Needham, Mass.-based research firm.

The need for integrated and reliable processing as the industry moves from a three-day to a one-day settlement period for most securities has increased interest in straight-through processing, Tower said.

Nearly 25% of the 250 firms evaluated said straight-through processing was a top development project.

The firms predicted that by December 2000 almost half their orders for mutual funds and retail equity would be received electronically.

Nearly 20% of the firms surveyed said Internet delivery of services is a high priority.

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.-The market for electronic commerce software in the Asia-Pacific region excluding Japan generated $20.8 million of revenue in 1998, up nearly 100% from $10.7 million in 1997, said International Data Corp.

IDC estimated that the market would grow 95%, to $40.45 million, in 1999 and to $169.76 million in 2000. By 2003, IDC said, revenues should have reached $1.3 billion.

IDC said eight vendors collected nearly 75% of the software licensing sales revenue for the region. They were Oracle, OpenMarket, InterShop, Sterling Commerce, Ariba, Netscape, BroadVision, and Interworld.

Outside of Australia and New Zealand, the largest markets for electronic commerce software adoption are Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and South Korea, IDC said.

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