Navigating the Skills Gap in the Hybrid Cloud Era - InformationWeek

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Barry Baker, Vice President, Z Software at IBM
Barry Baker, Vice President, Z Software at IBM

Navigating the Skills Gap in the Hybrid Cloud Era

IT leaders who will survive in the hybrid multi-cloud world are fostering the skills they already have in-house, while embracing some shifts toward new ideas.

At the intersection of public and private cloud and traditional IT and on-premises, hybrid cloud has grown to near ubiquity in recent years. There’s ample reason for this. At the enterprise level, the value of existing infrastructure investments and on-premises solutions is too great to abandon, while cloud models have provided speed, agility and flexibility. Given these factors, leaders are looking to hybrid cloud to deliver the benefits of availability, control, reliability and security provided by traditional IT and the agility, speed and flexibility provided by cloud.

Yet, as the need for a bridge between traditional IT and the cloud has continued to skyrocket, modern IT operations have failed to successfully adapt to this new approach. The roles and responsibilities of the overall IT organization have shifted from specialists to what Gartner calls “versatilists,” and prioritizing this skills gap in network and infrastructure teams across hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments has become critical for success. Still, in a 2018 survey of 124 IT managers by OpsRamp titled “How To Beat The Cloud Skills Crisis,” 94% of IT organizations are struggling to find the right talent to build dynamic, flexible and cost-effective hybrid cloud capabilities.

Image: Leowolfert -
Image: Leowolfert -

There is a bright spot on the landscape. In my experience, many large enterprises that have been running mission-critical workloads already possess the skills and resources they need to build the foundation of their hybrid cloud strategy. As business complexity continues to increase at breakneck speeds, these enterprises have adapted, while still being able to deliver an end solution. And the systems, apps, and databases they’ve created are proving key to enabling rapid innovation and reduced time to market.

It’s my belief that the IT and industry leaders who are going to survive in the new hybrid multi- cloud world are fostering the skills they already have in-house, while embracing some shifts toward new ideas in how they approach their people, organization, culture and processes. Here are a few places to get started:

Building your people up

IDC’s 2019 Worldwide CIO Agenda shows that 30% of high-demand roles for emerging technologies will remain unfilled through 2022, and a lack of cloud talent has the potential to cost enterprises as much as $258 million a year in lost revenues and slower innovation. A large part of this is due to the fact that many enterprise-level companies have failed to augment their existing teams and training with more hybrid cloud skills.

To address this problem, executives need to begin investing in skill development programs that match actual demand patterns. The enterprises that I’ve seen successfully move ahead and close their skills gap run a combination of internally run programs, self-directed training, and external education programs. Looking for early movers that have the skillset, or at least the base to build additional relevant skills? Meeting Full-Stack Developers, DevOps Engineers, or SREs (Site Reliability Engineers) is a great place to start.

Re-orienting your team

At the organizational level, the hybrid cloud calls for a re-orientation of how we think about team structure. At its heart, digital transformation requires IT professionals who can combine new technology skills with a product mindset, strategic thinking and customer empathy.

This means a move away from technology-oriented teams (ones that are focused on a particular type of technology, may it be public cloud or on-prem) to a structure that is flexible, technology-agnostic and designed to deliver specific solutions and results. This is precisely the thought process behind value stream management that allows teams to be solution-oriented and reveals areas of process improvement. 

When we step back from a specific tech deliverable and employ these organizational ideas, we find that hybrid cloud teams are better able to co-create with end users and clients and progressively deliver stronger business value.

Reinforcing with culture and process

Lastly, it’s important to think about how culture and process can be used to reinforce lessons learned at the individual and organizational levels of management. Enterprise culture and the processes that underlie it are the scaffolding on which executives can build and maintain any pivots to hybrid cloud development that the business may ultimately make.

I’ve seen very successful companies take this to heart and take steps toward some form of lean software development, scaled agile frameworks, and scaled agile portfolio management to align teams. At their core, each of these is built around bringing a higher amount of speed and performance to development teams. But it’s worth noting there are other components already baked in to these processes that can have profound and positive effects on your business enterprise, leaving room for teams to learn and scale.

In particular, I believe a focus on amplifying learning as a function of continual iteration and empowering your team to be more than project executers are the strongest recommendations I can make for the personnel and organizational changes needed to close your skills gap. These “soft” processes are the kind industry leaders will carry forward, due to their ability to create an environment and funding model for teams to take into the hybrid cloud era.

As Vice President, Z Software at IBM, Barry Baker is responsible for the IBM Z Software portfolio including: strategy, product/offering management, software design & development, and support covering transaction & data processing, enterprise modernization & DevOps, and IT management & optimization.

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