Corporate infrastructure jobs, as we’ve known them since the launch of networking and the Internet, are on a sinking ship. If you are in one, head for the lifeboats now – it’s time to steer for new destinations.
As infrastructure management increasingly becomes a hybrid of cloud, hyperconverged solutions, and consumption model delivery, the roles required in-house have begun to shift. Some tasks that have been innate to the internal IT department will continue to shift off the map to be replaced by automation tools, more sophisticated system design, or spun off to cloud or 3rd party providers.
Welcome to the Digital Age
Of course infrastructure professionals are by no means in a dire situation, just an evolving one. Step one for any corporate network professional looking for safe harbor is to acknowledge it’s time to alter course, now. The scope of infrastructure management is not the same as it was a short 5 years ago and it is going to look decisively different 5 years forward.
Keep in mind that from a business’ perspective there is a significant financial chunk of the IT budget allocated to infrastructure labor. Reports on this cost can range from 30% to over 50%.1 Compared with the rest of the IT budget, infrastructure and operations is glaringly large. The hard truth is that while infrastructure is the critical foundation of an organization, it is not business value impactful. Meaning, it doesn’t generate revenue, promote growth, or serve as a catalyst for market innovation. Infrastructure stability is expected, just like electricity. Infrastructure and the management of it is a commodity of the environment.
The cost breakdown of managing infrastructure, especially compared with costs for other areas of IT that do generate revenue and innovation (e.g. product and service development) is significant enough that any CIO is going to look at how he/she can tune that number down, without sacrificing service. This means traditional roles are subject to some level of alteration or even elimination, as new technologies are able to manage those same tasks, cheaper.
Make No Mistake, Infrastructure is Critical
As I recently discussed in my piece, “Infrastructure is the Cornerstone of Digital Transformation,”2 infrastructure now more than ever must play a major role in the organization. However, the role it plays and the structure and definition of what “data center” means has to be much different than the Industrial Era version we have known for the last 20+ years.
So what are the next steps for the corporate infrastructure professional? There are a number of paths to follow, in fact the increasing push for hybrid IT opens an even wider berth of opportunities.
New Places to Focus Abound
Sharpen your cross-business acumen.
Get out and meet the business. If your focus has been logs and alarms, tuning databases, patching systems, monitoring and managing servers with dedicated intensity on hardware performance – it’s time to lift your eyes from the console. Understanding the goals and strategies of the business owners is necessary. You may already know the applications that sit on those boxes in the server room, but learn the impact on the customer side of the house. Take interest in the business owner’s day-to-day. Discover what the customer experiences from their point of view. When you can speak the language of the business owner and the customer, you will unlock information that will begin to spur ideas and technology solutions on the back-end which actually integrate uniquely with the business’ efforts. Your value in the conversation can skyrocket and new solutions that impact business growth can develop; everyone wins.
Virtualization & high availability solutions.
Just because the environment is changing doesn’t mean technical skills will go away. Scalability, reliability, and high availability are on top of every CIO’s list. This applies whether the environment is in-house, in the cloud, or managed by 3rd party vendors. Expertise in virtualized solutions and the management of them will continue to be important. Hyperconvergence adds another layer that will require adjusted knowledge and skills. It has been projected that, “54% of organizations will adopt hyperconverged infrastructure in the near future.”3 While this may negate some of the need for a technical architect, “these individuals will remain relevant,… because business and IT teams still need to understand technical requirements before purchasing and deploying new systems.”3
Integration planning & management.
As more organizations examine choices in evolving infrastructure design, hybrid strategies have been gaining more appeal. The tricky part in all of this is integrating legacy applications. A company starting up today may have the luxury of architecting a hybrid design that is perfectly orchestrated across in-house and cloud boundaries. However, for most organizations, proprietary systems that run the core business products were designed years ago and don’t inherently align with cloud design. While the desire may be to re-engineer these systems to fit the technologies available today, this takes time, effort, and dollars so keeping these systems running concurrently alongside new designs is common. Skills to architect and manage across the hybrid landscape have value.
