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