Skills shortages a challenge to cloud rollouts, say CIOs

By Graeme Burton
19 Mar 2014 View Comments
A chair with a vacant notice taped to it

A shortage of appropriately skilled staff is holding back organisations' cloud computing initiatives, according to panellists at Computing's IT Leaders' Forum.

Potential staff with the right mix of skills, or who can fit into the new categories of skills required to keep organisations' cloud initiatives running smoothly - including the ability to challenge suppliers in terms of their offerings, architecture and cost - will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.

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Rocco Labellarte, CIO at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, described it as "bloody hard" to get the right people in. The borough is in the process of shifting some 350 organisational applications to the cloud and, therefore, the kinds of skills required of its IT department is changing.

"We are looking at a whole new set of skills," he said. "There are a lot of kids out there that have got the right qualifications in terms of understanding the environments, but actually getting people with the practical skills who have been there and done that is another matter."

He continued: "We have actually broken down our skill sets into a three areas: one is to move to a monitoring team, which is effectively just sitting there, watching the large screens all the time and being able to react very quickly because we are maintaining the service integration element internally.

"The second is really having commissioned technical architects that understand exactly how everything is put together, both from a hardware perspective, and from a networking, security and applications perspective," said Labellarte.

Finally, he said, although the organisation may be outsourcing to cloud providers, there is still a need for technical architects that can inform the organisation how it should be done, on the one hand, while challenging providers and their recommendations on the other.

Going the extra mile to get appropriately skilled staff in-house can save a fortune, he suggested. "Having internal skills, if they are significant, provides a cost benefit. We have avoided about half-a-million pounds in spend by having the right skills from the start," said Labellarte.

Training-up internal staff, though, while ideal is time-consuming and hard to achieve in an environment where tasks need to be completely quickly.

It is, however, essential. When the university clearing service UCAS shifted much of its services to a combination of Amazon, Microsoft and Rackspace clouds in 2012-13, it focused very much on building up internal skills, said James Munson, head of IT at UCAS.

"We built a strong architecture team internally and focused their attention on understanding cloud. For us, it was important to have that. As we went through the outsourcing process, it was very important for us to keep architecture, software development and engagement," said Munson.

It was important, he added, "in terms of 'owning' how we are going to evolve it. That [control] is staying within UCAS".

Computing's next big event is the Big Data Summit, in London on Thursday 27 March. See and hear Kevin Gallagher, CIO at Channel 4; Barry Coatesworth, Information Security Officer at retailer New Look; Alejandro Jaimes, Director of Research, Yahoo!; and many others.

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