How cloud computing changes (almost) everything about the skills you need

How cloud computing changes (almost) everything about the skills you need

Summary: The old skills that have kept enterprise IT humming along are increasingly irrelevant in the new world of the cloud, say tech chiefs on the ZDNet/TechRepublic CIO Jury.


The rise of cloud computing is altering the enterprise technology landscape in many ways, including where applications live (in a distant data centre, rather than the company server room), how they are paid for (out of op ex, rather than cap ex) and even who buys them (line-of-business managers with their credit cards, rather than CIOs with corporate budgets).

Moving to IaaS: An overview

Moving to IaaS: An overview

Moving to IaaS: An overview

Different skills required

But perhaps one of the biggest changes for the IT department is that it needs to prioritise a whole new set of skills.

The use of cloud computing can do away with much of the software maintenance and patching that made up a chunk of the average IT professional's day, forcing IT departments to adopt a more customer-focused role, according to CIOs.

When asked, "Has the rise of the cloud changed the types of skills required in the IT department?", the ZDNet/TechRepublic CIO Jury panel voted 'yes' by a margin of nine to three, reflecting the significant changes that cloud is causing.

According to Richard Watson, IT director at Sheffield Haworth, the easy availability and cost effectiveness of cloud services means that, increasingly, the IT department's role is to match up business needs and external (cloud) vendors, rather than provisioning and administering these services on-premises.

"Traditional sysadmin skills will inevitably be in less demand in future, certainly in the SME space. Managing the relationship between the business and its suppliers will become ever more critical," he says.

Kevin Leypoldt, IS director at Structural Integrity Associates, is of similar mind: "I am now refocusing on customer service and desktop/helpdesk support as we move the hosting/infrastructure to the cloud. Because we have that skillset already, it's now becoming a larger focus."

Meanwhile, Duncan James, infrastructure manager at Clarion Solicitors says that IT departments are disappearing — like "the friendly milkman delivering milk to your door" — and that it's getting more common to see server workloads moved or managed by third parties who already have the skills to manage complex infrastructures at a cheaper price than paying for in-house IT department employees.

Traditional roles disappearing

According to James, traditional roles are merging and being replaced with generalists and service delivery managers. "There is less emphasis on the words 'IT services', more on 'business services' — and particularly what value they deliver back to the business in terms of time and money. IT generalists are now doing what once could only be done by specialist IT consultants," he says.

But he warns: "The biggest value of the IT department is their knowledge of the existing setup — specifically the dependencies of how software X interacts with software Y. Every setup is different, and being able to hammer the software into shape over the anvil is ultimately a skill that the cloud will never be able to offer, at least for now."

Of course, change is nothing new to IT staff, as Matt Mielke, director of IT at Innovations Federal Credit Union points out: "IT department job descriptions and skill sets change all the time with new technologies. I think this will be another chapter in the IT department evolution."

Here's what is really worrying CIOs, right now

Here's what is really worrying CIOs, right now

Here's what is really worrying CIOs, right now

But in the past changes to skills have still been based on the fundamental idea that implementing, maintaining and fixing software and hardware is the job of the in-house IT department. The cloud (in its purest form) takes away all that software and hardware, which means the IT department has to find a new role — as  Jerry Justice, IT director at SS&G Financial Services puts it: "IT staff are now advocates and aggregators of technology not support personnel."

Mix-and-match skills

Few organisations will replace all their infrastructure with cloud (at least, not yet), so a mix of skills is needed. Delano Gordon, CIO of Roofing Supply Group, says that his organisation has used cloud services for a number of years, with its ERP, business intelligence, backup and others delivered via cloud.

"While it has made my IT organisation lean, it hasn't diminished the need to still have a core set of skills readily available. The number of resources shrink, but many of the skillsets remain the same. A human link is still very much required in some cases to link the cloud to on-premise systems. In my opinion the support demands have only shifted a bit, but are still present."

Adoption of the cloud is still relatively limited, even if it's growing fast, so not all CIOs are feeling this impact — or at least not yet. Says Brian Wells, associate CIO at Penn Medicine: "Healthcare is cautiously experimenting with IaaS cloud services. When the vendors all will sign [business associate agreements] and time passes with no large HIPAA breaches then we rapidly adopt and will adjust our staffing and skills."

John Gracyalny, VP IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, is unmoved by the pull of the cloud: "This really has no change on my IT department. We do no development here, and the cost to move our core solution from in-house to a service bureau is prohibitive."

And for some, the cloud can mean learning new technical skills and understanding unexpected, complex new issues. Brad Novak, director of IT at Goettsch Partners, says: "We are implementing a more 'usable' Disaster Recovery site where replicated backups and redundant systems can be quickly accessed. This means we need to be much more aware of the regulations regarding the security and availability of data centres managed by others."

