Guest post from Simon May, an IT Pro Evangelist at Microsoft UK - which means explaining Microsoft technology to those who plan, deploy and support Microsoft products. Read more on Simon's blog.

No one can fail to see how much impact the ideas of cloud are having on our organisations and as IT Professionals the most direct impact we feel is on us, on those we work with, on our IT Department.  It doesn’t matter whether you're “IT”, “IS”, “ICT”, “Information Management”, “IM” or whatever 2 or 3 letter abbreviations you have after your name,  the cloud is starting to have an impact.  Is it bad?  Is it good?  Two questions that only only time will reveal the answers to but there are changes afoot.  It doesn’t matter whether your company has started to embrace cloud yet – eventually it will – in this article I’m focusing on how it’s going to change some of those specific roles in your IT Department.

Before we do that though lets just add some cloud clarity so that we know where we are.  The cloud is any technology that enables on-demand rapid provision and release of resources that are highly available and shared between a group of users.  For the purpose of this article we’re talking about resources shared between people who do not necessarily belong to the same organisation a.k.a the public cloud.  Public cloud is arguably one of the top two technology trends affecting your IT Department today with the second being consumerisation – all those “unmanaged” devices that are popping up and you’re now being required to support.

You are now probably seeing demand for some of the following types of services:

  • Web based email
  • Web based file sharing
  • Web based CRM
  • Web based line of business software
  • Web based support software
  • Cloud based hosting

And in addition you’ve probably started to notice that you’re being excluded from conversations.  A macro level trend is going on around you, your users have started to be tech savvy enough to make IT decisions without you (or at least they think they have – you’ll obviously have to come to the rescue!)  One of the interesting key words just before that bullet is demand the trend of consumerisation has had an impact here and your users are now demanding that you provide them with IT Services on their terms. 

If this hasn’t happened to you yet it, will, it probably but someone forgot to tell IT.  This trend is most apparent when information starts leaking from your organisation through people emailing stuff home to work on because they have better tools. 

Think of a train hurtling down the tracks, if you’re in front of that train the futures not so bright…if you’re on it then it’s a better place.  That analogy is very close to home for some IT departments – I say it’s time to get on the train rather than trying to stop the thing with your bare hands.  So what does it mean for the life of some of our favourite IT Department people?

The helpdesker (a.k.a. Frontline support analyst)

As the first point of contact in the IT Department the helpdesk staff have always been a lynchpin of the team, taking calls, taking flack.  It’s part of the job.  Most people start out here and learn one of the key skills that’s always seen them through the career they made: customer service.  And you know what, this is a growth area with public cloud.  Very few public cloud operators will provide end user support, they normally provide level 2 support (which tends to materialise in IT depts as level 3) meaning that they won’t answer user queries such as “how do I do x”, “I’ve deleted this email, how do I get it back”.  These folks provide a 2nd key skill too – business knowledge – even if you’ve outsourced your helpdesk you’ll find that the best operators know your business better than the worst.  I personally am starting to see a trend of “insourcing” where the helpdesk is being brought home.

The desktop technician (a.k.a. 2nd level support, a.k.a “Dave in IT”)

Desktop technicians are still seen as the face of IT by most end users, even if they don’t see them that often.  Most avoid giving out their direct line for fear of being stalked by Sally in accounts who just cannot use Excel – I know I’ve been there for many (joyous) years.  Again these folks know the people they help, they provide deep business knowledge and have early warning radar  and they combine a level of technical skill that makes most users think of them as heroes but interestingly they don’t get many calls from the younger people in the organisation but they do spend time with them exchanging stories around the coffee/tea/water/cigarette machine/shed.  And they’re friends with them on Facebook.

The desktop guys aren’t going anywhere though because the cloud doesn’t take the desktop away, you still need a machine to access it….well not so much.  In the future the desktop guys will spend more time working on other peoples kit than the companies.  They’ll spend more time ensuring people can work safely for the company with their own kit and less fixing problems as the end users naturally become more adept at fixing problems.

The server huggers

These guys have been the centre of the world for a good few years, they have the hard job – running the infrastructure – occasionally harbouring a small god complex (I am very much guilty).  The folks need to make the biggest change to their world, if you are one you need to be learning new skills day after day to keep up.  You need to know about virtualisation, what it is and what it isn’t (a magic bullet), you need to know about management technology, you need to know about public cloud platforms and infrastructures and the differences.  You also need to start to understand cost models (yuck) and you need to know how to connect both public cloud and private cloud resources.  You might not see this right now but people are going outside of your team to get hold of servers to do their job.

There are possibly people within your organisation using a personal credit card to setup a business critical ecommerce system, or store some data in the public cloud…without your governance.  It will become impossible to do anything about it because it will be too business critical so you’ll need to focus on connecting and managing it and ultimately on governing it.

The IT Manager

You’re probably going to meetings and being asked for more by the business (or they might have stopped inviting you).  Before it’s too late though you need to switch up what your team is doing, get them out from in front of the train and bear their whole weight down on making public cloud work for your business.  Why?  Because public cloud WON’T work for your business.  Not in isolation, you’ve got to couple it to what you do already, those servers and services your IT department is already running at 99.999999% uptime (+ added LOVE).  You’re role will be to become the leader of a group of trusted advisors to your business, a group of cloud savvy people who deeply understand the technology and who deeply understand the business.

Every aspect of the business is different the accountants want different things to HR who want different things to marketing and the security guy on the front desk.  You can give the accountants systems that don’t require downtime and manual upgrades each year while TAX changes are made – the software provider will do that for you.  You can give HR a web based payroll system whereby a huge data send isn’t required every month at pay run time (whilst everyone holds their breath).  You can give the security guy secure cloud storage and offload the constant video encoding of security camera footage from his PC to the cloud.

Summary

There are countless more roles and countless better examples but the idea here is to show you that the world is changing.  You don’t however need to be under the train since we’re at the right point to get in front and help our businesses make better decisions.  There’s no need to loose the technical skills we hold so dear, they just evolve and theirs no need to learn new skills in business analysis or some other discipline it’s just about applying what you know already.

Really the public cloud is a case of learning about the technology and helping your business apply it…that’s the secret sauce.  Try Windows Azure, Try Office365 and try what other people offer (then come back Smile)