Cloud Computing Exposes Skill Gap in University IT Shops

Universities are grappling with how to retrain and redeploy IT leaders in the cloud environment.

by / July 21, 2015
Universities including Cornell are figuring out ways to help train their IT staff members for the cloud environment. sach1tb via Flickr CC by-SA 2.0

Chief information officers are still figuring out how to deal with the culture shock that comes with a move to cloud computing.

Until recently, the set of core skills that IT team members needed remained the same, even though the application of those skills might look a little different as technology changed. But now that their core infrastructure responsibilities have been massively virtualized, they're experiencing a big culture shock as they are expected to learn different skills in a cloud or hybrid cloud environment.

"If you don't have quality people that understand how to operate in a cloud environment, that's a problem," said Shel Waggener, senior vice president of Internet2.

To deal with this problem, Cornell University has been doing an assessment of about 700 IT staff members' skills to see what they can do and compare it to what they need. This assessment exposed a gap in skillsets that Cornell University is addressing through professional development as it seeks to prepare its employees for the future. 

Along with the typical skills of database, system, desktop and network administration, IT leaders should add external engagement to the list, which means managing cloud service providers. As service managers and owners, they'll be responsible for knowing what a good contract should look like between a service provider and the university. Five to 10 years ago, those skills weren't on the radar, said Ted Dodds, CIO and vice president of IT at Cornell University.

The internal professional development program at Cornell is teaching them the IT skills they need to be successful in this new role. Those skills include thinking up a cloud service that would help the university, marketing it, creating a business plan, persuading people to adopt it and analyzing how much it costs. 

While some roles will go away as a result of the shift to cloud, new roles like the cloud service manager pop up in their place. And ultimately, having more services in the cloud frees up IT departments to focus on work that directly advances the university's efforts in teaching and research.

"If we apply as much as possible to the mission, then I feel that we're doing the right thing for the university," Dodds said.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.

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