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Upskilling Staff to Bridge the Cloud Skills Gap

Technology moves quickly, as do the skills that support it. As more businesses move infrastructure to the cloud, they are finding they must also upskill their staff to maximize their investments

Enterprise businesses increasingly see cloud-based Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) as a ‘new normal’ for their data centers, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

Putting data infrastructure into the cloud has clear benefits, such as the ability to quickly scale with demand and reduce capital expenditure on complex physical data centers. However, many organizations struggle to find the necessary skills to effectively manage IaaS and may experience delays to their cloud migration roadmap as a result.

Indeed, global research and advisory firm Gartner predicts that half of enterprise IT organizations will have their cloud migration plans delayed by two years or more through 2022 due to a shortage of IaaS skills. Of course, it is far quicker and easier to move a data center to the cloud than it is to retrain a workforce. But failing to invest in these skills can cause significant issues, from cost overruns to bad configurations caused by people attempting to learn on the job.

For James Binford, VP of Cloud Security Solutions at bank holding company US Bancorp, moving away from a focus on hardware in favor of upskilling to get the most out of software was a big challenge. “The big banks are full of talented people who have a ton of experience racking and stacking,” he says. “But very little experience of writing code.”

“We are immediately transitioning into a world where understanding hardware is far less important than understanding software,” he continues. “Making that transition from being a ‘hardware person’ to being a ‘software person’ is the real challenge.”

“Whether they are an architect, a developer or an administrator, everybody needs to be continuously upskilling”

Rohit Agrawal, Director, IT – Global Head of Cloud and Data Center, Siemens Healthineers

Cloud Leaders are Investing in Continuous Upskilling

For a team member who has an existing skillset in, for example, data security, but has up until now been more focused on the hardware, Binford recommends putting developmental plans into place to help them refine their skills incrementally.

One strategy that can be employed to do this is ‘20% projects’. These are discrete projects executed over a defined period with clear milestones that should take typically no more than eight hours a week to complete.

This kind of continuous upskilling is also a focus for Siemens Healthineers Global Head of Cloud and Data Center Rohit Agrawal, who also tailors his upskilling efforts to individual staff members.

“Whether they are an architect, a developer or an administrator, everybody needs to be continuously upskilling,” Agrawal says. “This is an area where we manage people’s skill development very actively.”

Given that technology changes so quickly, Agrawal thinks it’s important to have a good overview of many different skillsets, rather than focusing on developing expertise in one core technology.

“You need to have a good breadth of different skills,” he argues. “You don’t need to be an expert in every technology. But you need to have a good overview of how to apply those concepts.”

“The big banks are full of talented people who have a ton of experience racking and stacking, but very little experience of writing code”

James Binford, VP, Cloud Security Solutions, US Bancorp

Adopting a Cloud Mindset in 2021

There are significant upsides to transitioning to cloud-based services. However, legacy technology and traditional thinking persist in many organizations, especially in the public sector.

For Douglas Lange, State Chief Strategy Officer for the State of Arizona, the process of determining where to employ the cloud started with an assessment of what was currently being used.

“When you look across a number of agencies, you see people using applications that are 15 or more years old,” explains Lange. “Often these are custom apps that have been built in-house.”

He continues: “If they’re custom apps and they’ve been in service for 15 years, not only are we sacrificing features and functionality associated with modern platforms, but our risk around talent and sustaining our workforce also continues to grow.”

In the meantime, the world of technology has evolved, as have the technical skills required to support it.

Of course, migrating to the cloud is not only a technical or skills-based challenge. It is also a cultural one, and that culture must come from the top down.

Cloud transformation leaders like Lange and Binford have been able to capitalize on the opportunities presented by a challenging year.

The next step is to instill a ‘cloud mindset’ in their organizations that shifts the focus from providing hardware to providing services, and from optimizing server capacity to optimizing consumption.

This article is an extract from Cloud Transformation Trends 2021. For more exclusive insights from top cloud transformation leaders in the US, click here to access the full report.