Keeping IT Staff in Loop Is Key to Cloud Transition

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There's a growing angst among IT professionals that cloud computing will eliminate large numbers of tech jobs. The truth is a bit more nuanced, as I wrote earlier this year. The cloud will lead to an evolution of IT jobs, not a wholesale elimination.


Still, the cloud is an unknown, and we all know the unknown can be a very scary thing. (Directors of horror films capitalize on this all the time, by setting up elaborate shots of freaked-out protagonists investigating odd noises. Is it a tree branch tapping against the window or a crazed killer? Worst of all, of course, is the killer using a branch to lull the protagonist into a false sense of security.)


IT leaders should address this fear by consulting with staff early and often during cloud planning efforts and honestly discussing the cloud's possible impact on jobs, advise several tech executives interviewed in a CIO.com story. CIOs who don't do this risk having IT's negative perception of the cloud spread into the broader busness organization. The roles of nearly a third of the IT staffers at advertising and event marketing agency Momentum Worldwide changed when the company adopted some cloud services. Momentum's IT director addressed staff concerns by keeping actions transparent to employees during the transition.


Manesh Patel, CIO of electronic manufacturing services provider Sanmina-SCI, told the company's 700 IT staffers that moving from an on-premise Microsoft Outlook-Exchange system to Google Apps would create more time for IT staffers to devote to strategic tasks by eliminating much of the hands-on chores required to maintain on-premise e-mail for 16,000 employees. It's a good idea to focus on this idea of added value rather than promoting the cloud as strictly a way to cut costs, Patel said.


IT leaders should provide retraining options for skilled employees whose roles will change. Many workers will likely welcome the idea of gaining experience with emerging technologies. Said Momentum Global IT Director Doug Pierce:


We let them know that, hey, we're going into new technologies that are at the forefront of innovation and you're going to be right there with us, so they're very excited. We took the time to explain the vision and rallying the troops around it.


Among the new opportunities for IT staff: custom application work to complement and customize cloud solutions.


EMC Corp. is creating new job titles for folks that will support its cloud efforts, including application architect, security architect and process engineers, part of "mak[ing] people in IT understand there is tremendous opportunity," said Sanjay Mirchandani, the company's CIO in a SearchCIO.com article.

It's important to note that none of the experts interviewed in these two articles say there won't be some loss of IT jobs. Jeff Kaplan, managing director of consulting company Thinkstrategies Inc., said demand for traditional IT skills will lessen as more companies adopt cloud computing. But, he said, "there will be need for new skills in terms of evaluating and using cloud technologies and services, different kinds of software development, and business analysis and vendor management."


Mirchandani spoke on a cloud computing panel at the recent MIT CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. The SearchCIO.com article offered tips from panelists at that event and from panelists at the State of the Cloud, another East Coast event. Interestingly, they focused more on dealing with business users than with IT staff.


Panelists suggested CIOs should communicate frequently with business users so they won't be blind sided by groups employing cloud services under IT's radar. Communicate with vendors as well, so they aren't tempted to sell directly to the business rather than to IT. These kinds of vendor end runs are becoming more common, says IT Business Edge contributor Mike Vizard.


And when all else fails, let users go ahead and make mistakes. They'll likely need to seek help from IT. With the last bit of advice, I think it's important not to succumb to the temptation to say "I told you so" or come off all superior. Instead, use it as an opportunity to demonstrate how the IT and business can work together on solutions.