Anyone that has seen Channel 4’s highly rated The IT Crowd will understand what I mean when I say that the IT support staff in the sitcom are not held in the highest of regards by the rest of Reynholm Industries’ employees. Indeed, the majority of the sitcom is set in the IT team’s office, or rather, their dark, dingy and unkempt basement, which is in stark contrast to the shining modern architecture and London views enjoyed by the rest of the organisation. Furthermore, despite the company's dependence on their services, the IT department is despised, and generally ignored, by the rest of the staff.
Of course, The IT Crowd was a highly successful comedy and as such, made fun of the three central characters to provide greater laughs. Yet depressingly, IT professionals up and down the country can readily relate to its many references to the IT department’s apparent incompetence. Indeed, how many of us can honestly say that we haven’t joked about the IT support staff’s first solution to any problem being “have you tried turning your machine off and on again?”
From conversations that I am having on a daily basis with customers, prospects and industry peers alike however, it has become all too apparent that the role of IT is inherently changing, and the advent of Cloud computing seems to be playing a fundamental role in this transformation. Yet how will IT professionals transform their role, and thus their perception amongst their colleagues from other departments within the organisation, when so many Heads of IT are seemingly terrified of the detrimental effects that the introduction of Cloud could have on theirs and their employees’ continuing employment at the company?
Generally speaking, up until now, the IT department’s sole responsibility has been to maintain the organisation’s infrastructure. And whether that be to make sure all of the employees’ desktops are running or to resolve any downtime issues with the servers, infrastructure upkeep has always been a key priority.
But the advent of Cloud Computing has changed all that. Undeniably, if an organisation is to virtualise its IT infrastructure by moving it to a Cloud environment, the maintenance of that hardware is outsourced to a Cloud service provider, and the IT department’s time is entirely freed up to concentrate on other aspects of their roles.
But, seeing the Cloud axe rather than the Cloud opportunity, the range of excuses the Head of IT throws at his MD to prevent the adoption of Cloud technologies in the company, fearful for his and his employees’ jobs, only grows:
- “It’s not as secure as our on-premise IT solution.”
- “We’d be relinquishing all our control of the infrastructure to a third party.”
- “What about the high profile power outages that Amazon, Microsoft and Google have been experiencing? If the Cloud giants can’t get it right, how are smaller Cloud service providers supposed to? With our IT servers in-house, we can eliminate the downtime.”
The Head of IT can blind the MD with all the technical jargon and reasons why not to adopt Cloud computing, but despite this, the uptake of Cloud computing is rising year on year. After all, as the UK economy stands on the edge of a double dip recession, the CFO is constantly being forced to identify areas within the business where he can reduce his overheads; and maintaining the upkeep of ageing in-house IT hardware is one cost that can quickly and easily be eliminated by taking the infrastructure to the cloud. Upgrading or replacing two or three on-premise servers for instance, would require huge amounts of capital investment.
Taking the IT to the Cloud however, benefits the organisation threefold:
- Firstly, the CFO will be happy with the considerably lower monthly retainers (compared to the cost of purchasing in-house infrastructure).
- Secondly, the employees will be provided with access to state-of-the-art technology, technology that an SME could not possibly justify, or afford, to purchase in-house themselves.
- Thirdly, for the consolidated in-house IT department that remains intact within the organisation, the hassle of infrastructure support has been removed from their day-to-day activities. This means that they can better dedicate their efforts to concentrating on software development projects that give a competitive edge and indeed, how to make the organisation as efficient as it can be in terms of staff making the most out of the IT products installed on their desktop.
Undoubtedly, Cloud Computing is having a profound effect on organisations’ IT departments up and down the country. But the effect is not necessarily adverse. Yes, the members of staff within the IT department whose sole responsibility is the upkeep of the in-house IT infrastructure may find themselves being moved around the department and having to learn new skills to focus their efforts instead on software development/upgrade or application training projects.
As an industry however, we have to accept that IT is changing. Up until now, onsite professionals have been focusing too much on the “T” in “IT” ie. the infrastructure. But as the uptake of Cloud technologies continues to rise, the focus is shifting to the “I” in “IT” – the information, ie. the employees’ actual use of the applications installed on their desktops. Such a shift in focus therefore, will help the organisation to become more efficient in terms of its use of IT.
And perhaps in time, as perceptions of the department change, the IT team can be moved from the dark, damp basement, up onto the higher floors to enjoy the same London views as the rest of the organisation...
Keith Bates is chairman of the Cloud Computing Centre.