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Piyush Saxena

Skilling the Enterprise Workforce for Cloud: Strategies for CIOs
Piyush Saxena Piyush Saxena, VP & Head – Hybrid Cloud Services | September 14, 2020

A crisis always brings infrastructural cracks to the forefront.

The COVID-19 pandemic is no different. Even before the current crisis, companies around the world were waking up  to their over dependence on siloed IT environments, physical proximity, and manual processes, and were thus, scrambling  to embrace digital transformation. Cloud technology has become the bedrock on which this transformation is being enabled. It allows organizations to build a centralized and remotely accessible hub of knowledge, data, and tools that employees can access anytime from anywhere. This allows for improving processes and serving customers better. In today’s remote services-led economy, cloud technology enables better customer experience, innovation, agility, scalability, and long-term business resilience.

There’s been a clear pivot in enterprise attitudes toward the cloud between Q1 and Q2 of 2020. Cloud has moved from a medium- to a long-term CIO strategy in order to ensure business continuity.  The ongoing crisis makes it critical to accelerate adoption, without which internal processes, supply chains, and customer experience channels would struggle to stay effective. Hybrid cloud is of specific importance, as it will be a stepping stone for most large organizations.

Cloud is Central to Business During COVID-19

17 years ago, when the SARS outbreak forced Alibaba to quarantine its workforce, its employees packed their desktops, carried reams of documents, and continued their work from home. In hindsight, it spurred the company to innovate and transform its operations, leading to one of the most successful ecommerce operations in the world. We are witnessing a similar trend now, as legacy organizations transform to a low-touch world, while digital natives work as enablers for this change.

Cloud strategy, in particular, has become a business staple CIOs cannot ignore– a survey of 250 global IT leaders confirms these findings:

  • 82% have increased their cloud usage in direct response to the pandemic
  • 76% are spending more on private and public cloud services from AWS, Azure, and GCP
  • 91% will alter their cloud strategy even as they plan a return to physical workplaces
  • 45% are planning to accelerate their cloud strategy migration roadmaps

But are enterprises ready for cloud adoption at this scale and pace? Just as COVID-19 revealed infrastructural gaps, it has also thrown light on the massive skill gap among IT teams, which could keep companies back from utilizing cloud-based platforms and processes to their full potential.

Unfortunately, companies seem to have fallen short of hiring adequate cloud talent even before the pandemic. A  2020 survey revealed that 94% of organizations were struggling to find the right cloud talent, and 90% said that there was a chronic lack of skills in various cloud disciplines. Security (60%) and governance/compliance (37%) were persistent issues, suggests another late 2019 report.

To grow the enterprise during COVID-19, CIOs must urgently prioritize cloud-focused upskilling and cross-skilling– bridging the gap between the needs arising from infrastructure modernization and the existing workforce capability.

Digital as an Enabler for Timely Upskilling

Interestingly, cloud vendors and major technology providers have been quick on the uptick, rushing for workforce skills improvement. Companies such as Google, Oracle, and Microsoft have come out with learning resources, structured upskilling initiatives, and remote assistance through this period of change.

Google has put together an excellent library of resources to familiarize users with emerging cloud needs during COVID-19. Meanwhile, Oracle has doubled its emphasis on cloud-focused upskilling with free learning and certifications on infrastructure management. Finally, Microsoft has opted for a more holistic route with a large-scale digital upskilling initiative that will help 25 million people across the world acquire digital skills.

These examples underscore the need for new skills for the enterprise workforce, as without adequate training, investments in the cloud will fail to reach the intended ROI, in terms of productivity, resilience, and business value. Further, the lack of upskilling could demotivate workers, who already face the risk of lower engagement owing to remote work.

On the flip side, companies that harness and hone their existing technical talent will be able to wring out maximum value from the cloud, supporting nearly every business process across product development, supply chain management, HR, marketing, and the likes. This will help companies build bench strength as they scale their cloud engagements and transform their infrastructure in line with the digital age.

Strategies to Stay a Step Ahead of the New Normal

To harness this opportunity, CIOs must consider the long-term viability of projects and skill sets to be recommended, as well as the digital roadmaps of their organizations, much of which may be subject to the dynamics of our inconstant world.

  1. Test New Skill Development Areas– As academia and training institutes catch up the ever-changing requirements of the digital age, companies need to leverage them to enhance short-term skill gaps, while experimenting with new skill sets internally. Built around the long-term strategic interests of the organization, these need to be agile, responsive, fast-paced, and amorphous teams including multi-disciplinary experts, social scientists, linguists, and competencies beyond STEM backgrounds, reflecting the diversified skill sets needed to address complex challenges.

  2. Business Orientation– Resources must have strong domain and business knowledge which gives them greater visibility and insights of their downstream resource waste, time consumption, and productivity impact. Upskilling and cross-skilling in multiple cloud-related fields will empower resources with a holistic understanding of solutions and processes and their impacts. This, in turn, will promote holistic thinking and increase efficiency.
  3. Optimizing Resource Management– As companies reduce manual dependencies and automate extensively, the nature of IT work is changing. Companies need to reorient their overall enterprise workforce skill sets to promote greater adoption and diversification of knowledge. CIOs should look at transitioning some of their resources to advisory and architect roles, while retaining the flexibility to pivot back as the situations evolve.  This includes rethinking the roles, impact, and KRAs of resources to align them towards more strategic ends. Greater resource management is likely to be key to retaining and building competitive advantage this decade.

Much More than Quick Wins

As global skill requirements undergo a sea change in the face of a crisis, there are several benefits of upskilling and reskilling. At the very least, it increases your workforce’s employability, building loyalty and trust in uncertain times.

CIOs must realize the critical role that cloud technology plays right now and the potential it presents in the times ahead. We are looking at vibrant, fairly stable virtual work environments in the foreseeable future, with more and more takers as businesses move toward greater agility and nimbleness. The rise of a low-touch economy will change customer expectations forever. To stay a step ahead, CIOs must invest in an upskilling program that reimagines IT for cloud-empowered, strategic roles that could function as the very backbone of a modern enterprise.

This new generation of workers will stand by and support your organization, navigating emerging complexities, and maximizing the many opportunities you are sure to see in the recovery period.