Head in the Clouds: Forecasting Change and Transforming People


by Ray Cornelious


 

In a recent survey of 481 CFOs across the United States, 83 percent said that their companies expect to transition to cloud-based services in the next three to five years. Without a doubt, cloud computing is the future of information technology.

Cloud computing allows businesses to dramatically reduce their operating and capital costs by transferring the care and feeding of hardware infrastructures and operational support responsibilities to third-party service providers. Cloud-based IT services, which feature lower costs, higher performance, greater reliability, and improved disaster recovery capabilities, are slowly gaining acceptance. In fact, innovative cloud solution providers are reshaping the way businesses think about their grounded IT data centers. The traditional on-site approach, in which application servers support the client software on the user’s workstation, is being replaced by software delivered over the Internet by off-site vendors or SaaS providers. This process, already underway, is changing IT as we know it.

Defining the Cloud

Just like the clouds in the sky, cloud computing has no single owner. Attempts to own, copyright, or brand the term “cloud computing” have not been very successful, and the absence of a single owner may actually be one of the main reasons why there is no consistent set of naming conventions, service roles, or vendor-neutral, globally accepted industry certifications.

This may also be why there is no single definition of cloud computing; instead, there are many different descriptions and definitions associated with the various types of cloud computing. In my opinion, the simplest and most accurate definition is “where your data resides.” If your zeros and ones reside in a company-owned data center, you’re operating in a private cloud. If you rely on remote, hosted solutions, accessed via the Internet, you are working, chatting, playing, and communicating in the public cloud. And that’s not all. There are actually four generally accepted types of cloud service: public, private, hybrid, and community.

The Costly Enterprise Private Cloud
The private cloud is a collection of application servers, database servers, and internal network connectivity devices residing on-site. Building and supporting a private cloud not only requires a one-time hardware procurement costs, it also entails mandatory recurring costs, as these services require space, consume environmental resources, and, most importantly, must be supported by skilled (i.e., well-paid) staff.

A privately owned, supported, and maintained cloud will consume approximately 30 percent of the total IT budget. The bulk of this allocation covers only cooling and power; procurement, installation, security, maintenance, and disposal must also be factored in. On average, a private cloud may require 75 percent more resources compared to a public, off-site cloud solution.

The Public Cloud: For Work and Play
Public cloud offerings primarily consist of pay-as-you-go and social networking services delivered via the Internet. By using the Internet to gain access to different off-site services, Internet service providers (ISPs) become the gateway to multiple software service offerings. Likewise, through application service providers (ASPs) end users can gain access to a wide variety of software tools made available over the web. In this model, application, infrastructure, and platform services are outsourced at a lower cost to third-party solution providers.

The Partly Cloudy Hybrid Cloud
A hybrid cloud merges the public and private clouds. The best example of a hybrid cloud service is accessing the Internet, a public cloud service, from the private cloud at work or in your home office.

The Gated Community Cloud
Community clouds are special hybrid clouds designed to execute specific business needs. A community cloud connects two or more privately owned enterprise clouds services. This type of cloud, also known as an extranet, is highly secure, technically complex, and quite costly compared to other cloud service offerings. It is for the few that have a solid business case, meet mandatory requirements, and can afford it.

A few community cloud examples:

  • Inventory-level management
  • Insurance coverage verification
  • Electronic data interchange
  • 911 and 311 services
  • Private collaboration and communication tools for top-level management

Oftentimes top-level leadership will approve or deny access, as well as define new usage policies and procedures to support these high-cost services. The community cloud, it can be said, serves a gated community.

Transforming People in the Cloud

Salaries are often the most expensive line items on IT’s annual budget. While cloud computing solutions do reduce the need for IT manpower, these resources can be redeployed effectively and in a people-first fashion.

Just as private enterprise services are being transitioned to off-site public clouds, people resources can also be transitioned, as opposed to being downsized. There are many career opportunities available for most existing job classifications. Let’s take a closer look at three roles in particular: IT project managers, IT managers, and security analysts.

