According to Lucas Searle, head of private cloud at Microsoft UK, as the cloud brings increased automation and more efficient delivery, it also shifts the IT focus away from just keeping the infrastructure going.
Traditionally, comments Searle, IT departments are silo-based, and as a result their focus is on technology, product sets and costs rather than on business imperatives.
As an article in Mashable points out, cloud and services revolve around content, monetisation and data. As cloud becomes more prevalent, much of the installation, configuration and maintenance work formerly done by data-centre employees is becoming automated.
This means IT staff are required not only to know technical aspects of the cloud, but to have managerial abilities and an understanding of the user experience as well.
They need to start to look harder at how IT can bring benefits to the business, according to Searle.
Change of scene
“Their perspective starts to change,” he says. “The big theme becomes service delivery rather than infrastructure. An approach that takes the end-to-end management of architecture and service into account is required.”
Microsoft recently sponsored a survey from research firm IDC which estimates that last year alone cloud services helped organisations around the world of all sizes and in all vertical sectors generate more than $400bn in revenue and 1.5 million new jobs.
The survey predicts that in the next four years, the number of new jobs will surpass 8.8 million.
IDC also estimates that 75 per cent of IT spending worldwide is tied up with maintenance of legacy systems and routine upgrades, or "legacy drag”.
The report states: “Cloud computing allows IT organisations to shift some of that legacy work to the cloud, freeing up budget to invest in IT innovation that supports business innovation.”
Conventional wisdom has it that the IT department is long on technologists and short on commercial nous and strategic vision.
With cloud computing, whether public or private, comes an opportunity for IT to connect with the business.
“If IT is seen as just a cost then there is still work to do”
The barriers between the commercial imperative and the IT department need to come down, so that business strategy is no longer separate.
“If IT is seen just as a cost, then there is still work to do. A more mature approach is one that recognises that IT delivers value to the business,” says Searle.
So what weapons do IT managers need to have in their arsenal?
Microsoft IT Pro evangelist and blogger Simon May says that apart from understanding the technologies that power the cloud, IT staff also have to know what the business needs.
“Knowing what’s important to your business and how the technology marries up to that is critically important," he says.
"You need to be fully aware of what’s required and what’s important so that you can ensure it happens.
“There’s a misconception that the cloud has this automatic elasticity that scales things up and down as it sees fit. It doesn’t really work that way.”
May says IT managers also need to understand other areas, such as protection of customer data, when it is appropriate to use cloud technology and when it is not, and the security issues involved in cloud computing.
Speak the lingo
They also needs change management skills to facilitate a move to the cloud. This includes the ability to articulate clearly the reasons for the change to business managers in language that they understand.
Business managers need to appreciate the benefits of cloud. They must also be able to assess whether the IT department has the skills to deploy the technology and be aware of the additional resources or expertise that may be needed.
Caroline Chappell, senior analyst at telecoms research firm Heavy Reading, points out the similarities between the skill sets required for a successful cloud deployment and those required for outsourcing.
Successful management of the service level agreement becomes of paramount importance, whether it is an agreement with a public cloud provider or an internal one for a business’s private cloud.
She adds that cloud inevitably brings more emphasis on procurement.
“IT managers have to stitch together the elements of the service they offer to the business, so there’s an integration job potentially to be done as well,” she says.
It also requires the IT department to package up its resources and offer them as cloud services to the business. These resources must be valued and priced according to their impact.
The IT department has to understand the rules and processes that govern the service agreement with the business and monitor agreements to ensure that they are being met.
It also has to work out a satisfactory method of charging services back to business departments.
Searle says there is a already a far better understanding among the company’s customer base of the elements and skills they need.
“We’re starting to see IT skills sets changing within the service model,” he says. ®