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Cloud no cure for IT department haters

Go ahead, install Salesforce. Please

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It's a seeming truism that everyone hates IT. Indeed, while IT departments have long looked to open source as a way to skirt the formal purchasing and legal processes that slow down software acquisition, marketing and other departments now look to the cloud/SaaS as a way to evade IT for much the same reason.

But if IT is such a hated figure, why aren't IT departments shrinking? And why is IT pay on the rise?

A recent Forrester report points to significant disaffection with IT, with 69 per cent of respondents admit to budget items for IT products or services without involving IT. Some IT professionals, whether for job security or data security, have resisted this trend, but have failed to stop it, with cloud computing set to dramatically expand the overall software industry in 2011.

It's not clear, however, that IT departments are rejecting the cloud en masse, or that they're being eliminated by SaaS. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What seems to be happening is that the cloud, as well as outsourcing and other trends that have each promised to shrink IT departments, have not destroyed IT jobs so much as it has changed them. A new North Bridge Future of Cloud Computing survey found that scalability and cost are the primary drivers for cloud adoption ("Get rid of IT! Pay less!"), but agility and innovation are increasingly a driving force for cloud usage.

It is this shift toward innovation that keeps IT firmly in the mix. In fact, this same survey found that over the longer term (up to five years), "maintaining competitive differentiation" rises to the top of the list of reasons for embracing the cloud. Clearly, IT has a role to play in shaping IT assets into innovative, competitive business tools.

IT isn't going away, in other words. It's just changing.

As one CIO notes: "Perhaps the emphasis [on cloud/SaaS] will change IT activities from completing backups and performing server maintenance to a more active and design-oriented role, improving the distribution and management of technology and applications throughout an organization."

This rings true, and seems to be borne out by the numbers. While it may be true that more IT jobs are being moved to developing economies, this doesn't seem to have diminished the overall population of IT professionals. Furthermore, by some measures, new IT job listings are up significantly over the past few years. Meanwhile, IT salaries are up by 3.4 per cent on average, according to the Robert Half Technology Salary Guide 2011, fattening IT professionals' wallets.

Finally, in the North Bridge survey, 74 per cent of respondents believe that cloud computing would either lead to an increase in hiring or have no impact. Only 26 per cent felt the cloud would decrease hiring of IT professionals. IT pros become even more critical in this shifting world of the cloud, because they help wring value from cloud/SaaS systems.

This is why the areas of most potent salary growth are not necessarily in traditional IT jobs. Data modelers, web designers, and others who shape technology to drive a company's business, and not merely maintain its customer relationship management system or servers, are seeing the most salary growth.

In sum, the cloud isn't shrinking the IT department. Rather, the cloud is changing IT, forcing it to offer higher value. In my personal experience it's very easy to set up a Salesforce account, for example, but much harder to customize Salesforce and integrate it with other IT systems so that it becomes a useful business tool. For these latter functions, IT continues to play a critical role.

Not despite the cloud, but rather, because of it. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

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