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

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.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director on

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

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

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.

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