Three types of intelligence and their impact on cloud skills strategy

Since launching in April, the Toronto Cloud Business Coalition (TCBC) has identified 10 key focus areas that are important to the acceleration of cloud adoption and use in the GTA/Canada, and has established working groups to develop best practices positions in each area. As we move through the process, we’re starting to see connections emerge between the groups, which is casting new light on some of the most important cloud issues.

tcbcAs might be expected, security and governance are wrapped within many of the working groups’ perspectives. So, too, is the issue of skills, which is both the central subject of the “Skills requirements and development” working group and a key consideration in other areas, such as the “Planning for the cloud/cloud strategy: enterprise” group. In the “strategy and planning” sessions, the requirement for skills was phrased in this way:

  • Cloud adoption and management demands many new skills sets. At a foundational level, for example, enterprise architecture is a critical factor in successful cloud implementation; however, the enterprise architect may not be clear on his/her role, or on requirements for crafting enterprise-wide business architectures.
  • The user experience will likely change with cloud adoption. How can the organization identify other staff members who may require education and training on the new features, processes, interfaces associated with cloud migration? What is the best mechanism for delivering skills upgrade?

These are fascinating observations, and raise in turn a new set of issues: what attributes are needed to capitalize on cloud or other advanced and transformative technologies? Reflecting on the question, it appears that there are three different modes of intelligence that apply in different ways to the demands of this type of change: intellect, domain knowledge and adaptability.

Intellect, or mental “raw horsepower,” is most useful in understanding and addressing situations that have not been previously encountered, and which have no known/defined resolution. Staff members who are deep in intellect are likely to grasp new connections, opportunities and/or sources of exposure more quickly and completely than their colleagues. These staff members are especially useful in identifying new ways of applying emerging cloud technologies to business issues, and to establishing the ‘first mover’ advantages coveted by firms on the leading edge of adoption and use. However, these staff members may be prone to designing elegant rather than easily-replicable solutions to issues in adoption and application. Their primary interest is in blazing trails, not in paving highways.

Domain knowledge, or a deep understanding of a specific topic, is a key attribute for firms that want to capitalize on the practices that have been identified by cloud leaders. Staff who possess domain knowledge can identify options for addressing a particular issue, assess which of these fit best in the current context and make recommendations for adoption and expansion.  These staff may not act as the visionaries who architect innovative solutions, but they are essential to ensuring that the aspects of the solution that they oversee are sound, replicable and aligned with best known practices.

Adaptability, or the ability to learn and grow over time, is essential to translating potential into real-world benefit. A logically perfect solution that can’t be efficiently applied to business process requirements won’t deliver much payback; new systems need to improve processes in a tangible way to deliver return on investment. Staff who are capable of translating the options offered by new systems into increased efficiency, better communications, expanded market engagement, or some other beneficial business outcome are the key to capturing the advantages promised by new cloud solutions. These aren’t the staff members who design cloud systems or processes. They are the IT staff members who develop methods of developing, integrating and optimizing cloud solutions, or the business managers and staff members who find ways of accelerating cycle times or enhancing delivery quality through use of cloud resources.

The three capacities in the context of enterprise requirements

How do these three types of intelligence apply to the requirements set out by the Planning for the Cloud/Cloud Strategy: Enterprise working group? “Cloud as a means of enabling more effective business management” is still not a well-understood concept, so businesses have a clear need for intellect at the business executive level; this requirement, at least for the time being, applies in many cases to the enterprise architect who is trying to understand requirements associated with his/her role. Knowledge will be needed within the IT function to translate cloud concepts into workable systems with effective hybrid architecture, security, etc., as well as in designing training and enhancement programs for businesses. And adaptability will be required throughout the organization, as users adjust to the “new features, processes, interfaces associated with cloud migration.”

It seems clear that over time, the relative proportions of each type of intelligence required for success in a particular area are likely to change: there is relatively little advantage to be gained by to applying intellect to reconsider methods of PC deployment, and relatively little opportunity to energize nascent IoT strategies with adaptability. I expect that this shift will play out in cloud as well – indeed, the activities of the TCBC working groups are intended to crystallize insights from Canadian cloud leaders to help document knowledge associated with key cloud areas. Today, and for the foreseeable future, though, executives will need to identify the types of capabilities that their firms require, and the areas in which these capabilities need to be developed. Cloud has vast potential – but as several TCBC groups have observed, realizing this potential relies to a large degree on developing and capitalizing on skills across all levels and functions within the enterprise.