Paul Heltzel, InfoWorld
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The lack of skilled IT workers is hurting the deployment of emerging technology, according to a new survey from Gartner. In areas from cloud to cybersecurity, this crisis is expected to last for years to come.
But IT pros who
don't take the time to lift their heads and assess the likely IT
landscape five years out may be asking for career trouble. Because one
fact is clear:
Organizations of all
stripes are increasingly moving IT infrastructure to the cloud. In fact,
most IT pros who've pulled all-nighters, swapping in hard drives or
upgrading systems while co-workers slept, probably won't recognize their
offices' IT architecture -- or the lack thereof -- in five years.
This shift will have a
broad impact on IT's role in the future -- how departments are
structured (or broken up), who sets the technical vision (or follows
it), and which skills rise to prominence (or fall away almost entirely).
Here we'll look at
how the cloud is changing the way IT departments work and how, five
years from now, staff and managers will need to adapt to a cloud-driven
Cutting The Wires
When you step off the
elevator at the office or data center five years from now, what will
you see? Fewer servers and fewer co-workers, most likely. Maintaining
on-premises data centers is a costly endeavor, much more so than
connecting to the cloud. If the current trend toward moving
infrastructure to the cloud is any indication, organizations that
haven't already done so will carefully consider those expenses and many
will ultimately decide to trim them over the next five years.
The skills necessary to thrive in IT will evolve as well.
"Ten years ago, IT
staff were physically plugging special storage cables into special
switches," says Mathew Lodge, vice president in VMware's cloud services
group. "Today they're allocating virtual storage volumes across the
network, and some applications simply do their own storage allocation
via APIs. The future is about enabling the deployment and consumption of
cloud services, not installing, configuring, and managing stacks."
"Cloud services are
disrupters," concurs Jim Rogers, CMO at unified communications and cloud
services company iCore Networks. "They disrupt the idea that IT
departments need to spend most of their time on-site performing mundane
tasks. IT departments now have more viable options to outsource and
automate these tasks than ever before."
As companies' infrastructure needs move increasingly to the cloud, so too will jobs dedicated to maintaining racks.
"IT managers will
need good network engineers, help desk staff, security managers, and
business analysts," says Chris McKewon, founder and chief architect of
IT consulting company Xceptional Networks. "But they won't need
server/storage engineers, systems administrators, or data center
The result will be a
fundamental shift in IT's overarching mission at most organizations,
with the support-and-maintain mind-set giving way to a more strategic,
software-centric vision for IT. In fact, the IT staff of the future is
likely to need the skills of a businessperson to stay current, as their
company's software requirements and the options for satisfying them will
be deep, varied, and changing quickly.
"IT managers will
have to support applications, not equipment," McKewon says. "They'll
have to be flexible, adaptable, and inclusive. It will be difficult to
set standards on what hardware will and won't work. The users will do
that for them. And cloud-based single sign-on will become one of the
most important elements to a successful cloud strategy. Users don't want
to manage 50 login names and passwords for 50 different applications."
"The IT department
won't need to be onsite monitoring and recovering devices and systems to
ensure they're ready for use," says iCore's Rogers. "Instead, the IT
professionals can spend more time as strategic planners and business
analysts who ensure their organizations are structured appropriately to
support cloud-based office communications. They'll be responsible for
vendor management and integration processes." And, he says, IT pros
"will be educators, hosting essential end-user trainings for
formerly of Adobe and now CEO and founder of AWS infrastructure security
firm Evident.io, sees more crossover roles in the future.
"They'll look like
today's devops and full-stack engineer roles," Pendergrast says. "We'll
see IT become less-siloed and heavily staffed by software engineers.
Staff in existing roles will have the opportunity to grow and embrace
new technologies and practices for the new era of cloud computing, and
take advantage of the value found in rapid iteration environments. The
days of server-hugging, deep domain expertise, and IT-only
certifications and training are long gone."
