Cloud investigate

Cloud computing and IT obsolescence: Reinventing the role of IT

Will the cloud spell the end of the IT department? Thoran Rodrigues explains how IT will need to reinvent itself to avoid obsolescence.
Server620x485.jpg

Cloud computing brings many advantages to companies. The pay-as-you-go business model adopted by cloud service providers enables companies of all sizes to have access to very powerful resources and solutions without any capital expenditure. Furthermore, the easy scalability of cloud services allows companies to easily optimize their costs based on usage levels, instead of having to worry about peak demands.

The cloud has enabled businesses to focus more on their business, and less on the technology required to run it. By outsourcing their basic infrastructure to cloud providers, companies no longer have to worry about upgrading and maintaining data centers and servers, leaving that to companies who are focused entirely on the technology side of this issue. The same goes for cloud applications, which allow companies to worry more about using the software and less about maintaining it and keeping it updated. Furthermore, by moving infrastructure and applications to the cloud, companies set themselves up to take advantage of future economies of scale that will be on the side of cloud providers. For those companies that adopt cloud technologies, these developments mean that the cloud is rapidly making IT departments obsolete.

Death by obsolescence

In many ways, it actually does. The traditional role of IT, of maintaining the corporate infrastructure and keeping systems updated, as well as providing first level support for users, is fast dying out. Today, users are ever more technologically savvy, meaning that they need a lot less support. At the same time, cloud applications come with their own support, separate from corporate IT.

Meanwhile, moving systems to cloud infrastructure brings cost reductions to companies not only in terms of initial investments, but also by cutting back on the personnel that would be necessary to maintain that infrastructure. Finally, cloud applications entirely dispense with the need for any kind of IT participation in making the applications available to the users. IT is no longer needed to ensure the compatibility of applications with the company’s internal systems and technological platform, since applications can basically run on any browser.

These trends mean that the conventional IT department of the 90s and 00s is fated to disappear. Most of its roles no longer make sense in a cloud-centric world that has, in many ways, developed to overcome the limitations and bottlenecks of this very IT department model. This does not mean, however, that IT departments will simply stop existing, but rather that they need to reinvent themselves in the face of change. In a similar way, virtualization technologies are also apt to change traditional IT roles in the long term. As Rick Vanover points out in his post on VMworld 2013, "the 'server admin' we have known over the years is a job description that is seriously at risk."

From owner to custodian

While I have written before about the need for IT to reinvent itself in the face of the cloud, today we will explore a different aspect of this reinvention. Old-fashioned IT departments were the owners of technology in the enterprise. All technology, from servers to desktops to mobile devices to applications fell under their purview, and was subject to their approval.

In our new world, IT must shift its perspective from owner to custodian. While it is still very important for IT departments to take a proactive approach in learning about and presenting new technologies and solutions to users, the most important side of the updated IT department will be its ability to act as a custodian of multiple technologies and systems. Instead of worrying about purchasing the technology and building out the infrastructure where it will run, it will have to work to ensure that all contracted SLAs are being respected, that the systems are interoperable and can work together, and that the service providers have long-term visions that are compatible with the direction that the company is heading.

Another important fact is that IT departments will have more and more trouble to keep up with changing technologies, and acting as a custodian allows it to leverage the knowledge of end users with respect not only to new applications and devices, but also of new uses to existing technology.

Taking the hard road

Assuming this new role is far from easy. The natural course for most companies will be one of struggle and fight, but two points are fundamental: IT needs to understand that this change is inevitable, and business users need to understand that IT will take some time to adapt. Change is inevitable because the freedom that cloud computing has brought to users is a good thing for companies as a whole, and IT will take some time to change because change, no matter how much for the best it may be, is always hard.

The best IT departments out there are already making this transition, becoming the enablers of new technology (most of it cloud-based or cloud-related) for the end users, and allowing the users to bring new solutions into the business, focusing only on ensuring a smooth and safe process for the company. Those that fail to adapt, on the other hand, are doomed to fail.

About

After working for a database company for 8 years, Thoran Rodrigues took the opportunity to open a cloud services company. For two years his company has been providing services for several of the largest e-commerce companies in Brazil, and over this t...

7 comments
trevora
trevora

"Today, users are ever more technologically savvy, meaning that they need a lot less support." Hah, I love all these media journalist hype articles that the cloud is the panacea of the masses. Obviously these guys have never worked in a traditional office environment, in our case, a professional services / law office firm. It's great that people think that giving cloud service provider shareholders a monthly income - e.g., Office 365 - is oh so great. You know what, Exchange is not that hard, it fact, it's my favorite "hat of the day". Only unskilled "I.T. Managers" or out of touch CIOs think that Exchange is hard.

