For as long as I’ve been attending, speaking at and generally hanging out at cloud conferences, we’ve been talking about a “tipping point”. Are we finally there?

I’ve been analyzing, opining upon, consulting about and generally immersed in the cloudy world for a decade or so now. I look back fondly on the days when, as one of the global  hosts of CloudCamps, I’d run events aimed at simply helping people understand what cloud is. Or the few years I spent creating an education program and certification for a large company that was aimed squarely at build awareness and understanding of the cloud.

Fast forward to today and pretty much everyone is talking cloud. You’d be forgiven for thinking it is the default for every use case. But in my travels I still regularly come across people who tell me that, under no circumstances, would they “do cloud.” These people generally hold up security and privacy for their concerns. Of course, these same people are, in all likelihood, using an internet based and delivered banking product, or buying items on Amazon or eBay, or communicating via any one of the multitude of cloud-based communications product available.

The thing is, we’re all doing cloud, it’s just that sometimes we don’t realize it.

But sometimes it takes empirical data for people to actually understand how far we’ve come. For many years, those of us who have closely watched the space since its inception have been talking about the “tipping point.” The term, a hat tip to an eponymously titled Ney Your Times bestseller written by Malcolm Gladwell, refers to the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.

And so a recent survey undertaken by ServiceNow is a telling piece of data. The headline number pretty much says it all – over half (52 percent to be exact) of enterprise respondents now chose the cloud as their default way of building and delivering IT projects. But the headline number needs some context wrapped around it – let’s take a look at what the survey discovered.

The survey, which captured information from nearly 2,000 mid to senior managers, harnessed the opinions of people across IT, line-of-business management, and DevOps. It was a global pool and was aimed at finding out how they build, deploy and manage their services.

It seems that at long last, the reality finally measures up for cloud computing

Those 52 percent of respondents stated a preference for cloud applications (delivered as Software as a Service offerings) as the default way of enabling end users. This is in stark contrast to the orthodox approach of on-premises infrastructure, legacy stacks, and traditional development methodologies. Nine out of ten respondents looked to accelerate this shift to the cloud saying that their intention was to complete their cloud transformation within two years.

DevOps leading the charge – culture meets tech

I’ve been a long-time critic of those who try and create culture change simply through the adoption of new technologies. Achieving organizational agility is about changing the culture from one of rigid hierarchies to one of agility, flat structures and flexibility. This is why DevOps is such an important movement. The move to bring the development and operations teams closer together, and to create a common approach that breaks down existing silos is one which can have big impacts in terms of culture and process chance.

As such, it was heartening to read that 94 percent of respondents reported that they are involved in some way with the DevOps movement. Interestingly fully 76 percent said that the general rise of DevOps approaches is a major factor driving their move to the cloud. it would seem that introducing culture change and tools that enable a DevOps approach highlights the glaring inefficiencies and issues with traditional approaches towards IT. A refreshing case of the culture driving the technology and not the other way around.

Caution – A cloud-first world demands new IT skills

I was pleased to see leaders reflect on the fact that simply putting in place some tools, and new processes to speed up an organization’s innovation, doesn’t work if the right people aren’t there to leverage those changes. A critical finding of the report was that 90 percent of companies who have already made the shift to the cloud reflected on the fact that existing IT staff lacked the required skills to help the organization and its people navigate their way into the new paradigm. This raises some real questions about the human aspects of technology transformation.

Perhaps in part due to the frustrations that many of these leaders felt while making the change, close to 90 percent of them felt that cloud could be a replacement for a formal IT department in at least some cases. This raises some real questions for people within IT – the crux here is that change is coming and simply avoiding it isn’t going to work – you need to find ways to be important and effective under this new model of technology, and not simply try and hang on with your fingernails and block change.

But don’t think that this means that IT no longer matters, that boat has long sailed and Nicholas Carr’s book of the same name has largely been debunked – IT certainly has a role to play in the modern organization. Slightly counter to what people suggested with regards cloud being a replacement for IT, a couple of findings should give IT practitioners real heart:

  • 72 percent said the cloud shift actually raised IT’s relevance to the business
  • 68 percent said IT will be completely essential in the future

Key takeaway here: IT, you certainly have a role to play, you just need to make the change to a different way of thinking and acting. One of these changes is a move to a delegated approach towards development so that innovation can flourish without any bottlenecks on the supply side.

Mapping the impacts

If we accept that we have, in fact, reached a tipping point and that cloud will be the default option for most organizations into the future, there are some likely consequences that IT departments need to think about. These consequences were reflected upon by the survey respondents who overwhelmingly indicated some concerns or requirements around visibility. While cloud makes IT more efficient and economical, it can increase complexity of the IT footprint and, as such, it is going to be increasingly important for IT to have full visibility of the organization’s compute environment, including all cloud-based services and applications. The hybrid IT architecture presents new challenges that IT did not have to contend with when everything was based in the data center. Consolidating business data enables IT to more effectively manage demand, understand compute costs, utilize cloud- and on-premises-based resources, execute on projects, ensure regulatory compliance, and manage business relationships.

Additionally to these technology complexity impacts, IT practitioners need to brace themselves for the fact that increasingly non-IT personnel are going to be “playing in IT’s backyard.” As technology becomes more accessible, and line-of-business personnel are enabled to create technology solutions from a bottom-up approach, IT has the somewhat contrary drivers of enabling these line of business workers with low code/no-code tools, while at the same time maintaining control of the environment within the enterprise – security and compliance are two factors that won’t go away and IT needs to find ways to keep control, without choking off innovation. Reflecting on this being an opportunity rather than a threat, Allan Leinwand, CTO of ServiceNow said that:

“This cloud-first shift will force IT to evolve as more business departments build and run applications in the cloud. For the first time, IT has the opportunity to shift its role from IT builder and implementor to strategic business broker.”

MyPOV

We have absolutely reached the tipping point and it is no longer even remotely a question of whether cloud will be an ongoing thing. It is here, and it is here to stay. IT practitioners need to appreciate that and think about their role within the broader context of the organization. IT still matters, but it needs to find a way of mattering within a different context.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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