Are Traditional IT Skills Still Relevant?

Over the last 30 years, information technology has changed the way that we work. IT now lies at the heart of every successful enterprise, simplifying communication, driving collaboration and automating many key business processes. However, despite the fact that IT is all about accelerating and transforming business, IT departments have focused almost exclusively on the technological aspects of IT, rather than taking a broader view. In fact, IT is still widely viewed as a technology gatekeeper – the department of “no” – rather than a business innovator.

Because of this, traditional IT skills are all about technology – whether that’s providing technical support, managing servers and storage, or designing system architectures. We’ve created an education system that teaches IT professionals how to become database administrators and network experts, along with an astonishing range of other technical skills. And, let’s be clear – historically, these skills were in high demand, as enterprises focused on keeping their IT infrastructure up and running.

Here’s the question, though. Are these traditional skills still relevant today, and will they be relevant in the future?

The Impact of Cloud

Of course, IT will always have a major technology component – the hint is in the name. But, it’s my view that the role of technical skills in IT is already starting to decline – and this trend will continue. Why? Paradoxically, it’s because advanced technology is driving a fundamental shift in the way that we deliver IT services.

Cloud is a big part of this – it abstracts away the complexity of IT infrastructure. Even more telling, enterprises no longer have to maintain that infrastructure – cloud service providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle and Google are now taking over that role. And, because providing cloud services is their core business, they can maintain this infrastructure more reliably and economically. Over time, enterprises that maintain their own IT infrastructure just won’t be able to compete with cloud service providers – nor should they.

Wait, I hear you say. Infrastructure is just one piece of the puzzle. What about all of the business services that run on that infrastructure? These still need to be managed operationally – and that takes a huge amount of technical knowledge.

Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Outsourcing

Yes, it does. But once again, advanced technology is transforming the IT landscape. For example, look at managing service availability. Today, IT organizations are plagued with service outages – and it can take hours or even days to get services back up and running. However, that’s changing. There are now platforms that can automatically diagnose the root cause of service outages in 30 seconds or less, dramatically accelerating service restoration. Increasingly, MSPs are using these platforms to deliver far better results than enterprises can do by themselves – again at a lower cost.

We’re also seeing a shift in how enterprise IT organizations deliver services to their business. SaaS is a major driver here – extending the cloud model to provide complete outsourced application environments. Again, this dramatically lowers the operational burden on enterprise IT – reducing the need for traditional IT skills.

And, even when enterprises develop custom applications in-house, there’s an increasing focus on reducing ongoing operational effort. For example, “infrastructure as code” is assuming increasing prominence, with development teams creating applications that automatically provision and configure required infrastructure – including associated operational infrastructure such as monitoring systems. The result? Less operational effort, more reliable service delivery and less operational reliance on traditional IT skills. Of course, this still requires a high level of technical skills in development, but the job is done once – rather than again and again in an operational environment.

An Enormous Opportunity

Should IT be frightened of this trend towards intelligence systems, outsourcing and automation? Not at all. It’s a huge opportunity to transform IT and the value that it delivers to the business. Today, many IT organizations spend 80% or more of their time just keeping the lights on – a thankless task where IT is blamed when things go wrong, but doesn’t get credit when everything is running smoothly. Worse still, IT is still seen as a budgetary black hole – money goes in, but it’s hard to see the benefits of that investment.

Outsourcing and automation are the answer. By freeing up critical resources, IT now has the capacity to respond to business demands. Instead of being a black hole, IT can become an engine for business innovation – working with the business to create solutions that drive enterprise velocity and competitive differentiation. In some cases, this will still require IT to develop in-house solutions – but it also depends heavily on IT’s ability to identify and integrate third-party services – and specifically from MSPs and SaaS providers. In this world, IT is no longer a technology gatekeeper – instead, it becomes a trusted partner that leverages a broad ecosystem to deliver the best solution for any given business need.

New Skills Are Needed

However, to achieve this radical transformation, IT needs to develop new skills – skills that are not part of the traditional IT profile. Some of these are hard skills – such as business analysis – while others are much softer. To create a partnership with the business, IT first needs to focus on relationship skills – the days of the IT “geek” in the back office are numbered. This isn’t just about IT staff having an engaging personality – it’s about their ability to understand and respond effectively to a business stakeholder’s needs and point of view, even if that person has little or no technical knowledge.

IT will also need a range of other new skills – including financial analysis, supplier management, legal knowledge and others. It will also need to make investment decisions – prioritizing the demand pipeline to maximize business value, reduce risk and accelerate time to benefit. In other words, IT needs to build the skills to run a successful business, rather than continuing to operate as a technology cost center.

And, that’s a huge opportunity – but it’s also a significant challenge that IT organizations need to embrace.

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