Because cloud services will underpin the digital enterprise going forward, cloud expertise is becoming a critical success factor for IT organizations and the businesses they support. That’s part of the reason why Guardian Life Insurance was thoughtful and deliberate about its shift to public cloud resources. “We spent a lot of time reskilling our employees and being transparent about what we were moving to and why,” says Dean Del Vecchio, Executive Vice President, CIO, and Head of Enterprise Shared Services. “We needed to provide them with the skill to develop or support cloud technology.”

Indeed, most IT leaders are finding that they have to grow their own cloud resources to support their future cloud plans. There simply aren’t enough available cloud skills in the marketplace – and those that exist may not be drawn to enterprise work. “Taking advantage of these new cloud-native services requires new capabilities, skills, and mindsets,” says Mark Peacock, principal and leader of the IT consulting practice at The Hackett Group. “And because there aren’t enough cloud-native skills on the market to buy, companies will have to develop them in-house.” 

The move to the cloud requires not just technical and architectural changes, but also changes to governance, operational processes, and business partner expectations,” Peacock says. The IT organization must understand modern system architecture designs – the move from traditional monolithic system designs that assume all the components are located in the same data centers to loosely coupled, API-based microservices designs, along with all the security implications that accompany that. They must be familiar with modern database designs and the shift from legacy relational databases like Oracle, IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server to NoSQL, streaming, and time series database technologies. They will also have to take new approaches to vendor management as the IT organization evolves from large one-time capital purchases to incremental absorption of services.

Making the multi-faceted transition to cloud can be difficult, according to Steven Carter, CIO of CNX, a natural gas exploration and production company. 

“For a lot of folks in the organization this is new – not just technologically new, but emotionally new,” he says. Pre-cloud, all the hardware “was in the basement, you could go hug it, it was in your control. That is no longer true in the new world of cloud. And even though some of the basic skills remain the same, people need to approach the new cloud-based system with an open mind and a willingness to learn new, and ultimately more valuable, skills.” 

The number of people who truly understand how to work with the various cloud providers is low, according to Michael Cantor, CIO of Park Place Technologies. “Lots of people claim experience, but not that many really have it,” Cantor says. He adds: “I see this as the latest technology religion war, similar to Java versus dot-Net in the late 90s. People will become experts in Azure, AWS, or GCP, and that will be a differentiator in skills as people choose their preferred technology.” 

“For a lot of folks in the organization this is all new – not just technologically new, but emotionally new.” - Steven Carter, CIO, CNX

Like other forward-looking CIOs, Cantor has invested heavily in internal training to close the gap and is leaning on key cloud partners to help in the meantime.

Guardian Life Insurance created an internal cloud education, training, and certification programs called the Cloud Guild. Within three months, they had trained 3,000 employees on cloud systems and certified 350 of them. “Having the skills and people who know how to build the right systems and do it in the most efficient way is a huge challenge,” says Del Vecchio. “Attracting and retaining talent in our organization enables us to do that.”