Addressing the Cloud Skills Gap
Cloud computing has become an integral part of our personal and professional lives. Consider the cloud-based applications we depend on every day: Microsoft 365, Netflix, Dropbox, Google Drive, and many more. Indeed, Canadian spending on public cloud software and infrastructure is predicted to grow by 77% between 2019-2023, and multicloud is now the preferred strategy for close to 85% of enterprises.
Known for its accessibility, security, reliability, and resiliency, cloud is quickly becoming the standard IT delivery model. Fast-growing organizations are embracing cloud to drive cost savings and new business growth in today’s challenging economy. However, the accelerated pace of cloud adoption is also exposing a dire need for trained and certified IaaS and cloud professionals.
Already proven as the go-to technology for the virtual workplace, cloud faced an unprecedented, real-time test with the COVID-19 pandemic. The sudden, massive pivot from in-person interactions to a world of virtual work, shopping, schooling, streaming, and socializing led to massive spikes in demand for cloud services. Remarkably, cloud-based companies have easily weathered the pandemic-induced stress test – something that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.
Although front-end online applications like Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams are obvious winners, the real hero has been the back-end security and scalability of cloud infrastructure like Microsoft Azure and IBM Cloud that are keeping these critical services up and running – managed by experienced, skilled cloud professionals.
I believe many organizations will look back at the COVID-19 pandemic as a wake-up call. If the cloud skills gap is not addressed quickly, enterprises across Canada risk hindering their migration to the cloud and losing market share to better prepared, cloud-ready competitors.
Qualified talent imperative for success
It is time for a strategic cloud plan that delivers the rapid scalability and innovation made possible through cloud-based application development and service delivery – one that acknowledges that real business value on the cloud cannot be achieved without qualified talent to do the work.
A key reason many companies choose migration to the cloud is to eliminate expensive IT infrastructure. I would argue that unless the supporting infrastructure is implemented correctly by qualified practitioners, cloud migration will cost more, take longer than planned, and negatively impact the end user experience.
Here’s why: The path to cloud is multi-faceted, ranging from simple rehosting of a workload (“lift and shift”) via infrastructure as a service (IaaS), to refactoring an essential business application that take full advantage of cloud capabilities. Successful implementation depends on the ability of business and IT functions to work in sync to understand what is needed – and what is realistically possible.
This collaborative process often uncovers a significant in-house skills gap. IT may find itself short on the time and skills needed to undertake the technical work of cloud migration that will deliver the functionality and outcomes needed by the business.
What is the best path forward?
There is no easy answer. Competition for cloud-skilled IT professionals has become downright fierce, with many IT leaders struggling to acquire the necessary candidates to support cloud initiatives within their organizations. According to the 2020 Challenges in Cloud Transformation Survey, a shortage of qualified talent is becoming a major barrier to enterprise cloud adoption and rollout. Talent poaching and frequent turnover are disrupting cloud migration and operations.
Even if you do have qualified cloud talent in-house, those skills must be kept relevant as technology rapidly evolves. Consider these alarming trends uncovered by the IBM Institute for Business Value: Technical skills once estimated to retain at least some relevance for 10 years are now estimated to be less than five years – and training to close a capability gap that previously took three days now requires at least 36 days.
Fortunately, options exist for acquiring the talent you need: build, borrow or buy. You can build it yourself (train existing IT talent), borrow (hire internally), or buy (hire external professional services). The goal is to develop agile teams with heterogenous skillsets who can create a culture of innovation where learnings flow freely.
Some companies feel their internal team has the strongest understanding of what the business is trying to achieve. However, it takes a significant investment of time and money to maintain a skilled cloud team within IT while still attending to the demands of the day-to-day workload.
Another option is to develop in-house expertise from a wider talent pool through hiring or by retraining staff from other areas of the business. Although it is possible to acquire skilled graduates straight out of university, new graduates often need to learn many of the practical aspects on the job, since cloud skills are always changing.
Training and certification programs for existing staff can help standardize cloud skills and knowledge across the IT unit; however, you must be sure to invest in the right certifications based on your organizational needs and organizational learning policies. Should your training budget be spent on broad cloud skills for roles like solutions architect or developer, or focus on specialty skills in specific areas, such as networking or machine learning?
Unfortunately, small- and medium-sized organizations may not be in a financial position to retrain IT staff who are already working full steam and may not have the skills required to run a complex cloud infrastructure. Leaning into local expertise from trusted third parties can help reduce fixed costs and fill skills gaps as they are identified.
A partner ecosystem where everyone plays to their strengths
As businesses slowly move from surviving the COVID-19 crisis to emerging stronger, ISM Canada provides clients with a flexible IT infrastructure backed by end-to-end services including cloud-based apps, cloud development services and cloud infrastructure services. It’s a seamless partnership in which everyone plays to their strengths while addressing high capital costs and skills gaps often experienced by companies going at it alone.
ISM Canada has deliberately invested in skilling up our people on Microsoft Azure. We now have more than 140 Azure-certified team members, providing our clients with access to the best set of Azure skills in Western Canada. Our Canadian cloud delivery service is strengthened by our partnership with Microsoft and backed by the global resources of IBM Canada and Red Hat. We are well equipped to troubleshoot issues and complete projects quickly and efficiently.
The COVID-19 crisis has illuminated the need to change how businesses operate by exposing what is lacking: a ready supply of the cloud-based skills required for agile development and innovation.
Faced with IT staff turnover, compliance mandates, limited budgets, and unfamiliarity with new cloud technologies, it's not surprising that 40 percent of IT leaders plan to hire outside help for their cloud migration efforts in 2020. Gone are the days when any one company had the ability to address a skills deficit without partnerships across internal and external ecosystems that help maximize cloud adoption and generate business value.