Monday, January 31, 2011

More about the ‘people side’ of cloud: good-bye wizards, hello wild ducks and T-shaped skills

One of the problems that has dragged down the transformational ideas around cloud computing is the impact of this new operating model on organizations and the actual people inside them. I noticed this back in my days at Cassatt before the CA acquisition. The Management Insight survey I wrote about a few weeks back pointed this out. And, if you’ve been following this blog, I’ve mentioned it a couple other times over the past few months as the hard part of this major transition in IT.

While the technical challenges of cloud computing aren’t simple, the path to solve them is pretty straightforward. With the people side of things…not so much.

However, I’m optimistic about a new trend I've noticed throughout the first month of 2011: much of the recent industry discussion is actually talking through the people issues and starting to think more directly about how cloud computing will affect the IT staff.
Now, maybe that’s just beginning-of-the-year clarity of thought. Or people sticking to some sort of resolutions.

(I have a friend, for example, who swears off alcohol for 31 days every January 1st. He does it to make up for the overly festive holiday season that has been in high-gear the previous month. But I think he also uses it as an attempt to start the year out focusing himself on the things he thinks he should be doing, rather than having an extra G&T. And it usually works. For a while, anyway.)

Whatever the reason, I thought it was worth highlighting interesting commentary that’s recently appeared in the hopes of extending (and building on) the discussion about the human impact of cloud computing.

It’s got to be you
Back in December, the folks on-stage at the Gartner Data Center Conference had a bunch of relevant commentary on IT and its role in this cloudy transition.
Gartner analyst Tom Bittman noted in his keynote that for cloud computing, IT needs to focus. The IT folks are the ones that “should become the trusted arbiter and broker of cloud in your organization.” He saw evangelism in the future of every IT person in his audience from the sounds of it. “Who is going to be the organization to tell the business that there is a new opportunity based on cloud computing? That’s got to be you.” Are people ready for that level of commitment? We’ll find out. With great power comes great responsibility, right?
Automation & staffing levels
With cloud also comes an increasing reliance on automation. That hands IT people a big reason to push back on cloud computing right there. As Gartner analyst Ronni Colville said in one of her sessions, “the same people who write the automation are the ones whose jobs are going to change.”
In another session, Disney Interactive Media Group’s CTO Bud Albers talked about how the company’s cloud-based approach to internal IT has impacted staffing levels. “No lay-offs,” he said, “but you get no more people.” That means each person you do have (and keep) is going to have to be sharpening their skills toward this transition.

T-shaped business skills

In the era of cloud computing, then, what do you want that staff to be able to do?
Gartner’s Dave Cappuccio talked about creating a set of skills that are “T-shaped” – deep in a few areas, but having broad capabilities across how the business actually works. He believes that “technology depth is important, but not as key as business breadth.” The biggest value to the business, he said, is this breadth.

So that means even more new IT titles from cloud computing

To get to what Cappuccio is proposing, organizations are going to have to create some new roles in IT, especially focusing on the business angle. A few posts ago, I rattled off a whole list of new titles that will be needed as organizations move to cloud computing. Last week, Bernard Golden’s blog at talking about “Cloud CIO: How Cloud Computing Changes IT Staffs” made some insightful suggestions (and some, I’m happy to say, matched mine). He noted the rising importance of the enterprise architect, as well as an emphasis on operations personnel who can deal with being more “hands-off.” He saw legal and regulatory roles joining cloud-focused IT teams and security designers needing to handle the “deperimeterization” of the data center. And, IT financial analysts become more important in making decisions.

Gartner’s Donna Scott agreed with that last one in her session on the same topic at the Gartner Data Center Conference. She believed that the new, evolved roles that would be needed would include IT financial/costing analysts. She also called out solution architects, automation specialists, service owners, and cloud capacity managers.

Wild ducks & the correct number of pizzas

So what personalities do you need to look for to fill those titles?

At the same conference, Cameron Haight discussed how to organize teams and whom to assign to them. “If you have that ‘wild duck’ in your IT shop, they’re dangerous. But they are the ones who innovate,” he said.

Haight noted that the hierarchical and inflexible set up of a traditional IT org just won’t work for cloud. What’s needed? Flatter and smaller. “Encourage the ‘wild duck’ mentality,” said Haight. “Encourage critical thinking skills and challenge conventional wisdom” in individuals.

As for organizing, “use 2-pizza teams,” he suggested, meaning groups should be no larger than 2 pizzas would feed. (He left the choice of toppings up to us, thankfully.) Groups then should support a service in its entirety by themselves. Haight believes this drives autonomy, cohesiveness, ownership, and will help infrastructure and operations become more like developers, lessening the “velocity mismatch” between agile development and slow and methodical operations teams.

To take this even farther, take a look at the Forrester write-up called “BT 2020: IT’s Future in the Empowered Era.” Analysts Alex Cullen and James Staten talk about a completely new mindset that’s needed for IT (or, as they call it, BT – business technology) by 2020. Why? Your most important customers today won’t be so important then, what those new customers will want IT doesn’t yet provide, and the cost of energy is going to destroy current operating models.

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln? But, hey, 2020 is still a ways off.

Moving past wizardry: getting real people onboard with real changes today

Getting the actual human beings in IT to absorb and actually be a part of all these changes is hard and has to be thought through.

At a recent cloud event we held, I interviewed Peter Green, CTO and founder of Agathon Group, a cloud service provider that uses CA 3Tera AppLogic (this clip has the interview; he talks about cloud and IT roles starting at 3 min., 55 sec.). These changes are the hardest, Green said, “where IT sees its role as protector rather than innovator. They tend to view their job as wizardry.” That’s not a good situation. Time to pull back the curtain.

Mazen Rawashdeh, eBay’s vice president of technology operations, noted onstage at the Gartner conference that he has found a really effective way to get everyone pointed the same direction through big changes like this. “The moment your team understands the ‘why’ and you keep the line of communications open, a lot of the challenges will go away.” So, communicate about what you're up against, what you're working on, and how you're attacking it. A lot.

Christian Reilly posted a blog last month that I thought was a perfect example of that eyes-wide-open attitude, despite the uncertainty that all of these shifts bring. Reilly (@reillyusa on Twitter) is in IT at a very large end-user organization dealing with cloud and automation directly.

“I am under no illusion,” Reilly posted, “that in the coming months (or years)…automation, in the guise of the much heralded public and private cloud services, will render large parts of my current role and responsibility defunct. I am under no illusion that futile attempts to keep hold of areas of scope, sets of repeatable tasks or, for that matter, the knowledge I’ve collected over the years will render me irreplaceable.

“Will I shed tears? Yes. But they will be tears of joy.”

A little over the top, sure, but he gets a gold star for attitude. Green of Agathon Group thinks the cloud is actually the opportunity to bring together things that have been too separate.

“Where I see a potential, at least,” said Green, “[is] for cloud computing to act as a common area where tech and management can start to converse a little bit better.”

So, as I said, January has given me a little hope that the industry is on a good path. Let’s hope this kind of discussion continues for the rest of the year.

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