Combatting the IT Skills Shortage

Strategies for spending less time keeping the lights on and more time training IT staff in strategic areas.

By Paul Desmond

By Paul Desmond August 2, 2019

In what is something of a chicken-egg dilemma, a recent study shows that while companies expect hybrid cloud computing to positively impact their businesses, hybrid cloud skills are among those least prevalent across organizations. This situation is leaving companies searching for ways to fill their IT skills shortages.

Of the 2,300 IT decision makers surveyed for the 2018 Enterprise Cloud Index (ECI), conducted for Nutanix by VansonBourne, 88% said they were bullish on the prospects of hybrid cloud for their organizations. But of the skills lacking within their IT groups, hybrid cloud came in second, cited by 35% of respondents, second only to artificial intelligence/machine learning (45%). Blockchain (34%) and edge computing/IoT (30%) rounded out the most-lacked skills.

What’s more, nearly three quarters of respondents (74%) said specialized skills are required for hybrid cloud computing, because IT vendors don’t currently provide appropriate solutions. Compounding the problem, more than half (54%) said their organization has trouble retaining IT talent.

This new generation has different expectations and know how to do things in different ways.

Rajiv Mirani, CTO for cloud platforms with Nutanix

Ease management tasks to free IT time

Part of the problem is that IT teams are generally too busy to spend time learning new skills.

“If IT is spending 90% of their time keeping lights on, applying patches and other things that add little value but need to be done, they’ll never get time to learn new skills,” said Rajiv Mirani, CTO for cloud platforms with Nutanix.

To remedy the situation, Mirani said organizations need to seek ways to ease the day-to-day management tasks, often by employing newer technologies like hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). HCI combines server, storage, networking and software, enabling it to be managed by a single administrator rather than three or more admins traditionally needed for separate server, storage and network infrastructure.

[Related: Deploying Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) to Modernize IT]

Perhaps ironically, using cloud technology itself is another potential solution. Though cloud skills are scarce, of the ECI survey respondents whose organizations employ cloud, nearly three quarters (74%) reported it increased the productivity and efficiency of their IT team.

Introduce Automation

Automating routine IT tasks is another way to address the IT skills shortage, Mirani said. Software development groups, for example, used to have dedicated teams of developers and separate quality assurance testing teams. Only after a piece of software was developed would it be tested.

Today, with the trend toward DevOps, which brings together development and operations teams to deliver applications faster, testing is conducted throughout the development process in an automated fashion.

“Dedicated testing is going away. Now it’s more automated testing that developers perform themselves,” Mirani said.

Tools are emerging to bring automation to other areas of IT, too. The open source Ansible toolset, for example, automates the job of server and application provisioning and configuration. Network equipment vendors are also creating automation routines to make their gear easier to deploy. Ansible Network does the same via an open source route, with a series of predefined playbooks for automating tasks including configuration, testing and continuous compliance checks.

Implementing such tools may require “generational change,” Mirani said. While some IT staff may be resistant to change, younger workers who came of age in the smartphone and cloud era bring a new perspective.

“This new generation has different expectations and know how to do things in different ways,” he said. It’s similar to when PCs came along, he said, enabling forward-thinking workers to perform compute jobs that previously required a mainframe.

Schools Step Up

Organizations can also look to area schools to help with the IT skills shortage issue, as schools are getting on board with degree programs in hot areas like cloud.

The University of Maryland, University College, recently began offering a master’s degree in Cloud Computing Architecture. It purports to teach students cloud computing concepts and business benefits, how to design effective cloud solutions for various sorts of organizations, compliance fundamentals, deployment automation and more.

Cloud providers are also seeking to help educate IT professionals. Amazon Web Services, for example, teamed up with Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) in the fall of 2018 to begin offering a Cloud Computing specialization as part of NOVA’s Information Systems Technology (IST) Associate of Applied Science degree.

“Community colleges like NOVA are important engines for workforce development, and this collaboration with Amazon Web Services marks an exciting first step in a broader plan to bring cloud computing education to students across the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Ralph Northam, Governor of Virginia, in a statement announcing the collaboration.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Northern Virginia is the largest data center market in the country and the world, according to the CBRE U.S. Data Center Trends Report.

Think Beyond Money

Finally, if you think you can entice talented IT professionals purely with money, you may be disappointed, Mirani said.

“Money is important if it’s double what you’re making now,” he said. “But challenging work and working in strong teams are what I see most people gravitate toward.” In that case, areas such as cloud and AI/ML will be attractive, because “caring and feeding, keeping the lights on—that’s not very challenging work.”

Paul Desmond is a contributing writer. He is co-founder and principal of Saratoga B2B group and formerly an editor at IDG’s Network World, Redmond magazine and Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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