By Corine Mbiaketcha Nana
The ability to find and retain cloud-savvy, IT staff continues to be considered as one of the key barriers to cloud adoption according to Oracle’s latest ‘You & IaaS’ survey.
As Infrastructure-as-a-Service adoption grows and the technology matures, the availability of staff with specialist skills is being surpassed by demand. The survey found that more than one-fifth (28 percent) of companies say that IT skills shortages have been one of their top issues in rolling out IaaS.
Closer to home, a research study by RANITP (Research Academic Network on IT Policy), Research ICT Africa and University of Nairobi on the state of cloud service usage in Kenya, found that businesses highlighted DevOps, software development, system administration and networking skills as crucial for cloud delivery. In addition, they pointed out that information security as well as contract and project management skills are essential for migrating, maintaining and supporting cloud services.
No wonder, moving to the cloud is still deemed to be risky by some CIOs; but should it be?
The reality is that the bigger risk is not moving to the cloud, which is rapidly proving itself as easier to manage, maintain and secure than traditional IT environments. In particular, cloud services are vastly more secure than many on premise alternatives, since leading cloud vendors such as Oracle invest in creating a highly robust security infrastructure that is continually patched and kept up-to-date. This level of investment in security can never be matched in an on-premise environment.
What I see from talking to CIOs across Africa is that the skills gap issue relates less to having cloud specific skills; it is instead a mindset challenge.
In his Africa blog post, Frank Rizzo, partner, Technology Sector Leader for Africa at KPMG says cloud computing is not driven solely by technical experts any longer, but by business leaders looking to leverage it from an overall business perspective.
So what are the gaps and how can companies overcome them?
1. Hiring for the cloud era
Creating a team for the future will inevitably affect the hiring process. Rather than look for new employees from traditional, external sources – most likely direct competitors – CIOs should aim to recruit from cloud native companies. These staff are used to handling data in the cloud and with the cloud skills required.
Once onboard, there are two main options for how to make the most of this talent. Use the new hires to fill the gaps and educate the rest of the team, or build a completely new team that’s cloud-first by design. This approach can motivate the business and act as a catalyst for innovation.
2. Internal talent
Don’t forget you already might have internal talent that has the potential to shine in a cloud world. Holding or attending ‘hackathons’ or offering existing staff the opportunity to volunteer to take part in new cloud projects could give you the opportunity to spot skills you didn’t know the team possessed.
This is an approach that the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) is taking. To support its strategic drive to enhance service delivery to taxpayers, KRA deployed a new Customer Relationship Management Solution (CRMS) that provides it with a single platform to better understand customer needs and respond to their demands more quickly and efficiently.
KRA has been undertaking extensive staff training programmes to guarantee superior customer interaction management with taxpayers. Its CRM training is divided into four areas based on the role various groups play, including end-user, back office staff and administrator training as well as the training of trainers. Change management initiatives and staff sensitisation workshops are also carried out to create system awareness.
Another thing to consider is that some of the team’s existing expertise can be transferred to the cloud. In some cases, new cloud services in fact mirror their on-premises counterparts, making the transfer of skills more achievable.
Re-training existing members of staff is also critical. There are a range of options to help organisations upskill their IT teams through training; from government programmes through to vendor academies, such as the Oracle Academy. The latter are useful for providing both the technical skillset required and the necessary security and compliance training.
3. Think big
Infrastructure cloud services enable businesses to operate elastically, at a vastly increased scale. This gives the company an amazing opportunity to change the dynamics of how they operate. Instead of just migrating individual databases, think bigger, consolidating the various data sets you have around the business into a unified dataset. There are multiple benefits of this. At a base level, you can have more applications per server and manage them all as one, and with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning becoming more widespread you can be prepared to take maximum use of these exciting emerging technologies by creating a single data asset.
4. Data orchestration
Businesses are increasingly seeking to become data-driven. IT teams need to stop looking at data and processes as systems issues and instead regard them as profit opportunities. This means thinking about how business information can be turned into actionable insights that lead to customer engagement and profitable growth.
5. Advanced data management
Data is the new oil for businesses: a huge source of potential wealth if mined, refined and distributed well. A core skill for enterprise IT teams is, therefore, how to store, manage and transport data. This means extending skills beyond technology to include data governance and compliance capabilities.
Any enterprise that’s serious about leveraging the cloud to innovate and grow needs to have these skills entrenched in their IT teams. It is therefore vital that organisations go about building cloud-ready teams in the right way.
If enterprise IT teams can close the cloud skills gap, the rewards will be well worth the effort. The renewed, high-performing team will quickly demonstrate value to the C-suite and other key corporate stakeholders, while enabling a core competitive differentiator for the business.
(Corine Mbiaketcha Nana is the MD for Kenya Hub covering East, Central and West Africa at Oracle).