How Cloud Is Changing The Technology Workforce
Given how cloud solutions have fundamentally changed the way we invest in, use and manage business systems, do organizations really need IT departments anymore?
I asked this question in my last FTC article because operating technology solutions in the cloud is clearly different. It’s less about technical configuration and more about designing and implementing business rules. There’s no need to size servers and storage because we can scale up and down in the cloud as needed. No more configuring operating systems and writing code because cloud providers do that for us. And we’ve learned that capable, tech-savvy business users can easily configure and support many cloud-based systems — from ERP to CRM to accounting and finance — with minimal technical assistance.
And as with other major technology shifts (like the transition from mainframe to mini to PC to client/server), this is changing the IT workforce. Some roles have increased in importance. For example, strong network admin and security professionals are in high demand because protecting the business relies on administering security policies correctly. Business analysts and architects are also more valuable, particularly those with cross-functional, cross-solution expertise since a lot of technical work is now outsourced and their combination of technology and business acumen is priceless.
Additionally, the lines between IT and business roles are getting blurrier. Many business analysts are becoming hybrid business analyst/implementation specialists — people who understand business processes and can configure software-as-a-service platforms to meet requirements. Increasingly, we see them living in the business, where they can gain an understanding of the intricacies of a department’s functions, which enables them to configure systems to deliver maximum value.
And unfortunately, some in-house IT roles are disappearing. With fewer (if any) on-premise servers and no data center, most companies don’t need server and system administrators, just as they no longer needed COBOL programmers after the Y2K dust settled. IT leaders must decide whether the people in these roles will be upskilled, moved to other positions or transitioned out of the organization.
Creating A Cloud-Enabled Workforce
Cloud changes the game, whether we like it or not. And while new graduates have been steeped in cloud through the abundant use of online learning and collaboration platforms, cloud is relatively new to many of our best employees. Fortunately, many of the skills that make those technical workers good at their current jobs — like critical thinking, problem-solving and natural curiosity — are all transferable (and highly needed) in a more cloud-centric world. So, how do you create cloud fluency in your organization?
According to Accenture, “If you want to speak cloud, you need to immerse yourself in it.” The easiest way to help your teams do this is by spinning up services to give them hands-on experience. The top three cloud platforms — Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure — offer a myriad of services, but their products are all a little different, so becoming fluent in even one vendor’s offerings can be a daunting task.
Fortunately, the vendors have defined role-based learning paths to guide people. Workers who want to go deep on the technical aspects of cloud, for example, can do that by following the curricula for architect, developer, DevOps engineer or operations roles. Those more focused on implementing business processes in the cloud can follow learning paths for roles like AWS’s cloud practitioner or Azure’s business analyst.
We’ve also seen the importance of creating and nurturing generalists over specialists because a lot of cloud-based enterprise systems provide functionality that crosses traditional departmental boundaries. Many organizations are focused on helping people who are specialized in one business unit or technology solution broaden their knowledge and skills across departments and solutions — to learn how things fit together within the organization and where processes and data integrate cross-functionally. Skilled generalists have the ability to understand the more holistic business context. They can use their knowledge in one department to help other departments learn how to use a service. This makes them more adaptable and resilient. And for technologists with an interest in learning more about business, this is a great time to pursue an MBA, which will round out their knowledge of a specific company’s operations with more generalizable and marketable business skills.
Your most successful workers will be those who are open to change, eager to jump on the cloud bandwagon and excited to learn new skills. However, as with any major shift, not everyone will get on board. If you have people with deep company knowledge that lack the capacity or willingness to learn new skills, you may choose to keep them on for a time as subject matter experts. If they pick up enough understanding of cloud systems and processes, they may still make the transition. If they don’t, treat them well, and do what you can to help them move to another opportunity.
One of my favorite sayings is “change is the only constant,” and for the past few decades of my career, this has been a universal truth in business. This is not the last major workforce change technology advancements will create. We can expect continued change at accelerating speeds. And every change that impacts people will present challenges. We must always be prepared to face those challenges head-on to ensure cloud and business success.
This article was originally posted on Forbes.com