Cloud Computing is often discussed as a technology shift, but that misses the point. Exploiting the cloud, in the real world, involves a new operating model that also requires a shift in new skills and redefines familiar roles.

I spend much of my time helping large enterprises in banking, financial services and telecommunications come to terms with the cloud. One lesson keeps coming up at every customer; there is no easy one-to-one mapping from your current team to a cloud-ready workforce.

Success with this new way of working means getting to grips with complexity in a new way. Standbys such as encapsulating and hiding the complexity of IT behind standard services, introducing self-service portals, and moving IT operations to service providers can increase responsiveness and trim some complexity, but creates a set of challenges. You will need to have the right skills mix in place if these challenges are not to become your undoing.

This puts a question mark over the heads of the people who possess those skills. For the CIOs I talk to, this can mean a new set of challenges, prompting the questions: 

 - How can I keep my team motivated during a period of change and uncertainty?
 - Which people can I re-train and what are the new required skills?

The skills of yesterday's organization focused on the complexity of the infrastructure. Any type of under-the-bonnet task, whether configuring and monitoring servers, networks, or SANs, is less important as better and cheaper services arrive based on virtualization and the cloud.

People doing these jobs today represent a valuable pool of talent; they know your business well. You need to challenge them to be relevant, and retrain them so that they can perform tasks that are pertinent to the new world.

The trick is to identify, early and clearly, the change you will need in your team. Some real-world examples include:

 - Operations staff must provide stability in a fast-moving environment. Learning how to say yes to change while maintaining stability requires communication between functional silos  such as architecture, engineering, IT operations, application management, and application development, that are currently organized around under-the-bonnet expertise.

 - The service management team must break some of the change-stifling norms and practices that grew up with ITIL, embrace the task of meeting demanding levels of quality using externally provided services and higher levels of automation and standardization, and ruthlessly eliminate low-value processes.

 - Enterprise architects and application architects will be challenged to construct coherent solutions out of cloud offerings. Opportunities to better serve the business will increase, but so will the amount of risk management they have to take on in terms of information governance and disaster recovery.

 - IT operations management faces major changes as responsibilities shift from running infrastructure to selecting reliable services. It's paramount for the CIO for demonstrate good people skills since much of the existing staff may feel threatened. Entrepreneurial leadership and planning are also very important.

 - Product management skills are needed to manage the services. IT staff will construct its own higher level services from basic third-party components. IT will have to define these services much like vendors define their products, get their messaging right, and manage issues of lifecycle, pricing, and support.

Workforce change is painful and hard. Why bother? Because organizations that communicate a coherent vision for how their people need to change will be able to move faster, better serve their business, and retain the best talent. That's how to get a sustainable, competitive edge.

Rens Troost is CTO and Partner at Virtual Clarity, a specialist in the strategy and practice of enterprise cloud computing.

Pic: Kevin Dooley cc2.0