The recent necessity of remote work makes the shift to cloud more urgent than ever for enterprises. No matter where a business was in their cloud transformation before this new era began, employees need to securely access work software and data from home, now.
Meeting that need requires more than just changes to the tech stack. When companies accelerate cloud-bound digital transformation initiatives, they must also accelerate the changes to roles and responsibilities those transitions bring. This impacts all departments, but is especially relevant for IT teams. Simply put, moving to cloud releases IT teams from time-intensive maintenance of on-prem technology infrastructure. No more downtime to install updates, and no need to worry about expensive technology falling out of date.
This creates an opportunity for people in certain legacy roles. Some once-niche jobs stand front and center in the transformation, and become critical to solving new challenges. Other positions remain essentially the same, but with expanded responsibilities. For example:
- Most roles must lean more on their abilities to manage capabilities and integrations, or develop those abilities if they lacked them prior to the cloud transition.
- IT staff must develop a broad understanding of multiple tools built by third parties, rather than indexing heavily on supporting the technology of specific vendors.
- Focus shifts from hardware to soft skills, and to managing end-to-end capabilities rather than engineering the individual steps along the way.
- Security requirements are different and relationships with vendors change, as do the types of skills that are most valued.
So what does it look like when jobs change like this? Which roles will change, and how?
Evolving roles in practice
Roles like solutions architect and enterprise architect, which focus on stitching together external cloud services to address business needs, become especially crucial in a cloud transition, though their titles may change. Infrastructure roles such as network administrator, database administrator, and storage administrator, have to calibrate skills to cloud scale infrastructure, and have to deal with more layers of automation. Workers with this valuable experience often refocus on managing cloud environments like Azure or AWS.
Other roles also require tweaking. Software engineering and development, for example, are relevant in any technology setting, but take on a different flavor in the cloud. In an IT setting, these roles are typically applied to integration and data engineering, rather than developing a full stack.
The degree to which the IT org chart changes will depend on what proportion of the department’s workload is shifting to cloud. Heavily-regulated industries may require companies to continue building and maintaining some of their own infrastructure. This is the case in healthcare, where HIPAA rules may require local storage of patient data, and government contracting, where issues of national security may be involved. Businesses in these areas will continue to require, or at the least prefer, on-prem infrastructure management roles.
Even when there’s no issue of sensitive data to hold a company back from shifting significantly to cloud, unique concerns may still arise. For example, software companies, which rely on proprietary technology to build their products, must integrate behind-the-firewall systems with third-party SaaS products. That may raise the profile of security roles tasked with overseeing sensitive integrations.
The way these individual roles are changing reflect the larger evolution in IT as a function, as enterprises seek to take advantage of the greater array of applications and technology offered by a greater number of cloud service providers.
The most common ways responsibilities change
Every job is unique, and the way these shifts will affect each individual will vary based on that person’s role, team, and organization. But there are a few large-scale trends that will affect most people at most organizations when they make the shift to cloud.
One of the most foundational features of cloud adoption is a heavier emphasis on the relationship enterprises have with their vendors. Vendors become more like partners; they must treat their customers’ success as their own success, and help IT teams build and execute their IT strategy. This is true beyond just the IT world. Heads of all kinds of departments, and even individual contributors, will have to work with vendors to help them get their jobs done. The marketing manager in charge of demand generation, for example, will have to maintain their own relationship with a third party whose cloud-based data collection tools support the manager’s job.
Compared to their colleagues, IT teams experience even deeper changes to workflow in connection with the new emphasis on vendors. In an on-prem setting, IT professionals only interact with vendors at the point of sale, after which those in infrastructure management roles are responsible for maintaining the software or hardware. Following a cloud transition, vendors maintain the tools they offer as part of their service level agreements with client companies, and updates delivering greater security or improved features can occur monthly or even weekly. So managing a capability largely becomes a matter of staying on top of the vendors that enable it, rather than physically maintaining the infrastructure and software. While this system does require some people skills, vendor management is typically less time-consuming than on-prem stack management.
This relationship shift starts before vendors are event contracted. Working with cloud service providers and SaaS vendors involves a different type of vetting than does buying hardware and software to operate locally. Concerns like whether the technology is up to date or whether it will require significant maintenance are less of a headache for the buyer when the vendor handles those issues, in which case the buyer’s focus shifts to ensuring the content of the service level agreement and the vendor’s ability to fulfill the contract for its full duration each align with the needs of their business. The priority for IT staff becomes evaluating the functionality of the solution, its roadmap, and the ease of integrating and extending that technology into their existing stack.
