The cloud changes IT culture, demands new tech skills

Business is now pushing IT to get over its job fears and go all-in on the cloud

As enterprises are moving to the cloud, it's changing a whole lot more than just where companies' data and services are sitting.

The emergence of the cloud is heralding a shift in the skills that IT workers need and the jobs they are doing. It's changing the entire culture inside IT departments.

"The cloud is part of the evolution of IT," said Mike Chapple, senior director for IT service delivery at the University of Notre Dame. "People can't be living in one particular technical silo anymore."

The trend is also altering the balance of who is pushing to migrate to the cloud. IT often is no longer shepherding the cloud migration. Business executives are dragging IT into the cloud and tech leaders are finding themselves being forced to keep up.

aws invent panel Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld

Holding the microphone, Mike Chapple, senior director for IT service delivery at the University of Notre Dame, and other IT managers offer advice to companies considering a move to the cloud during a session at the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Technology leaders told Computerworld about these changes during AWS's recent re:Invent cloud-themed conference.

How IT fits

Those shifts are starting with how IT sees itself fitting inside the business as a whole.

For some time now, IT managers have talked about aligning IT with the business side -- understanding business needs and trying to meet them. Today, though, that idea is taking a step forward.

Since the cloud is enabling IT workers to offload a lot of their work, they're now able to focus on projects they simply had no time for before. And with the cloud, programmers are able to build and test their apps much faster since they don't have to wait for a server to be ready to use.

That means the business is getting their IT-related requests through much faster. It also means IT has more time to focus on the business and not just on keeping email up and tending to data stores.

john trujillo pacific life aws Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld

John Trujillo, assistant vice president of technology at Pacific Life Insurance Co.

"We're having some very fundamental conversations," said John Trujillo, assistant vice president of technology at Pacific Life Insurance Co. "I'm a technologist but I am in the business service business. We grew up being the rackers and stackers and the ones who tweaked the servers. The challenge now is to change that mindset from being a service provider to a service broker."

"IT shouldn't talk about aligning with business," added Trujillo. "We have to be as much a part of the business as anyone else. It's no longer about racking and stacking."

Thinking like a startup

At The Weather Company, the parent company behind The Weather Channel, and Weather Underground, managers don't even use the term "IT department" anymore.

"We're taking a whole new approach," said Landon Williams, vice president of infrastructure architecture and services at The Weather Company. "We call it technology. The culture we wanted to have people in when they're approaching decision-making is not to think like a legacy IT department, but to think like a start-up, next-gen department."

landon williams weather company Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld

Landon Williams, vice president of infrastructure architecture and services at The Weather Company. 

The Weather Company simply doesn't want its technical staff to be locked into an old, traditional way of thinking about solving problems and advancing the business. A name change, it decided, was the best way to start making that happen.

Williams' staff had to get their collective heads around the idea of going all-in with the cloud. It took them about two years to see that all the changes they were going through ultimately was going to make their lives easier.

"It takes a while for everybody to get their heads around the scariness of change," he said. "As with any evolution anywhere, you've got the ingrained idea to go with the way something has always been done. To approach folks who are digging their heels in, we tell them, 'Remember this is about business and revenue and not the technology you've liked.' "

Working with the cloud simply pushes or pulls you into new ways of thinking about how you get your job done.

Bob Micielli, director of enterprise technology services for King County, Wash., was taken by surprise when business executives didn't put up the biggest roadblocks to moving to the cloud.

Those roadblocks, he said, came from his own people.

"The biggest pushback was from my own staff," said Micielli, who saved the county $1 million by moving from tape backup to a cloud-based backup, as well as $300,000 in operating costs year-over-year.

"That, I've found, has been the biggest challenge. People are competent in their certain technologies and now they're coming in and trying to figure out these new services. They, before, felt like experts. 'I'm a storage architect. All I do is storage.' In this world, that doesn't work anymore. You have to know about storage and security and networking."

Skills change

Stephen Orban, the head of enterprise strategy at AWS and the former CIO and global head of technology at Dow Jones & Co., said when he's talking to enterprises about cloud migration, the single biggest sticking point is not at the executive level but with CIOs trying to get their teams to develop the skills they need to make the transition.

IT workers need to understand how to use the cloud. They need to be able to handle automation and DevOps, combining the role of developer with operations and other IT jobs. They also need to be able to work with big data and mobile.

"We don't' need someone who knows how to preserve bits," said Notre Dame's Chapple. "Our vendor does that. We don't need capacity planning. We've got that. We need people who can take the building blocks -- like virtual servers and elastic block stores -- from the cloud and put them together. You need to put together the storage and the server and the network and DNS and security to create your IT service."

Robert Mahowald, an analyst with IDC, said his firm's enterprise surveys have found that there's generally a 50% skills gap between where IT workers' skills are today and where companies want them to be in two years.

"People who have had traditional roles will either be retrained, repurposed or reskilled," said Mahowald.

At The Weather Company, Williams said, all 400 of its tech staffers are are doing a different type of job today than they were before the company moved to the cloud.

All of them.

"They play in the same place but with an entirely different set of skills," said Williams. "All of them are now retrained or they've added to their skills or they are doing something different."

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