Vendor & financial management.
There is far more to cloud administration than traditional system operations skills. When you pay-as-you-go for server time, a balance of performance and system availability against financials is required. How much CPU do you provision to give the developers what they really need, without over provisioning and jumping your monthly bills off the charts? Are systems needed 24×7, especially for the development team? Who watches usage to make sure the environment is just flexible enough to be efficient? There is an art to cloud management and a new world of classes and certifications have appeared because of it. This is a growing skills area in which the infrastructure professional can shine.
Is it a job or a philosophy? To level set, let’s assume DevOps is “…an enterprise software development phrase used to mean a type of agile relationship between Development and IT Operations. The goal of DevOps is to change and improve the relationship by advocating better communication and collaboration between the two business units.”4 There is no doubt that the integration of duties between the infrastructure and development teams has blurred. DevOps may be a place for you to expand your resume. The expertise required to pitch your DevOps shingle is really a combination of technical and soft skills. Learning a bit about coding and deep scripting languages (e.g. PowerShell) is one part, but you’ll find people skills (back to business acumen) is also a layer. Take a look at this article on “10 DevOps Skills”5 for a concise break down of where to start.
Disruption Is All Around Us
For those of us that grew our careers before the digital explosion, the disruptive climate can be strange and uncomfortable. Infrastructure is core; let’s not forget that without it we have nothing on which to build our innovative products and services. However, especially for the corporate data center professional, the course of the technologist’s role has already changed direction. Don’t stand on the ship’s deck holding tight to the old guardrail. The lifeboats are plentiful, jump in and chart your own new path.
1 APQC. Knowledge Base. https://www.apqc.org/knowledge-base/download/302140
2 Carroll, Jessica. “Infrastructure Is the Cornerstone of Digital Transformation.”The Institute for Digital Transformation. N.p., 22 July 2016. Web. 02 Sept. 2016. www.institutefordigitaltransformation.org/infrastructure-is-the-cornerstone-of-digital-transformation/
3 “Connect. Engage. Succeed.” APN Consulting Inc. N.p., 7 Aug. 2015. Web. 02 Sept. 2016. http://apnconsultinginc.com/how-will-hyperconverged-infrastructure-impact-it-roles/
4 Beal, Vangie. “DevOps – Development and Operations.” What Is DevOps (Development and Operations)? Webopedia Definition. QuinStreet Enterprise., n.d. Web. 02 Sept. 2016. http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/D/devops_development_operations.html
5 Sanchez, Joe. “10 DevOps Skills: The Elusive DevOps Engineer.” VMinstall. N.p., 06 Aug. 2016. Web. 02 Sept. 2016. http://www.vminstall.com/devops-skills/
About The Author:
With over 20 years of experience in leadership roles in the technology industry, Ms. Carroll is recognized as an executive who develops and articulates vision and solutions from both technical and business perspectives. She has an established history of building a culture of collaboration, trust, and respect among IT and the business. A speaker on the topics of digital transformation, cloud computing, IT utility adoption, and team culture, she has been published in CIOInsight and BizTech magazine, and was named a 2010 Computer World Premier 100 IT Leader. She is committed to sharing, listening, challenging, and shaping the discussion around transformational business success.
Currently Ms. Carroll serves as the VP, Customer Success & Lifecycle at TenFour, a NJ headquartered IT Infrastructure Utility Provider. In this role, she leverages her industry expertise to provide insight and guidance to enterprise business executives to facilitate digital transformation and business value realization. She is responsible for creating a differentiated customer experience across the breadth of TenFour’s client portfolio, focused on the customer’s business priorities and outstanding service delivery. Prior to joining TenFour, Ms. Carroll had a noteworthy tenure in a variety of senior IT Leadership positions at the United States Golf Association, most recently as the Managing Director for Information Technology where she led the infrastructure, business resilience, security, operations, and development disciplines.