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Cloud Implementation, Part 3: Training for the Task

By Erika Morphy
Apr 17, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Part 1 of this three-part series focused on planning out a successful move to a cloud environment. Part 2 investigates obstacles and strategies relating to customization in the cloud. Part 3 takes a look at training.

Cloud Implementation, Part 3: Training for the Task

One of the selling points for moving software into the cloud is that it is supposedly hassle-free: no hardware, no software and presumably no huge staff of IT employees. The latter is certainly true -- but that is not to say companies can stop investing in their IT human resources just because they have moved some or all of their applications to the cloud. On the contrary, one of the biggest hidden costs of cloud computing is the training costs that some companies have to undertake to realign capabilities.

However, trying to pinpoint a number or ratio for cloud implementation -- such as "for every $X spent on software, $Y must be spent on training" -- is not easy. Much depends on the training an internal IT staff already has -- and given the emphasis on Web-based architectures in recent years, this could be considerable.

What's the Architecture?

Much also depends on the cloud architecture being leveraged, Michael Sutton, vice president of security research for Zscaler, told CRM Buyer. "Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) provide enterprises with differing levels of control and responsibility when managing the cloud environment," he said.

"In general, IaaS would require the most technical skills, while SaaS handles most of the heavy lifting, with PaaS somewhere in between," he remarked.

Other generalizations can be made as well.

For instance, if the enterprise is responsible for the management of their own virtual servers (in an IaaS deployment), an IT staffer will require many of the same technical skills as they would when managing a local server, along with knowledge of managing and maintaining virtual machines, he said.

"Also, all environments are likely to include proprietary APIs (application programming interfaces) and applications that the IT staff will need to have or develop experience with in order to fully leverage the benefits of the cloud solution."

Ultimately, Sutton said, "an ability to interface with and navigate the cloud provider's support system may be something that IT staffers have not previously been required to do. Such skills will be vital as some degree of control is sacrificed in exchange for the efficiencies of outsourcing maintenance of the overall platform."

Quasi IT Employee

Some made-for-the-cloud applications, though, are so user-friendly that companies can get away with keeping only a handful of hardcore tech staff on-hand. The attributes and skills of technology staffers are fundamentally changing with the advent of SaaS applications, Dan Niemann, VP of sales and business development at Informatica, told CRM Buyer.

"Essentially, a new class of quasi 'IT' employee is emerging," he noted. "A good example is the job role called a 'Salesforce.com Administrator,' who knows CRM and sales process but may not have DBA skills. We have seen some companies fund these types of SaaS administrators through the line of business, some through IT, and some that 'co-fund' these positions."

While these job roles don't require core IT skills, they do require communication with traditional IT employees because SaaS applications often need integration with back-end systems, Niemann said. "For example, if you implement Salesforce, you may need to synchronize data with a back-end billing system that is owned by IT. Even here, however, new on-demand integration services decrease the amount of involvement required by IT staff, who are already over-burdened by other projects."

Business Focus

That said, it is clear that while internal tech expertise remains necessary in the cloud, the environment also calls for a certain level of business savvy from its IT staff.

IT admins for cloud applications need to be focused more on the business goal of an IT project, Nadim Hossain, director of product marketing and management with Salesforce.com, told CRM Buyer.

He points to Salesforce.com's certification path courses as examples. These focus on teaching participants what's possible with Salesforce CRM, with admins schooled in such tasks as customizing the application and creating high-value reports and dashboards.

The first thing that people want to do with a cloud project is turn the discussion from the technology to the business case, Jim Ramsey, director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, told CRM Buyer. "Once the business case has been made for cloud computing, then you can start matching skills sets."

In general, Ramsey said, most companies want to stay away as much as possible from customization, which suggests a need for expertise in SOAP and XML. "They want to take these business services that have been pre-defined and plug them together."

Plan, Plan, Plan

As in most IT scenarios, upfront planning is absolutely essential, Mark Troester, director of product marketing at DataDirect, told CRM Buyer.

"Most companies already have a reference architecture for applications. That should now be extended to represent how the cloud assets fit in the overall picture," he said. The process maps out how applications will fit or be integrated together -- and what specific skill sets are necessary to have in-house to build or maintain these integrations. If done correctly and thoroughly, Troester said, an updated reference architecture also serves as a primary training plan for companies.

Cloud Implementation, Part 1: Planning for Success

Cloud Implementation, Part 2: Cutting a Path to Customization


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