That said, not all
legacy systems will disappear. In fact, some may remain critically
important to the business for years to come, whether IT likes it or not.
And somebody will need to care for and feed them.
managers continue to focus on battling tech debt because of old
technology, bad technology decisions, and one-off technology patches
that continue to drive complexity and reduce speed," says Curt Jacobsen,
principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "This battle will be inevitable --
and IT managers will be managing those legacy issues for a long time."
IT Roles in Flux
Here's the big
question: As the cloud continues to gain traction, will companies need a
fully staffed IT department? As you may have guessed, few believe the
IT department will disappear. Companies will still require talented
staff who can -- at the very least -- manage systems integration. But an
IT department five years from now will need to keep pace with nearly
"I will say that I
think the number of implementation and ops-focused roles will decrease,
and those IT staff will have to switch to a strategic mind-set," says
Roman Stanek, CEO of GoodData. "Leaders who were once focused on
operations will have the opportunity to dive more deeply into the
blending of business need with technologies, data science, data
monetization. IT will no longer be the people who try to manage your
database; they'll be the people who are thinking of new ways to
monetize, share, and use your data for organization-wide success."
James Quin, senior
director at B-to-B marketing firm CDM Media, says he's already seeing
radical changes in how IT departments operate and how companies are
"The IT department
isn't going away, and the role of the CIO isn't going to be
marginalized. But as more workloads shift to the cloud, the construction
of the IT department, by necessity, must change away from traditional
roles to those more focused on vendor, business, security, and service
management," Quin says. "This doesn't mean that development and
administration jobs go away, just that there are fewer of them."
The jobs that remain,
Quin says, will focus on what he calls the "shim" layer that integrates
different public cloud services with a few applications that must
remain in-house. These could include highly sensitive corporate (or
scientific) data or medical records and images, for example.
John Matthews, CIO of
IT operations analytics company ExtraHop, is a 20-year veteran of the
industry. He says he's seen this sort of sea change before.
"Like 10 years ago,
where we had vertical specialties around things like phone systems, we
will now employ vertical experts who are 100 percent dedicated to how to
make things work in cloud IT environments such as AWS and Azure,"
Matthews says. "Specific names of IT positions and what their roles
entail will change, but the function will be the same as today -- or
even 10 years ago. There will be roles best suited for the general IT
knowledge worker, and there will be those that require a specialist's
touch. For example, a lab manager's role might morph and be 70 percent
focused on managing workloads in a system like AWS, which will provide
them with additional tools to take on more tasks across the network."
This is where the
cloud's supposed push-button simplicity gives way to a key facet of IT
work in the years to come: the ability to navigate the complexity of
intermixed cloud environments.
"The more complex and
interconnected these cloud environments become, the higher amount of a
general understanding and knowledge of how it all works together will be
required from IT teams," Matthews says. "IT will still need someone who
understands and specializes in certain aspects like storage. These
departments will also need their personnel to understand how storage
works across an entire complex cloud environment and the different
aspects of what that relational environment entail. The days of simple
technology verticals are over. If you want to build it, maintain it, or
fix it, you have to be able to see and understand how it all connects
Projecting the Future
Some experts see the
cloud benefiting the IT department by paving the way for staffers to
expand their roles, doing more development work, coding, tying systems
together, and creating flexible applications that resemble platforms.
"For a long time, a
lot of what went into making the business successful was the
meat-and-potatoes tasks like racking and stacking," says ExtraHop's
Matthews. "But the transition away from those traditional ops tasks has
already happened. Today, the most important thing IT can do for the
business is to configure devices and applications to maximize
performance, control access, and ensure that devices, systems, and
applications are secure."
VMware's Lodge sees a
shift in philosophy, where IT collaborates with the business side to
choose what applications are needed, then supports those applications
and ensures compliance.
"IT staff will become
the 'ops' part of 'devops' because development teams don't want to do
ops - they want to develop code," Lodge says. "So there will be a
cross-pollination between development and IT operations, with IT teams
becoming much more application- and developer-savvy, and dev teams
understanding the impacts of development choices on operations."