This week's CIO Jury was:

  • Richard Storey, head of IT at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust
  • Matthew Oakley, group head of IT, Schroders
  • Jerry Justice, IT director, SS&G Financial Services
  • Matt Mielke, Director of IT, Innovations Federal Credit Union
  • Delano Gordon, CIO, Roofing Supply Group
  • John Gracyalny, VP IT, SafeAmerica Credit Union
  • Kevin Leypoldt IS director, Structural Integrity Associates
  • Duncan James, Infrastructure Manager, Clarion Solicitors
  • Brad Novak, Director of IT, Goettsch Partners
  • Neil Harvey, IT director, Sindlesham Court
  • Brian Wells, associate CIO, Penn Medicine
  • Richard Watson, IT director at Sheffield Haworth

Want to be part of TechRepublic's CIO Jury and have your say on the hot issues for IT decision-makers? If you are a CIO, CTO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company, working in the private sector or in government, and you want to join TechRepublic's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should, then get in contact. Either click the Contact link below or email me, steve dot ranger at techrepublic dot com, and send your name, title, company, location, and email address.

Topics: Cloud Computing: Moving to IaaS, Cloud, Enterprise Software

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  • Bull dust!

    IT has always been meta. From the days of HASPing and time-share through the days of VNC and the cloud, IT has been about abstraction, with layers being added on layers. Any IT expert worth his salt (is that too ancient a reference?) can look at each new technology and think "More of the same". IT develop is gradual, no matter your "jury" says. Leave "quantum leaps" to physics, where they belong.

    Stop telling me I'm obsolete. You have no idea how far I can go. Just admit it and shut up.
    • Accept the Facts

      JFrostOZ, while the technology remains the same, it's being managed outside the organisation. That's definitely not "more of the same". There's quite a difference in the skills required to perform daily systems admin than to negotiate a cloud services contract with a vendor or deal with humans rather than computers.
      I'm sure the article isn't implying that you're 'obsolete' as you have stated, but rather that the skills you currently have may not be put to use in the typical corporation as much in the future - no one is questioning your ability to adapt to your work environment. After all humans are remarkably good at adapting to all sorts of environments. I'm sure you'll do just fine. If not, perhaps you should apply for a job with a cloud services provider where your skills will still be current.
  • Obsolete

    In 1990 I was an IT Pro working in a small software publisher. My father phoned me worried about my prospects of future employment. He had been reading the Daily Telegraph (a UK national newspaper) that was reviewing Windows 3.0. The article said that Windows was so easy to use that most companies would not need an IT department because people using Windows would need no support.

    So that was it he told me. You should be looking to leave IT as employment would dry up.

    I don't know if cloud computing is going to make IT Pros disappear overnight. My only reaction is that I have read this before!

    There are several problems with the cloud;

    1. You still have to configure cloud services to meet business requirements.
    2. You still need people to administer the services and make changes.
    3. Companies have security concerns about putting data in the cloud and this will likely lead to hybrid solutions of part on-prem and part cloud.
    4. Public organisations may have data protection requirements that mean any cloud must be in the country they operate in and may exclude suppliers in the USA.
    Stephen Townsley
    • Wrong

      IT Pros (sys admins, DBA's) will not disappear, it's just that there will be fewer of them needed. Take a private cloud. Applications that were hosted in different environments will be reduced in number (eliminate duplication of essentially same applications) and hosted on the same platform. Sys admins and DBA's will be the first to feel declining demand for their services as fewer of them will be needed.
  • Employing Cloud

    Cloud offers opportunities for those that embrace the new form factor and self-educate and certify themselves for the needs of employers today and tomorrow. CompTIA’s Cloud Essentials certification is an example option that enables employees of varying roles to validate their cloud knowledge, take online training and exam condition testing, and differentiate themselves in the competitive job market.

    More education is needed in cloud across all sectors to enable businesses to understand and utilize this important new technology option to its advantage and this need for understanding stretches past simply the border of the IT department. Expect to see more cloud courses and exams providing the market with the required validations in this new cloudy world. Ignoring cloud is no longer an option, utilizing it to your advantage is!

    Ian Moyse
  • Great article

    We link back to it in our latest blog posing the question Cloud BI or on premise?
    Anthony Cooper
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  • Electronic Test & Measurement community cloud use

    While we have also 'gotten on board' with cloud computing, there are limitations.

    i had a goal with this, but it is only partially realizable; when developing new electronic product prototypes there are groups/individuals involved with the process world wide. consider the following scenario;

    The power supply guy may be in US, the Microcontroller guy may be in Finland, and the CPLD/FPGA guy may be in Silicon valley, US. in the past, new product prototypes were developed using development / evaluation boards, then first run PCB would have alpha, beta releases(to work out bugs BEFORE pcb can be rolled for production / manufacturing / assembly release).

    With the cloud, each circuit module could be simulated where all significant circuit nodes could have sub-microsecond timing in static and dynamic simulation. Next virtual circuit modules can be connected to other virtual circuit modules in the cloud BEFORE the actual PCB is rolled out(timing here can be scalar offset with respect to real, order of magnitudes faster circuit timings). Also, you can take virtual modules download them into pc host for interface with real circuit modules(this is needed as timing latency associated with network are far too slow for circuit interactions).

    What does your group have to say to this? What is your solution to these real world/virtual world interaction problems?

    my two cents


    Santa Clara, CA USA