The reality is, users want their hand held even for, why can't I get my document cleaned of metadata; my mouse cord is bugging me and I want a wireless mouse; I have a presentation starting in 2 minutes and I forgot to get the resources set up - hey Sherlock media - the Cloud is NEVER going to remedy that!. So no, in almost 2 decades, I have NEVER seen that users "need a lot less support". Even for law students fresh out of school.

Next, "where is my data?" We are VERY concerned of WHO is hosting our data. Thus the reason we DO NOT allow Dropbox / Skydrive / Google Drive / etc. for client confidential matters. But consistently, I read these media hype articles that are so beyond out of touch with reality and the concerns of clients and security.

But hey, go ahead and tell a health care, securities firm. law office, accounting firm to shell out their data to the Cloud. Journalists love following the disco ball.

Thomas Kuhlmann
Thomas Kuhlmann

The article is spot on - the current situation requires drastic changes to how IT departments work. 


But they also open up huge potentials for new positions that didn't exist before. I read somewhere recently that now is the time where the focus shifts from technology to information. And to be honest, it's about time! 

IT was seen as a technology provider for a long time but did not provide added value. By shifting the focus to the guardian of technology and information, IT can start providing services which were somewhat of a grey area before. A perfect example would be business analytics. In the past, analytics in most SMBs was something performed ad hoc by each department themselves, mostly by people who did this as a secondary responsibility. 

Freeing up resources in IT means that IT can start taking ownership of generic, information-related roles which weren't really taken care of in a structured way before. The value an IT department can add is tremendous if it actually understands the business metrics and information needs; now that infrastructure and maintenance will occupy less of their time, the focus can shift to becoming an active and valuable part of the business instead of being a supporting function.

But as with every major change, it's going to hurt. It's the industrial revolution all over again, just at a faster pace.

Has there actually been any other area in the last couple of decades that has moved from supporting to business function? 


billballew
billballew

Big business - maybe BUT:

Cloud security is a big Q- YES - BUT - the unreliability of the network is the greatest fault. A small business and a few hours outage can cost more than a couple of local servers AND service for a year! Programmers have not caught on to the outage/downtime paradigm alternatives. Moving to the 70's client server environment simply sucks due to unreliability. Our backup is paper processing and later inputs and corrections. NOTICE FOLKS - double work and double cost. Plus the cost of having paper backup on hand each day. With active devices on the client end, programming and programmers enamoured with the cloud is the real weak link.

joaniecmann
joaniecmann

Cloud computing, connected services, and fully-managed outsourced IT solutions address a number of issues which have burdened enterprise IT deployments since IT departments were invented.

The difficulty for IT managers is that they are often overworked and underfunded, as information technology is not often viewed as a strategic differentiator but merely as a necessary cost of supporting operations.  Users view IT as being unresponsive and ineffective, and have little understanding of the balancing act required to meet user demands and at the same time deliver standardized enterprise computing services in a secure manner.

Mobility and the cloud has changed the landscape of business IT, and the concept of “there’s an app for that” is now fully ingrained in the user mentality. 

Cloud computing models are challenging the IT delivery chain at all levels.  Products which were once channel-only are now being distributed directly to users via hosting services; resellers are seeing competitive environments crop up in all sorts of unlikely places, and there's only so much margin available to divvy up.  For internal IT departments, just like with VARs and integrators, roles need to change and participants must find the value they deliver beyond simply providing products or break/fix service.

In reality, this whole cloud thing provides an opportunity for IT to be more strategically oriented and focused on solving real business problems rather than simply maintaining status quo.

http://coopermann.com/2012/09/17/disruptive-trends-emerging-opportunity-adapting-to-a-changing-technology-and-business-environment/

Darren B - KC
Darren B - KC

In a country that has one of the weakest broadband networks on the planet, I find it laughable and downright foolish to keep promoting the idea of moving critical business operations to a place where the business has zero control over reliable communications.  Remote networks go down, internet speeds vary wildly, and the bigger "the cloud" becomes, the easier a target it will be for cyber criminals.  In a nutshell, the cloud is a very bad idea that will someday become a nightmare of biblical proportions.  Watch.  You'll see.

calbrit01
calbrit01

Of course, the writer has just started a Cloud Services company, so hardly surprising he is trying to tell us all the IT department role is fading. The fact is cloud services are far from being able to be 100% trusted, and cannot provide the diverse systems needed by many businesses. They are fine for basic office applications, but cant hope to provide the often complex requirements of modern businesses.  

Servers are just one small part of the equation, you still need network and desktop  infrastructure ( to imply that desktop support becomes a lot easier because people are more tech savvy is nonsense, the writer has obviously never worked at the sharp end.). Cost is debatable, what you may save on servers you will have to spend on extra network infrastucture, especially WAN to be able to  cope with increased demand and extra redundancy & security.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I think you may want to read a few of the articles by the Guardian. If anything "The Cloud" can never be trusted. Businesses are already talking about moving it all back behind their walls.