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IT Jobs: Winners and Losers in the Cloud Era

Changed roles: CIO and senior IT managers Like lower-level IT supervisors, senior-level IT managers are having their responsibilities expanded and barriers among them broken down -- or should be -- to accommodate more flexible infrastructures that include applications or islands of computing power housed with external service providers.

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"A significant amount of the computing power and applications the typical enterprise uses is coming from Salesforce.com or Amazon.com or Google or other service providers," Staten says. "If you're going to rely on that connection and integrate it with the rest of your infrastructure, you need someone who can identify standard interfaces, enforce service levels, make informed decisions about which service providers to choose."

In the past, the CIO or IT executive responsible for outsourcing deals was the only one involved with those kinds of extracurricular connections, Forrester's Dines says. With cloud and SaaS, many of the senior IT managers will find themselves doing it.

Changed roles: Contract and service managers Dealing with service-level guarantees, searching for and choosing the best provider for a particular IT service -- whether that be a SaaS company, external cloud provider, or internal IT -- is too much for many IT people to handle given their hands-on workloads, says consultant Cramm. "Typically you're talking about a couple of dozen SaaS providers and platform providers you have to be able to talk to and integrate technology with," Egan says, "and managing those contracts becomes a skill set in itself."

Cramm warns, "There are a lot of technical issues to integrate with an outside provider, because cloud sounds so fantastic, but as we found out with Amazon, if you don't do your due diligence and don't have the contracts laid out right, you're not going to get what you need and you'll spend the whole [term of the contract] wishing you did it differently."

Managing external vendors and contracts is second nature to large populations of specialists within IT, mostly those at companies that have outsourced most or all of their IT, Olds says. People in such organizations will more easily adapt to the external management challenges that come with the cloud.

Changed roles: Enterprise developers It's not that large companies will be using less software than they used to, it's just that they won't be writing or customizing nearly as much of it themselves, says Forrester's Staten.

Companies can get either the bulk or a large chunk of the software they use from Salesforce.com or other SaaS providers, which means they don't have to build the core functions of those applications themselves.

They do need to maintain the data and databases, as well as implement a certain amount of customization to make generic SaaS apps fit their workflow and data -- but much less so than in the past, he says. "You're not really customizing Salesforce to meet your needs," Staten says. "You're making some adjustments, using APIs and documentation and simple tools they supply. Mainly you're adjusting your internal workflow to match what the SaaS providers you choose can supply. In some ways that's actually better because you learn more about standardizing on efficient processes rather than customizing everything."

Consultant Cramm expects the demand for developers to remain strong in a cloud-oriented enterprise -- it's just that less of the development will be done internally and more by outsiders. "If you can get what you need externally, in terms of enterprise applications, why build it yourself?" she asks. "Someone still has to do that programming; it's just not you."

Losers: IT middle managers If there is one class within IT that will suffer from wider adoption of cloud and virtualized systems, it is those between the hands-on supervisors and the managers who work directly with the CIO. "Think about it," says Gartner's Wolf. "If you have sys admins doing networking and applications and storage and there's a lot of reaching across among silos, why do you need a separate manager for each silo?"

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He adds, "There's an overall flattening of management within IT as a lot of those silos become obsolete, and so it becomes more important to be a generalist who can do a lot of things than to remain a specialist at any one thing."

Losers: Technical specialists Specialized skills -- in networking, security, storage, or any other IT discipline -- has been the best guarantor of a job or chance for advancement in many IT organizations, says 451 Group's Hackett. Not any more.

IT people working with applications based in the cloud need to know about networking, storage, security, user interfaces, and all the other parts of the infrastructure that application touches. "IT doesn't require skilled resources at the lower levels to maintain a data center. It requires a guy who can go over to a rack, pull out a bad board, put another one in, and slap it back in the rack," Hackett says.

That means IT needs more people able to do a lot of things and not as many who can do a very few things very, very well, consultant Olds says. "Increasingly what we're seeing is that companies are willing to hire those [specialized] skills from outside on a temporary basis. So you end up with IT being populated much more by IT generalists, but they're generalists with a lot higher level of skills than before. That's good internally because you're hiring experienced people, but it makes getting that first job or two harder for people right out of school or who are very early in their careers. There's a higher barrier of skills to climb."

Uncertain implications: IT support and help desk Predicting the demise of the help desk and direct IT support role is risky because users always need more help than IT can afford to give, analysts agree.

As enterprise applications become more intuitive and Web-oriented, and as corporate applications become available in an app store that users can browse to find the applications or resources they need, the need for hordes of support people living on the phone or walking into business units to repair someone's laptop decreases.

"If you can put all your apps in a Web interface, so they live in the cloud, and the desktops are either remote-managed or provisioned via VDI virtual desktop infrastructure, it's more possible to fix a problem by closing out the VM and relaunching a virtual desktop for that user, or to log in remotely, fix things, and log out," Olds says.

"The key to being able to scale to support very large cloud infrastructures is automation -- the ability to automate solutions to common end-user problems, password reassignments, reconfigurations, provisioning new resources, and so on," Olds says.

Of course, such automation can reduce the need for support staff, Olds notes. But "usually you find the company has taken those people and moved them to different responsibilities, or given them time to do the things they were supposed to do -- the things they couldn't do because they were always running around putting out fires."

This story, "IT jobs: Winners and losers in the cloud era," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in IT careers at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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