Cloud demands blend of business, technical skills

With cloud computing shift, IT professionals will increasingly be compelled to possess business acumen on top of technical expertise, say market observers.

The nature of cloud computing does render some IT functions obsolete, but market observers point out that any professional's best bet in the evolving IT job market is to possess both advanced technical skills and strong business sense.

Arun Chandrasekaran, research director for Frost & Sullivan's Asia-Pacific ICT practice, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail the "cloud has the potential to shift manpower requirements from blue-collar IT workers to white-collar IT workers".

According to him, "basic IT jobs that can be easily automated" are typically the first types of jobs to be threatened by the cloud computing shift, such as desktop support, server configuration, and application installation. To stay relevant in the job market, IT staff should re-tool themselves and move away from mundane tasks to highly-skilled functions such as architecture formulation or business process reengineering, he recommended.

An organization that deploys infrastructure-as-a-service, for example, will find infrastructure-related jobs redundant, explained Kevin Noonan, research director at Ovum. This is because the data center and all related infrastructure roles--from choosing, purchasing and configuring the hardware--will be managed by the cloud service provider.

Industry shift
In an e-mail, Noonan said there has been "a clear trend of IT moving out of the backroom and into the business suite". That is why the most-sought after IT workers are the ones who have both a practical understanding of technology and can also communicate, advocate and deliver outcomes within the wider enterprise, he added.

"The key to long-term employability will rest on a person's ability to balance technical and business skills," said Noonan. "People who get the balance right will continue to be in high demand."

Frost & Sullivan's Chandrasekaran concurred, noting that there will "certainly be less demand for 'hands-on' technical experts". This makes it critical for an IT worker to marry technical knowledge with business acumen, he said.

Recruitment specialists and hirers also echoed the view that the increasingly bigger stake IT enjoys in the boardroom has also led to greater demand for candidates with both business and tech expertise.

Annie Lim, manager of IT commerce division at executive recruitment firm Robert Walters, noted that a number of companies are exploring cloud computing and evaluating what the technology can offer to their business.

With moves such as virtualization, organizations now have less hardware to manage as well as make fewer investments in hardware, leaving them to focus more on strategic and management type of roles instead of jobs that deal strictly with IT, she said in an e-mail.

"It is important for IT professionals today to possess both technical and business skills, especially as IT support is no longer just a backend [role] but involves engaging with both business users and stakeholders," said Lim.

John Galligan, regional director for Internet policy at Microsoft Asia-Pacific, said in an e-mail that the role of the IT professional is changing because IT has progressively taken on a more strategic role business decision-making in the last few years and is now seen as an engine affecting business growth and productivity.

Cloud impact on IT jobs still unclear
According to him however, the cloud does not threaten jobs but instead creates new opportunities. In the near future, companies will increasingly need to ensure that their IT staff are cloud-competent, and cloud computing skills could eventually become a mandatory job requirement, he said.

Galligan added that even if the cloud had not been in the picture, IT jobs are not the same as they were a decade ago. "From [Microsoft's] current perspective, the cloud is a driver of growth, but in years to come, it will be the norm," he said.

Ovum analyst Noonan agreed that cloud computing should not be seen as having a straightforward impact on IT jobs, whether in generating new jobs or eradicate existing ones. Furthermore, the definition of cloud computing will evolve over time, driven by commercial realities, he pointed out.

"The more rigid, academic definitions [commonly] used today are just the starting point for a far more innovative mix of services [for jobs to fill]," he said.