Ellucian CIO: Cloud era demands new IT skillset

Prioritize DevOps, security, communication, and financial skills.
635 readers like this.
CIO Cloud Strategy

Much of the urgency around digital transformation is a result of the fact that more and more companies – regardless of their history, size, or business model – are having to transform themselves into technology companies to stay competitive. You might think companies that started out as technology companies are at an advantage, but the pace of change today is accelerating. In this environment, you can rely less and less often on your past. You must keep looking forward and moving faster. For Ellucian, this means we are transforming from a technology company to a cloud company, and it is changing the skill sets and roles of our IT organization.

Cloud is core to the future of our business and to the future of IT. For 40 years, we’ve been a software company, but now we are providing online services in addition to developing and delivering software. That means we need to be even more operationally focused in delivering high service quality to our customers. We need to deeply understand our customers’ businesses and how they’re evolving. And we need to become experts in optimizing consumption of public cloud resources because our costs are directly impacted by how effectively and efficiently we use those resources.

[Having trouble hiring cloud experts? Read our related article, Hybrid cloud talent: How to find and keep it]

Cloud is core to the future of our business and to the future of IT.

We have always been a technology company, but we are not immune to competitive pressure and demands from customers to continually evolve. I expect to see many enterprises move to Software-as-a-Service-based solutions in the next few years and the competition to deliver those services is increasing. As enterprises are able to shift to standard, proven, capable platforms to deliver the business services we all need – like payroll, HR, and finance – they will concentrate on the things that are differentiating for their business and develop common and custom solutions for those differentiators, increasingly in public cloud environments.

As an example, our customer engagement solutions continue to grow, whether it’s through social media, the new environments we’re delivering to our customers, better tools enabling us to focus on student success, and better tools enabling us to engage with our customers. Cloud-based and Software-as-a-Service solutions are fundamental to each of these.

Throughout the technology organizations in our enterprise, agility is essential. Cloud significantly enhances agility by removing the friction traditionally seen in provisioning and setting up environments, whether they’re development environments, custom software, general compute, or a vendor package. In the past, just getting to the point where an initiative generated business value took a fair amount of time and effort. Now, with a cloud implementation, it can be available in seconds.

New skills needed for the cloud

There are a number of important considerations for CIOs who are making the transition to cloud, and many of those considerations are skills based. You’ve got to both plan for and have a vehicle for developing or acquiring the skills necessary to manage the very different environments and processes that comprise cloud computing. With those skills will come a very different culture. Unlike some traditional environments, cloud is high speed. Cloud is process-oriented. Cloud is DevOps. Cloud is consistency. An analogy in the cloud world is a comparison of caring for “cattle vs pets.” Caring for cloud environments – the cattle in the analogy – requires thinking about the process entirely differently and at scale.

Transitioning to cloud also almost certainly requires increasing levels of automation. Even if you’re able to get started today with a set of manual capabilities and manual skills, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed. The environment and the demands of the cloud are continually changing, so you must be automated if you want to keep pace. Additionally, you must build information security in from the beginning and continue to up your game – and skills sets – to secure your solutions.  

Cloud presents the need for more financial skills as well. In the past, IT would procure servers and software and administer them over time. The financial aspect of the environment was relatively static, and the business processes were relatively well understood. Now, a single programmer or systems administrator can make a number of potentially impactful financial decisions each day as they start new services in a public cloud environment. These individuals have to have the financial skills and awareness to understand the implications of their actions, and to build solutions with the financial cost profile in mind. (And you need the automated systems and services to present and reinforce good decisions.)

This isn’t the only business skill your IT team will need. As more of the traditional IT skills for building and sustaining systems are automated and incorporated into the cloud, IT people need to become business consultants, advising their “customers” on the right business technology decisions and strategy. IT people will need better communication skills. Because they’ll be having more business conversations, they will need the skills to influence the organization to obtain the investments and support they need.   

Cloud infrastructure and services are a very different, very dynamic environment when compared to more traditional models. In cloud environments, IT organizations and CIOs have to do more than simply provide operational excellence, as they’ve done historically. They now have to think explicitly about how they’ll provide business value in the new environment. CIOs who start with a focus on developing the appropriate skills within their team will likely find themselves one step ahead as they embark on this transition.

Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics.