Cloud computing is here to stay. It crested the top of the Gartner Hype Cycle “peak of inflated expectations” late last year and is now headed for the “trough of disillusionment”. But in this IT professional’s opinion, this one is going to be here for quite some time. It’s just so amorphous that nobody can really pin it down, and even if they think they have, it’s like a greased pig – more than likely it’s going to slip away again. So just imagine the angst this causes IT managers trying to lay down a strategy when budget pressures (still growing <5% year over year while requirements are growing >50% during the same period) consume most of their waking cycles.

Just like any new technological “wave” (mainframes, timesharing, client server, code generators, distributing computing, desktops, internet/web, virtualization) the latest – cloud computing – sends ripples of fear, uncertainty and doubt through the masses of IT employees. Not because it offers some new and ominous technology that nobody understands, but with all the talk about the cloud solving most if not all IT ills (including the reduction of IT professionals), the people in the trenches have got to be worried, distracting them from the job at hand – producing more with less. So how do we, as leaders mitigate the fear our key resources are experiencing?

Defining new roles

Cloud computing and cloud services are great architectural advancements, and with those advancements come opportunities. These new architectures are changing the way IT addresses major challenges, requiring new skills in several key areas:

Application Development. The whole model of application development is being turned upside down. It’s no longer just about languages, it’s about platforms. aPaaS (application platform as a service) is creating a new and exciting models for application “construction”. VMforce, Heroku (now part of salesforce.com), Engine Yard, Google App Engine, Azure and many others are offering new design-to-deployment platforms that will accelerate the cloud application life cycle. These new wave developers will be in demand.

Cloud Architecture. The cloud is supposed to make things simpler – right? Well, maybe not… Designing the right mix of private, hybrid and public cloud services will be a major undertaking in the future. We used to talk about “enterprise architects” as being the uber designers of mission critical systems. They will still be important, but people who can figure out the right balance of infrastructure, services, security, policies and governance to make clouds a viable option will be a valuable asset.

Big Data Architecture. Talk about a wide open field… The rate at which data is being created is staggering. But correlating that data and extracting value from it will be an even bigger challenge. Gathering up all the relevant social data that lives in the “cloud”, and then figuring out how to turn it into an competitive advantage will be worth LOTS of money. If your interested, read how leading edge companies view this challenge -http://bit.ly/dEMXQD Beyond architecture lies capability, and crafting the right infrastructure to house all of this big data is going to push the limits of traditional “storage” technologies – and skillsets.

Social Networking/Media. The boundaries between the enterprise, the customer AND the employee are starting to significantly overlap, blur and in some cases disappear altogether. Understanding not only the tools of the trade, but also how to use them effectively to create new markets, generate demand, develop brand loyalty and protect corporate resources opens up great possibilities for the development of new roles, responsibilities and skills development. Granted, many of the functions listed here typically fall into the marketing organization, but IT is still responsible for designing, building and managing the infrastructure that makes it possible to participate in the social world. And if you turn the model inward, the same sets of relationship constructs and tools will be required for day-to-day operations within the enterprise.

Retooling… but how?

A few years ago there was a pretty good commercial by EDS about rebuilding a plane in flight. That’s the challenge IT leaders are faced with today. With budgets low and demand high, how do IT leaders find the money and time to allow their employees to retool themselves to assume the roles described above?

First and foremost, it’s about leadership commitment. If the corporation is not committed to the new wave of cloud computing, then expect IT employees to find those skills by default – they will leave the company and go where they can build them. This cycle has repeated itself countless times throughout history. So if you are committed to cloud computing, make your strategy clear, concise and visible to your employees. Too many companies are trying the “toe in the water” method of new architecture and technology exploration. Either put your toe in and keep there, or don’t put it in at all…

Next, let your people explore. While you may not be able to go as far as Google and allocate 20% of everybody’s time to exploration, discovery and innovation, it’s a great idea to encourage your employees to discover new methods, tools and learning opportunities on their own. Textbooks and classrooms are still very effective tools for teaching new skills, but communities of interest now offer a new way to quickly and easily access a wealth of information pertaining to almost any IT discipline – especially in emerging technologies.

Finally, give your employees the tools to do their job – the same tools your customers, partners and competitors have. Many companies are placing bans on or locking down certain tools and social networks. In a highly-connected digital world this type of behavior totally disenfranchises your workforce and dramatically lowers morale. How can you expect your employees to understand the latest trends, tools and techniques if the only time and place they can explore them is outside the work environment?

In summary…

A lot of what has been said in this blog post is easier said than done. But again, I will reiterate that enabling your employees to take on the challenge of understanding how to deliver the mission-critical capabilities that your enterprise needs to be competitive begins with leadership. Embracing the new world of cloud computing and social networks/media is not an option, it’s a requirement. If you’re not prepared to do this then how can you expect your employees to do the same – and take on the challenge of up-skilling themselves while the corporate enterprise in is flight?!