Business computing is slowly but surely moving on-demand, with analysts suggesting the cloud will be a standard way of sourcing technology over the next decade. So what will such a change mean for the IT organisation and the wider business?
Just as outsourcing experienced a backlash because of its effect on employees, will organisations and IT departments that externalise technology through the cloud also suffer a negative reaction? TechRepublic seeks the opinion of five IT experts.
1. Going on-demand will change job types, not job numbers
Kurt Frary, ICT architecture manager at Norfolk County Council, is looking to develop partnerships with suppliers to improve services, and is considering the potential of approaches such as the cloud.
"At key decision points, you must consider all service options," he says. "There are some things we just can't put into the cloud, like the social care system. You evaluate the decision point and work with that. Cloud is not always a risk to jobs, but it could be a risk in regards to a change in the type of jobs an organisation can offer," says Frary.
2. Cloud computing will make the IT profession more exciting
David Molony, principal analyst at Ovum Telecoms, also thinks access to new types of service will help develop new types of employment, both abroad and at home. "The cloud will give you access to new resources and allows you to undertake cool projects, which make the IT professional's job more exciting."
The effect of on-demand technology will vary, but the flexibility offered by the cloud will give IT professionals a means to investigate the costs involved in a worldwide rollout.
"If you're in an emerging market, and you're in a hurry, cloud services offer a great way to move quickly," he says. "If you're a specialist engineering company, for example, the cloud can help you increase your footprint and move with speed into new global territories."
3. The cloud makes sense for certain IT tasks
Bill Limond, CIO at the City of London, says most of his organisation's IT projects are still managed inhouse. However, resource constraints mean it can make sense for the various authorities of the UK capital to look at ways to share services, including technology resources.
"Sometimes you will find that IT provision can be undertaken better by an external provider," he says. Limond recently helped roll out a trial of Microsoft Office 365 in a separate department associated with selling the City overseas as a potential investment location.
"We used the cloud to quickly establish an IT infrastructure," he says, referring to the strengths of on-demand in that particular situation. "We wouldn't want to use cloud across the organisation yet, as it is not necessarily cost effective. But for a quick rollout, on-demand has worked well."
4. Forget the cloud backlash and think of the opportunities
Alvaro Arenas, professor of information systems at the IE Business School in Madrid, thinks fears of an outsourcing-like backlash against the cloud are overstated. "It won't be like that," he says.
Arenas was senior research scientist at the Science and Technology Facilities Council in the UK, where he helped explore the potential for shared services across education departments.
"With the cloud, you can connect devices and applications, and companies will need people who are specialists at programming to create the level of required integration between systems. Such a transition might change the dynamics of the IT department but it does not represent a risk to the technology profession," says Arenas.
"There will be economies of scale from the cloud but that won't necessarily lead to a decrease in jobs. The move towards the cloud might actually mean there are more jobs at the on-demand providers. In fact, the cloud could help increase the range of job opportunities in IT."
5. On-demand creates new openings for remote workers
The backlash against the cloud is not the same as the type of negativity attached to outsourcing, says Steve Fraser, a relationship partner at accountancy firm Monahans who divides his time equally between client advice and technology management
"It feels different," he says. "In the case of outsourcing, the backlash was against the call centre and the potential movement of jobs abroad." How cloud will alter the geography of IT employment will become clear over the next decade.
"The cloud is more about where data sits and most organisations have to think very carefully about where their information resides," says Fraser. His analysis leads him to suggest the move on-demand will potentially lead to the development of different roles.
"The cloud will lead to new types of core IT skills in certain areas," says Fraser. "Going on-demand might create new opportunities for IT professionals that would rather work flexibly and remotely."
Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.