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Traditional IT employees must adapt to cloud way of life

Traditional IT employees need to understand the big business picture and what the cloud offers to remain relevant.

I suspect that many of you would consider me young, but I'm not getting any younger, that's for sure. Let's just say that I'm old enough now to understand comments my parents made to me while I was a kid. That's part of why I like IT -- age doesn't really matter. I know traditional IT people nearing retirement that can show the DevOps crowd a few things, and I know IT employees younger than me who are working as managers and consultants -- smart and credentialed with MBAs and whatnot -- and very successful despite their youth.

At heart, I'm a tech. I've always loved taking things apart, rebuilding them and fixing them; that attitude shows in my IT work and my columns. But as I grow older I am increasingly intolerant of bad product design that makes me work harder, vendors that don't get things right either intentionally or maliciously, and the need to rely on memorization and busy work to configure systems and applications. There are no more challenges for me in traditional IT, and things that seem like challenges are mostly the result of bad system design. It makes sense that I've gravitated toward the cloud, which is less about technology and more about people and process.

You can move all your workloads to the cloud and not change your business one bit. But when you embrace the ideas the cloud offers -- the simplicity, the application and system design goals -- your whole perception of IT shifts. More specifically, you no longer perceive the problems in IT to be just a matter of assembling the right combination of software and hardware. Instead, you start to see the problems as process and alignment issues -- that IT is not headed in the same direction as the business, and that the process and fiefdoms it has developed over the last 30 years are an anchor weighing it down, preventing the ship from turning.

I've thought a lot about all my colleagues and peers caught in the world of traditional IT that don't have the benefit of years of thinking about what the cloud offers. They're heads-down doing work to keep the old infrastructure alive and don't have time for the newfangled stuff. In doing that work, though, they become that anchor that C-level leaders need to jettison to move the business closer to where it wants to be.

That would be doing them a tremendous disservice, though. The more I work with IT and business management, the more I realize that nobody sees these people as a resource. IT employees carry tons of organizational knowledge that cannot be replaced by consultants or a cloud. But ask these people why they're doing something, or how that something specifically helps the business, and they don't have a good answer. Why?  No one has informed them of the business goals. 

I've transformed myself a few times in my career, and I'm doing so again as I work between IT staff and business management. More IT employees need to be transformed like this, to see the larger business picture, explain it to others and design and operate systems around it. The gap between the rank and file of IT and the business itself must close, and the way to do that is by making sure IT staff can answer the "why" of their work, not just the "what" and "how."

Not all dogs can be taught new tricks, but business leaders will be pleasantly surprised with what happens when even just a few of its IT employees start to understand the big picture.

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