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Evolution or Extinction?

Are IT specialists’ jobs on the endangered species list?

When technologies turn obsolete and paradigms shift, what happens to the jobs that support them? Do they disappear into...the cloud?

The world of IT is in perpetual motion, which means every job is potentially endangered. But even so, cloud computing has gotten many people spooked, and with good reason. This is a big change.

Many in IT talk about being in business more than technology, but cloud computing makes that shift more real than ever. With the cloud hovering overhead, many specific aspects of IT must evolve or they will become extinct.

Here's the bottom line: with the shift to cloud computing, the IT department must hone a new set of skills - such as managing a broader set of service provider partners - in order to deliver hybrid cloud services to the business. In this new IT reality, business services become equally - if not more important - than technical minutiae. Vendor comparison, decision-making and management become a primary responsibility. IT folks need to shift, or risk being shifted themselves.

The animal kingdom offers some instructive (though not exactly flattering) metaphors for comparison. Cockroaches will always be around no matter how things change. Chimps can figure things out, learn, and evolve as they go. A few, like dodos, live on only in fond memories. Here's what IT roles might be lumped into different categories in the real world:

  • Cockroaches: Service provider, vendor manager, SLA manager (view this as a compliment)
  • Chimps: Software/apps deployment person, network administrator, server monitoring/ "Mr. Fix-it" (again, a compliment)
  • Dodos: Capacity planning, CIO

Yes, I said it: in its current incarnation, the CIO is in danger of extinction. However, there is plenty of room on the evolutionary ladder for a CIO who is proactively reshaping his or her job.

Now comes the good news. As I heard Tom Bittman, VP and distinguished analyst with Gartner Research, say recently, IT has the opportunity to "become the trusted arbiter and broker" of cloud computing. This definitely puts IT in a good place.

But to get to this place, there have to be fundamental changes. When moving to the cloud, IT departments need to identify whether they want a "clean break" or a gradual shift. They can set up a "clean room" specifically for pilot programs that allow experimentation, and should develop specific measures to quantify the benefits of the changes being made. Try something. Fail. Then, keep trying after failing - it's ironic, but experience counts in a brand new world. And finally, after years of saying it, build more direct (and more easily understandable) connections between business service and IT support.

Now back to those disappearing jobs. Once the old titles have gone, what will the new business cards have to say? They could be a little fanciful (or not), but the responsibilities will be important:

  • The Weaver (Cloud Service Architect): Primary responsibility for piecing together the plan for delivering business services
  • The Conductor (Cloud Orchestration Specialist): Directing how things actually end up happening inside and outside the IT environment
  • The Decider (Cloud Service Manager): More of a vendor evaluator - the person who develops - and eliminates - relationships for different pieces of the business service
  • The Operator... with New Tools" (Cloud Infrastructure Administrator): It might sound like a glorified version of the old network or system administrator, but the tools are different enough to require a brand-new mindset.

Much of this surely sounds academic, even arcane, and there's certainly an element of hyperbole in the prophecies of doom. However, the benefits of cloud computing are undeniable. In technology terms, cloud-based infrastructure offers serious advantages around provisioning, security, on demand, time-sharing, resource pooling and a whole lot more. In business terms, it offers serious savings, accompanied by convenience, choice and quality. Now, it's up to the good people in IT to make that transition.

The IT department is dead; long live the IT department.

More Stories By Jay Fry

Jay Fry is vice president of marketing for a new, stealthy cloud computing and mobility start-up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Previously, he served as VP of marketing and strategy for the cloud computing business at CA Technologies. He joined CA with the acquisition of private cloud computing pioneer Cassatt Corp. Jay founded the marketing department at BEA Systems, Inc. (now part of Oracle) and spent three of his 10 years at BEA running the company's European marketing program(me)s from London. He has also held marketing roles at systems management start-up EcoSystems Software (now part of Compuware), in Oracle's Applications Division, and in Sun’s Federal Division (also now part of Oracle). He has a B.A. in English literature and communications from Stanford University. Jay blogs on cloud computing and IT management topics at http://datacenterdialog.blogspot.com and is @jayfry3 on Twitter.

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