IT’s role in maintaining security also changes in a cloud environment. In a completely on-prem setting, enterprises are responsible for the security of all the technology they use. Adopting cloud and SaaS tools means storing data with vendors, and relying on them to keep it safe. But no IT team has time to conduct a deep security vetting of every individual vendor. Instead, managing cloud security typically calls for a Zero Trust model, in which an organization forgoes one large perimeter in favor of protection at every endpoint and for every user within a company. If malware or a person with bad intentions infiltrates one SaaS program, they don’t get easy or immediate access to the next. This is in contrast to the moat-style security of most on-prem systems, where finding one point of entry often gives a nefarious party the opportunity to access large swaths of the organization.
The need for soft skills also extends internally. In a cloud-driven enterprise, IT professionals must collaborate in new ways with other departments. Enterprises may also decide to embed IT staff in departments that can benefit from the development of further technical capabilities and automation. For example, an enterprise might want an IT professional who is especially familiar with sales SaaS tools to embed with the sales team to help build a more sophisticated lead routing and account management system.
More business focus
Historically, IT professionals defined themselves by the vendors whose technology they were good at managing. Technology consultants might have marketed themselves as experts in Dell systems, or might have advertised their deep expertise with Microsoft tools. But it’s increasingly more common for IT professionals to define themselves by the capabilities they excel at managing, like recruiting, marketing, finance and accounting, or sales tech. This focus on what technology does, as opposed to where it comes from, is part of the rise in business and soft skills that accompanies a transition to cloud.
When an IT professional understands the work of the other departments in their organization, they can help those teams achieve their goals by augmenting their work with greater technical capabilities. And when IT teams know the larger goals of their company, and the pressures to which their company must adapt, they can predict future technological changes they’ll need to make and prepare for them in advance. For example, if an IT professional knows their company is in a growth phase, they might think twice about contracting recruiting or HR software that is only really effective for organizations of under 1,000 people. Or if their company is moving to a permanent remote work setup for employees, IT might look into whether certain workflow or communications tools work better for onboarding new employees. Business understanding helps IT professionals better predict subscription costs of SaaS products over time.
Budgeting changes too with a shift to cloud. On-prem IT requires planning for the costs associated with buying technology, depreciation of hardware, and ongoing maintenance. Cloud IT budgeting means planning for what tools you’re going to need, and at what usage level, through subscriptions spread over one to three years. Budgeting can also be a bit more staggered, as contracts come up for renewal at different times of year. Contract expirations and renewals offer an opportunity for flexibility; IT professionals can change the capacity of usage for which they are paying, or find a new tool entirely without having to worry about sunk cost.
Cloud adoption also changes budget dynamics, requiring more financial knowledge from IT professionals. The fixed costs of on-prem technology no longer make up the majority of the overall IT budget. Instead, allocating funds becomes a puzzle of contract costs. But this complexity pays off in easier exits from one cloud vendor and onto another. Compared to on-prem transitions, exiting a cloud vendor is much easier.
Different technical skills
Subscribing to SaaS tools creates greater demand for a broader set of development skills and high-level thinking. IT professionals need to understand how tools from different vendors integrate and work together. It’s important to note that new cloud applications may not map directly onto old custom software. One cloud offering could encompass different needs previously handled by multiple custom software solutions, or one legacy software solution may be replaced by multiple cloud offerings. For example, company data could be scattered across multiple cloud tools rather than stored in one central location. At the same time, storage, analysis, and communications needs for sales operations could all be handled by one vendor’s integrated SaaS applications. This makes cloud data strategy – including data policies, data integration, and data lake and related analytics architecture – an important skill set.
The speed and ease of provisioning of new SaaS applications means new technology can come into the portfolio with daunting frequency. Monitoring strategies have to adapt to each vendor based on integration capabilities so service level agreements can be enforced. At the same time, security professionals can’t afford to spend time micromanaging staff use of tools or, in particular, staff introduction of shadow IT. This is especially true in situations where employees are working from home and could be accessing tools from unsecure settings or downloading new, unsanctioned tools. In the world of cloud, a balanced (and flexible) approach for shadow IT is a must.
The restructuring of an org chart that accompanies a new tech stack can get lost in conversations that center on budgets and technical capabilities, but it is no less important. Managers should be ready to move personnel around in a way that matches their skills and experience to new and altered tasks. This may require training opportunities for staff. It will also scale back the need for certain skills, and could require completely new skills in their place.
This shuffling of people allows for more nimble operations, but like any change, it comes with its challenges and growing pains. CIOs and IT managers can help their organizations navigate this era by getting ahead of those challenges. Skill sets that will be valuable in the future can be incorporated into job specs now. Time can be set aside for training existing staff on new technology and workflows. And outdated tech that is due for an upgrade can be targeted for migration to new and improved cloud tools.