A funny thing happened during my Cloud Expo presentation in Santa Clara recently that I wasn’t expecting. I was trying to come up with a few points in the session where I could get a read on whether the audience was following me or not. And since my topic was “How Cloud Computing is Changing the Role of IT…and What You Can Do About it,” I figured at least someone would have an opinion. So I asked a few questions of the audience.

And (you guessed it), there was no shortage of opinions. In fact, I found myself in the middle of a full-fledged discussion. Especially when we started talking about which IT job titles were or were not going to exist any longer as a result of cloud computing. Interesting stuff. Here’s a summary of the presentation I gave, plus a few comments from the audience thrown in for color:

Cloud computing is causing two big IT-related role shifts

Cloud computing has given business users choices it didn’t have before; it’s breaking the monopoly that IT has had on the sourcing of IT service. It means business can go around IT, can “go rogue” and find the services they think best suit themselves. The doom & gloom scenario for IT is that it’s time to pack up and go do something else.

Will IT go away because of cloud computing? Half of my session attendees (which was two-thirds end users) thought that cloud computing will at least cause IT to lose jobs. However, I’m not nearly that negative; I tend to agree with our own Bert Armijo who likes to say that IT jobs don’t go away when faced with the Next Big Thing. They just reshuffle. So the real question, then, is what does the deck look like after all the shuffling is done? More on that in a moment.

First: IT is becoming an orchestrator of a new IT service supply chain

What I told folks at Cloud Expo is that from what I see, cloud computing and its focus on business services, rather than the underlying technology, are altering the broad responsibilities and the approach of IT. Cloud is changing IT’s role inside an organization. It opens up the possibility of getting IT service from many different sources and the corresponding need to orchestrate those many sources. Mike Vizard talked about this in a recent IT Business Edge article: “Senior IT leaders,” he said, “will soon find themselves managing a supply chain of IT services.”

This role as orchestrator of things you don’t own is a new one in some ways, though many folks have been managing outsourcing (similar in some ways) for a while now. Shifting all of IT to have this mindset is very significant; it means adjusting to a role as a service provider, selecting the best of both internal and external services as appropriate.

And that’s where things get interesting for the actual jobs inside the IT department. Some of those are going to have to change.

Second: how IT jobs themselves are changing 

One of my points was that this IT supply chain concept creates a whole new set of questions, opportunities, and requirements to make things work. IT will certainly be more business-oriented and less focused on the underlying infrastructure components as layers of abstraction help make it smarter — and possible — to think beyond the nitty gritty.

So how is cloud changing the individual roles and jobs within the IT department? I identified 3 important influencers:

  • Automation – fewer manual tasks means less demand for the people who do them today
  • Abstraction – technical minutiae are less important to focus on, while the business service itself takes on a much more primary role
  • Sourcing – vendor management and comparison (and some way to make choices) move to the forefront

Products can help take these new approaches in what are often very fast, effective steps. But the IT folks themselves need to realize that they really need a new way of looking at their jobs, and, in fact, some of their jobs may end up very different from where they are today. That’s not a quick problem to solve. I remember this issue being a weighty problem back in my Cassatt days, too.

So what IT jobs are on the endangered species list?

At Cloud Expo, I listed off a bunch of titles to see what the audience thought were the soon-to-be-extinct IT jobs. I let people categorize the jobs as either Cockroaches (as in, “will always have a job,” you can’t get rid of them), Chimps (”need to adapt to survive”), or Dodos (”buh-bye”). OK, so the categories weren’t necessarily flattering, but it added a touch of levity to what can be a somber topic for IT.

My in-room responses had some dissenting opinions, obviously, but they were, in fact, surprisingly uniform. Here’s where people more or less categorized a few different IT jobs:

Cockroaches: service provider vendor manager, SLA manager
Chimps: software/apps deployment person, network administrator, server monitoring/ “Mr. Fix-it”
Dodos: capacity planning, CIO

Yes, you just read that my audience thought CIOs were going to go extinct.

I sensed a bit of dramatic license was being taken for impact in the room, but the discussion was definitely interesting. There is certainly a case to be made that the tools, approaches, and processes that the CIO relies on today, for example, need to get a major revamp, or things will look pretty bleak for the folks in those jobs.

There was agreement that the business-level capabilities of the IT people who look at service levels and manage service providers matches up well with the shift that seems to be going on toward business-level conversations.

And, the realization that even the most core of administrator roles (network, server) and the break-fix mentality currently in place in a huge majority of IT shops just doesn’t seem as relevant in a world seriously involved with cloud computing. Or, at least, it makes sense that there will need to be an important set of adaptations. In the world of cloud computing, you don’t fix the malfunctioning commodity server. Instead, you ensure that your systems route around it (through internal or external sources) and continue to deliver the service.

It’s time for quite a lot of staff evolution, from the sounds of it. At least, that’s what my Cloud Expo audience thought. My next post will cover exactly that: I’ll build on these comments and look at the approaches, roles, and solutions that I highlighted to help IT leverage the cloud computing trend.

And for the squeamish, I’ll try not to mention cockroaches again.