Transforming IT Project Managers
IT project managers, traditionally armed with infrastructure-focused processes and dispatched by the project management office (PMO), will have to embrace different project methodologies and make way for the transfer of more project ownership to IT customers.

Successful project managers benefit from having the support of top-level management, primarily for sponsorship, visibility, financial support, and consistent communication. IT has long been one of the major benefactors and beneficiaries of project management; however, by cutting back on project requirements, milestones, and deliverables, cloud computing can result in a shorter planning phase and faster solution delivery. The majority of the technology requirements, project risks, and IT resources typically decrease by 75 percent. This reduction opens up new vistas for end users, who will be able to select, implement, and manage their own solutions without having to rely on the PMO or support center.

With fewer technical resources, requirements, deliverables, and milestones to track, the continued development of internal process improvement initiatives, such as Lean Six Sigma, will help customers and project managers collaborate more effectively in this new environment.

Transforming IT Support Managers
In addition to managing the human resources needed to achieve the organization’s goals, and celebrating the individual success of the people they lead, IT support managers are also responsible for overseeing highly complex technical environments and making mission-critical decisions. Cloud computing actually gives managers the opportunity to improve as leaders.

Poor leadership has a trickle-down effect that inhibits productivity. A 2007 study from Florida State University showed that 40 percent of workers claimed to work for bad bosses. Employees who work for bad bosses are some 50–70 percent less productive, which translates into millions of dollars lost annually due to wasted effort, recruitment and retention costs, and uncollected revenue.

Cloud computing outsources many of the technical aspects of managing IT operations to third parties. By shifting focus away from technical operations, managers have an opportunity to become better overall leaders. For one thing, the cloud’s measurementand management-based environment may create opportunities that are better matches for certain managers’ skill sets, interests, educational backgrounds, learning curves, and career paths. This may be a welcome opportunity for some managers. In addition, the reduction in infrastructure hardware procurement, installation, security, and maintenance responsibilities will allow managers to regain lost bandwidth. By reducing the focus on managing resources in a reactionary break/fix environment, managers will have more opportunities to address other aspects of their jobs, like team building, proactive communication with customers, and administrative duties.

Transforming Security Analysts
Interviews with five security analysts from various industries across the country revealed an eye-opening fact: 100 percent of these subject matter experts were confident in their ability to gain undetectable backdoor access to secure networks. Knowing how to break in is one step toward keeping people out, which is why the security analyst is one of the most mission-critical roles in business today. As our reliance on public clouds grows, protecting data, privacy, trade secrets, and intellectual property takes on greater
significance.

Even though hardware reductions reduce operational and project tasks and costs in the private cloud hardware lifecycle, many organizations are slow to reduce headcount in this area. In order to achieve a happy medium, a head-in-the-clouds security analyst, working as a technical resource, also acts as an organizational insurance policy. This new twist on a mission-critical role adds value by providing new input and monitoring third-party vendor performance, availability reporting, and outsourced contract compliance, in partnership with the adopted contract review processes.

Forecasting the People Transformation Plan

Securing top-level sponsorship, recruiting additional change agents, and developing an HR management plan based on managing and measuring predictable facts: The forecast for the cloud’s people resources continues to gather additional support in both the public and private sectors. Remember, a good people transformation plan should encompass the needs of the team, support growth, improve processes, and, last but certainly not least, help your employees reach new heights.

A Cloudy Forecast for Change

As with any new technology, lack of acceptance and reluctance to change are two common results of misinformation and cloudy misconceptions. At the employee level, many of these misconceptions are rooted in self-preservation and fear of job loss. While smart planning, a need for change, and the desire for growth will continue to grab the attention of top-level decision makers and budget-conscious business owners, new career paths and career transformations are also emerging as organizations make the transition from the private cloud to the more cost-effective public cloud.

 

Ray Cornelious has over twenty-five years of IT experience ranging from help desk lead to senior project manager with Harris County Hospital District and Texas Children’s Hospital. In addition to his work in the healthcare industry, he has held IT leadership roles with Center Point Energy, Constellation Energy Group, and Firm Logic. Ray is a Microsoft Certified Professional and received his degree in computer science from ECPI College of Technology.

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