As cloud services continue their unrelenting march into our lives, and more and more businesses take note, IT professionals all over the world are wondering what impact this will have on their career. They have good reason to ask themselves this question, as countless salesmen are spurting phrases like “downsize your IT and save money” in an attempt to persuade organisations to jump aboard the cloud bandwagon.
It can be an attractive proposition. Once you move your internal services to the cloud you don’t need that expensive IT department anymore, right?
Moving your IT services to the cloud doesn’t absolve you of the need for a business IT function. What it should do, however, is transform that business IT function.
First, let’s consider why you still need your IT department. When you move your IT services to the cloud they don’t magically become easy for a ‘non-techie’ to administer. Powerful systems come with complicated administration. For example, if you move from Microsoft Exchange on-premises to Office 365, the administrative interface you use to manage your email system in the cloud is virtually identical to the interface you used to manage your email system on premises. They’re both running the same software after all. So you can’t get rid of your Exchange admin by moving to the cloud. In fact, now you need someone who can look after the integration between your different cloud systems and your on-premises systems – you may still have some in-house servers, and you haven’t moved your laptops, desktops, tablets, etc. to the cloud, have you?
Once you’re in the cloud your update cadence is now decided by your cloud provider. In most cases this means your systems are going to change more frequently than before. Sure, you no longer need your IT team trained up on how to migrate your server infrastructure every four years, but instead you need them trained up to manage the change to the user experience much more frequently. Hopefully this change of focus means that the change management aspect will get more attention than it may have done during previous upgrades, as your IT department can focus on improving the user experience rather than figuring out how the server integrations fit together.
So if I can’t get rid of the IT department, how does this help me? If you speak to IT departments across a range of organisations you’ll quickly start to identify some common themes. People in these departments often have interesting and innovative ideas about how they could bring about positive change to better support their organisation’s goals, but more often than not they’re far too busy firefighting and spinning plates to do anything about it. That great idea becomes nothing more than a pipe dream while they work furiously to keep things running.
Moving to the cloud doesn’t remove the need for IT skills, however it does (or should) remove the daily burden of keeping the lights on. Once your services are in the cloud your IT team no longer need to spend time juggling storage and memory, or trawling through logs – your cloud provider does that for you. So what the cloud does is free up your IT team to work on those great ideas, to address those long-standing problems, to improve the user experience and become a department that empowers the business rather than merely keeping it ticking over.
Think about it… if you spend less time tracking disk space, you could instead solve the BYOD challenge. If you spend fewer hours searching for resource hogs, you could instead deliver a flexible, easy, and secure remote working solution. These are ways your IT department can really make a difference, and reinvent themselves as a business empowering profit centre, instead of a support-focused cost centre.
This paradigm shift will not come easily to all IT departments. Some are so focused on the day-to-day that attempting to take them outside their familiar responsibilities will be met with resistance. IT is a discipline that doesn’t stand still however. For an IT professional to remain relevant they must continue to learn, and to adapt. The cloud presents a challenge to the IT pro – improve your game, or become obsolete. Some will relish the challenge and the opportunity to put their ideas and innovations into practice; others may need to improve their skills before they can begin to deliver in this new world. Your IT department may not be going away, but it should definitely be changing.
So… the cloud. It probably doesn’t mean the end of your IT department, but it definitely should transform it. Business leaders should expect to see their IT function starting to deliver some real, tangible value. The challenge to IT leaders is to make sure their teams are able to deliver.