Cloud: disruptive good, disruptive bad

Adoption of cloud in the enterprise is disruptive in a bad way for IT and in a good way for business. No wonder IT wants to put the brakes on.

In the technology world, we've been schooled to get excited about disruptive innovation. The computer industry wouldn't have had anything like the impact it has had if it hadn't been for game-changing technology breakthroughs large and small, from the transistor and the microcomputer through IP networking and hypertext linking. Each has spurred new industries and made huge fortunes for those who realized their potential. But there's a reason we call them disruptive. They displace established industries and bring misfortune to those on the receiving end of the disruption.

For the past 50-60 years, information technologists have generally found themselves on the winning side of this dichotomy. Sure, from time time people have had to learn new hardware stacks or programming languages. But the changes have been gradual enough to allow for a fairly smooth career progression. Life-changing disruption was something that happened to people in old-fashioned jobs such as machine lathe operators, typesetters, filing clerks and shorthand typists.

With cloud, the tables have finally turned on the technologists. Adoption of cloud in the enterprise is disruptive in a bad way for IT and in a good way for business. For everyone in IT, it means radical changes to working practices and learning many new skillsets, while existing skills become redundant, sometimes overnight. Today's old-fashioned jobs are in fields such as database administration, server management and systems integration, with many organisations handing over those tasks wholesale to cloud providers who can automate them at scale. While IT suffers, the business finds cloud brings vastly improved productivity to existing skills while adding huge new opportunities for innovation and business development.

This dichotomy explains why it's business decision-makers who take the lead in cloud adoption at most enterprises. They only see the potential to spur exciting growth and revenue opportunities. Meanwhile, IT people suck through their teeth and fret about the massive adjustments they'll have to make to get any kind of oversight and accountability for all these cloud services the business is so eager to take on.

The dichotomy is visible also in the wider world, between those industries feeling the irreversible march of cloud — media, publishing, retail — and the Internet economy players that are the architects of their disruption. No wonder so many established businesses have so much trouble adapting, whle most of the innovative breakthroughs are made by freshly minted start-ups. Even when their business leaders want to seize the opportunity to explore disruptive innovations based on cloud, their IT people are holding back because they fear the disruption to their own domains. It's not that they don't want to support the business innovation; it's simply that they don't know how they can support it in the midst of such a chaotic transformation of their own operations.

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