The Key Barriers to Building Cloud Skills
Please note: This post is the second in a three part series on building cloud computing skills, highlighting what skills IT Pros need and how best to help them develop it to accelerate adoption within organizations, large and small. Check out the first post on the cloud skills IT Pros need and the third post with actionable tips to bridge the cloud skills gap.
According to a research conducted by Rackspace in collaboration with the London School of Economics and Political Science, large enterprises are losing out on more than $ 258 million a year due to a lack of cloud expertise. In the light of this, what are the key barriers to building cloud skills in organizations? In this post, we asked our panel of experts to share their insights.
Organizations and IT professionals don’t know what they don’t know. Ask ten people what digital is and you will receive back ten different answers. It is very clear from our overall research at the CCC that many organizations across the globe are unaware of the significant gap they have in understanding what digital really is, what digital can deliver, and how to achieve success from digital strategies and the adoption of digital technologies.
How can any organisation really take advantage of the latest in digital technologies when they don’t understand the basics and context of these technologies? Cloud and digital technologies such as IoT, Big Data, Blockchain, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) use modern technology, provided under very different business models to that of traditional IT in the past. What we can say with confidence is that adopting technology alone will not lead to a direct change in attitudes, behaviors, and culture on its own. So, are organizations focused too much on technology change? Worse still, is the focus on technology change for the sake of technology change?
The second thing to mention is that many organizations are now using a mix of legacy IT, traditional IT, cloud and digital technologies. To be effective with a hybrid or multi-cloud model and strategy requires more than just focusing on the technology and getting that right. Expect challenges with architecture and security design, interoperability of services from multiple cloud vendors and a raft of subscription and billing options. Equally challenging will be how IT Service Managers (ITSM) and the IT function provide business services constructed from multi-cloud and hybrid configurations as one seamless business user experience. Many organisations have yet to reach this level of realization, never mind achieve the internal change required.
Starting with the obstacles to building skills from an organizational perspective, if an enterprise realizes that the entire workforce needs to be upskilled then they may be concerned about their budget and be reluctant to offer training at all, or they may assume they need to roll out a ‘one size fits all’ training initiative. This can lead to a lack of differentiation between people who already have a good level of knowledge and those without, creating a loss of motivation and engagement with the training and subject matter.
A further issue is that the training may focus solely on specific technical or product knowledge, for example, the building of a local cloud environment or web access architecture, without creating ways to apply this knowledge in a real-world scenario. Technical training is beneficial, but without a program to support its application in the workplace, perhaps through peer mentoring, confidence and knowledge in the subject matter may become lost. A long-term strategy must also be in place to ensure that information is retained through follow up training and practice.
When a professional is motivated to build their skills within cloud computing, an obstacle can arise from cloud computing’s state of constant change. An example can be seen in the way organizations used to choose just one cloud vendor and be locked into their relationship with them. Now the environment has evolved so that access to services from multiple vendors is possible, unleashing the possibility of having the services an organization needs now, and for tomorrow, right in front of them. This means that in order to be at the top of the job market it is essential for skills to be future-proofed through continuous learning and practice within the cloud environment. A proactive approach is the best way to stay abreast of cloud changes and ensure skills stay current and relevant.
Another obstacle for the IT professional is finding the time to update skills. This is where modern training approaches such as e-learning excel, as studying can take place remotely at a time that suits the learner, fitting in with busy lifestyles and flexible work schedules. Additionally, with case studies, exercises, animation, and real-world examples learning can be brought to life in innovative and creative ways, whilst quizzes linked to learning outcomes enable students to check their progress. So, although there are obstacles from both the enterprise and individual perspective, these can be mitigated and challenged with a long-term learning policy and awareness of modern learning practices.
The two most significant obstacles to building cloud computing skills are corporate momentum and fear. All businesses have a distinct culture and approach to doing things. This culture has a powerful momentum behind it that is very difficult to change. For example, moving from managing servers to serverless computing or moving from a monolithic relational database to micro databases is a significant cultural shift–more so that a technological shift.
At this point, it’s essential to recognize that any IT staff need to build cloud computing skills. From the author’s experience, a fair share of organization may be under the impression that migrating to the cloud is simply a question of copying and pasting their virtual machine to the cloud. Unfortunately, that is not cloud computing. That’s offsite hosting. And mistaking cloud computing with offsite hosting can be very costly–both in time and money.
Failure to change corporate culture–ie: keeping business as usual–will fail to enjoy the benefits that cloud computing brings. To successfully migrate to the cloud, an organization needs to gradually re-architect itself–rethink how it uses technology. All IT members such as architects, programmers, systems administrators, database administrators, etc, need to reskill themselves to be able to properly take advantage of the cloud. Migrating to the cloud can also be scary. Systems and database administrator may feel that their job is being threatened. Enterprise and solution architects may be overwhelmed by the amount of technology they need to consider. Security teams may have difficulty trusting the resiliency of someone else’s infrastructure. Programmers may reinvent the wheel instead of embracing the platform as a service.
Fear is caused by the unknown. Thus, the best way to deal with fear is to educate oneself. Before talking about what is cloud computing, it’s important that senior management understands and communicates why the organization is moving to the cloud and what are the strategic objectives. Once concrete strategic objectives are communicated down, it makes it easier for IT staff to roadmap the necessary skills that need to be built in order to achieve the given objectives.
As with any change in culture, there will be fear and resistance. It’s essential that an organization embed cloud computing as a strategic objective from the CIO down. Start with small, low-risk projects with teams that are willing and eager to embrace the changes that cloud computing entails. Build the necessary cloud computing skill over time as more and more projects are moved over to the cloud.
Given the organization level challenges outlined above, in the last part of this interview with three cloud training experts, they will share their recommendations on what can be done. So stay tuned.