Stopping the cloud taking your IT career away

Most industry observers recognise that cloud computing represents a radical and irreversible transformation in the way business uses technology.

By Joe Feiman, Gartner research vice president and fellow

Most industry observers recognise that cloud computing represents a radical and irreversible transformation in the way business uses technology. The cloud's global reach, process automation and economies of scale make it possible for a single individual to perform essential functions that once required a team of in-house employees - and that individual may not need to be on the premises, or even in the country. But too few IT professionals understand that the cloud model represents a serious threat to their careers.

The cold, hard reality is that cloud computing will eliminate some IT specialities entirely, at least as disciplines performed on an organisation's premises by its own employees - and will significantly reduce the demand for many others. These changes won't happen overnight and they won't affect every business, every industry, every IT discipline, equally. But change is coming - and IT professionals who care about their careers need to start preparing now.

A key element of a successful career - in any field, but particularly in the endlessly changing world of IT - has always been matching individual skills to market demand. So, the IT professional needs to understand which sets of skills, and which personal and professional qualities, will make it possible to survive, and even prosper, in the cloud world.

What should the IT professional be doing now?

The key to survival and success in the future is a brutally honest appraisal of the present. IT professionals must measure their current and future capabilities against three fundamental sets of characteristics:

  • technological skill
  • business and socio-economical expertise
  • and the elusive - but crucial - qualities of vision and creativity.

Most vulnerable: the narrow-focus technological specialist

The roles that will disappear into the cloud first are those that require intermediate-level, narrowly focused technical expertise, but little business expertise, and little vision and creativity. These specialists - who may, for example, include database, network and server administrators - perform functions that can be provided to organisations simply, cost-effectively and reasonably securely by third-party providers.

Less vulnerable: the business expert

IT professionals who clearly understand how the business works and what technology is needed to make it work - even if they lack advanced technical skills or strategic vision - are much less likely to get lost in the cloud. Application development analysts who understand their company's manufacturing processes, for example, and can articulate them so that programmers can implement a process control application are likely to see their role remain in-house.

More secure: the strategist

Roles that require substantial business expertise, significant technical knowledge, a comprehensive, strategic view of business and cultural issues, and vision and creativity - as well as the ability to communicate them with many different target audiences, both internal and external. These roles - which may include chief technology officer, senior architect and project liaison - may mean the difference between success and failure for the enterprise, and they will likely remain in-house.

Some will not only survive, but thrive

One very small set of IT professionals will be almost entirely exempt from the relentless replacement and reduction of enterprise roles by cloud services. Individuals with the highest levels of technical skill, combined with a broad and deep understanding of business and social trends and the vision and creativity and ability to innovate, will be able to remain with the organisation or to move into the cloud and become cloud creators or providers themselves.

Finding your place in the cloud world

IT professionals across a broad range of disciplines can use the above criteria to work out their current and future vulnerability to the emerging cloud-computing paradigm. This is a very personal process, and will require complete honesty and a careful assessment of both individual characteristics and technological and market trends.

If your assessment leads you to believe that your technical skills are narrow-scope, but you prefer to remain in the same organisation or industry, it is time to begin adding more business expertise to your portfolio of skills.

If you believe you possess a high degree of knowledge of your organisation's business, complemented by intermediate technical skills, your current position is likely to be reasonably secure. It is important to recognise, however, that the same factors that make your position in the organisation comparatively stable may also limit your mobility. The deep knowledge of only your own organisation may actually make you a less attractive candidate for other employers, especially those in other industry verticals.

If your assessment confirms that you excel across all three dimensions of the decision framework - technological skill, business expertise, and vision and creativity - consider your current position stable and rewarding and your value in the job market high.

If your assessment leads you to believe that your technical skills, business expertise, and vision and creativity greatly exceed the demands of your current position, consider looking for a more rewarding position - possibly with a cloud vendor.

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