Prepping for the present: best practices in cloud skills

The Toronto Cloud Business Coalition – a group of more than 80 Canadian experts drawn from the IT management, cloud services provider, channel, academic, VC/corporate finance and consulting communities – has published a new document designed to help Canadian organizations to align skills strategies with the business opportunities unlocked by cloud.

Cloud Skills Requirements and Development: A TCBC Best Practices Document was co-created by a working group with deep insight into skills-related issues. Members included Timothy Ubbens of American Express, Alex Sirota of SMB-focused cloud broker NewPath Consulting, Pam Maguire of IT training leader Global Knowledge, and David Sabine and Nima Honarmandan of Agile specialists Berteig Consulting. The group’s depth and experience is reflected in the Cloud Skills content, which combines a review of the context for cloud skills with analysis of business objectives, best practices and metrics and milestones designed to help organizations to prioritize specific activities and outcomes, at both the individual and organizational levels.

The Cloud Skills Requirements and Development working group. From left: Alex Sirota, Tim Ubbens, Pam Maguire, David Sabine and Nima Honarmandan
The Cloud Skills Requirements and Development working group. From left: Alex Sirota, Tim Ubbens, Pam Maguire, David Sabine and Nima Honarmandan

The report begins by contrasting traditional approaches to technology, in which IT manages the pace and priority of new solution introduction, with the cloud era, which “enables business management to exert much greater control over IT/business solutions.” In either approach, there is a need to connect an understanding of business needs with knowledge of what technology can deliver. However, with cloud, the discrepancy in technical understanding between IT specialists and business users is leveled, at least to some extent, by “as-a-Service” delivery; meanwhile, the business staff maintain an advantage in understanding business processes, needs and opportunities. This creates a host of new skills-related issues: non-IT managers increasingly take executive responsibility for new system delivery, while their staff needs “double deep” skills in both business domains and in the associated technology. IT, meanwhile, needs to master new skills as well, including collaboration and communication with business staff, and approaches (such as Agile and DevOpps) which are aligned with the much-faster tempo of cloud, and allow IT to keep abreast of business needs while also addressing the “technical debt” associated with legacy technologies.

Skills cycle

Business objectives and best practices

The main part of the report deals with the business objectives that firms investing in cloud skills are attempting to address, and with the best practices used to capture these benefits. The group began by examining the key issues in aligning skills with cloud’s potential to help an enterprise to ‘win’ – by gaining new customers, revenue, marketing share, profitability and/or efficiency. Topics covered in this analysis include:

  • Ensuring that the technical professional understands required business outcomes
  • Ensuring that the technical professional understands key business activities and processes
  • Considering Agile as an organizational (rather than strictly as a system development) methodology
  • Understanding that ‘cloud skills’ is a multi-dimensional issue

Ultimately, this approach leads to a matrix output: business tasks are comprised of core technical competencies, and these in turn are delivered through collaboration between IT and the business.

With these issues defined, the group progressed to identification of best practices that enable business and technology leaders to develop the competencies needed in this face-paced, matrixed cloud world. The report explores how focus on digital literacy, soft skills, teamwork (and continuity), and other issues – ranging from HR practices to use of open source – contribute to development of relevant cloud skills. The most important issue covered in this section is vision, which is examined via several interrelated observations.

Skills milestones

The final section of the report deals with “signposts that indicate whether an enterprise is making progress in its journey to cloud competency,” observing that “aligning specific development activities with these broader outcomes and associated best practices is helpful in defining skills paths for staff and management across the organization.” This path ultimately leads to a point at which changing mindsets at the corporate level and within IT and business management converge to establish the balance needed to support cloud skills development.

About the report

The Cloud Skills Requirements and Development report is available immediately to TCBC members through the site’s library. Non-members can access this report and the other nine TCBC Best Practices documents via the InsightaaS Press book “Building Cloud Value: A Guide to Best Practices, 2016” which is scheduled for release in May 2016.

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