Steve Shah, VP of
product management at Citrix, sees a rising need for security skills in
the years to come, given IT's expanding role in development and
"As these projects
will span across both on-prem and cloud resources," Shah says, "the
legal aspects of data privacy, data sovereignty, and cryptography - who
has access to keys - will all come into play as much as IT engineering."
co-founder and senior vice president at cloud-based enterprise software
company Virtustream, sees new opportunities for IT staff, optimizing
business applications for mobile workforces and making the most of
"IT managers will
help mine the vast troves of unstructured data that organizations have
resulting in increased collaboration with other departments," Jennings
says. "In many cases, IT managers will be reporting to line-of-business
executives and even up to the C-suite - from the CTO to CIO to CFO and
even CEO. We'll see an evolution in the skills required of IT, with
increased emphasis on creative thinking, problem-solving, and
also sees IT staffs merging with other departments: "We're seeing
completely new managers of IT departments now, which is very exciting.
They might end up reporting to different areas in the line of business,
based on their tech and cloud spending. So far, departments like
marketing, finance, and operations have started to take some spend from
the typical CIO role, so IT has moved across the organization."
Stanek sees this as a natural progression, freeing IT from typical "cost center" tasks.
"We're already seeing
many ops tasks being taken over by cloud vendors, and this will
continue to expand. So IT managers will be able to head up projects to
improve their business - not fix its technical flaws," Stanek says.
"The reality is, IT
departments are already evolving," says PwC's Jacobsen. "In five years,
they'll look more like miniature software companies, with staff
dedicated to solving their customers' problems."
Five years ago, IT
departments were seen as a bottleneck, rigidly adhering to processes and
inflexible tech that slowed down the business, argues Jacobson. Five
years from now, they'll be more fluid, solving co-workers' problems with
an architecture that's adaptable to changing requirements.
What Stays in House?
If the cloud
continues to quickly change the landscape, where does that leave
in-house applications? In other words: What about a company's data that
is too important for Dropbox?
"IT will increasingly
be tasked with building and supporting custom enterprise applications
that take advantage of new capabilities in mobile and cloud computing,"
says Vidhya Ranganathan, senior vice president at mobile enterprise
software maker Accellion. "These in-house applications will be capable
of accessing both pure and private cloud infrastructures, allowing
companies to store sensitive information such as health care records or
customer data without sacrificing the ability to access noncrucial
applications in the cloud."
That said, most
experts agree that most applications will eventually move to the cloud,
and the cases for hosting in-house applications will be far fewer.
"For all but a select
few organizations, on-premises will fade away within the decade," says
Virtustream's Jennings. "A few organizations are always going to have
specific requirements for a given application or process that will
require an in-house solution. For the rest of us, the new challenge IT
faces in engineering solutions is to do so with an eye toward a cloud
deployment instead of an on-premises deployment. This in many ways
refers to the broader rise of devops, or an increasing marriage between
IT and developer functions. Looking ahead, it's fair to expect this
trend to further accelerate as IT operations become almost entirely
Some see the cloud
presenting the same hurdles as any other early-adopted technology. Some
tough questions remain when we're talking about more than shadow IT,
more than communications and backup, but rather the core applications
that the business needs to exist.
"Is the security in
the cloud as good as what I have control over in my data center?" asks
David Fowler of INetU, a company that offers managed cloud hosting
services. "How do I manage capacity and performance when the environment
is virtualized and there are variables I no longer have control over?
How do I handle backups and [disaster recovery] in a virtualized world?
How do I integrate the data in the cloud with the other systems that may
be in my data center or a different cloud?"
Businesses need to
ask themselves these questions and decide whether they'll develop the
expertise to answer them in house or hire outside resources.
"In either case, IT
can play the role of an enabler for the business to move faster, rather
than acting as a roadblock to deploying new business solutions," Fowler