Is your IT department a zoo or a safari park?

When did you last take a walk around your IT division? What did you see? More importantly, what did you not see?

Are the professionals responsible for storage, networking and your server virtualisation program working together or apart? Could any of them step into another’s shoes, move across teams or come into work tomorrow morning prepared to turn things upside down and do it all differently?

In short, would you say your IT department resembles a free range safari park or a set of zoo enclosures? The answer is important. The skillset and culture of your IT infrastructure team could make or break your company’s chances of becoming a successful digital enterprise.

The simple truth is that you cannot build an agile, customer-centric business on a disconnected IT infrastructure, managed by a disconnected team. To achieve the integration, speed, scalability and resilience, a digital business needs you to converge your IT infrastructure – and to do the same with your team.

It is easy to underestimate how radical and unsettling this could be for the IT professionals in your organisation. First of all, IT convergence involves breaking down barriers between organisational siloes, standardising and automating processes and changing the way these are monitored and managed. Converged infrastructures can resemble IT services more than hardware systems. For many of the professionals working in infrastructure, that can be quite a leap, professionally and emotionally. Most IT professionals will instinctively translate these changes into, at best, a loss of familiarity, influence or authority and at worst, unemployment. Few will see it for what it can also be: a chance to upskill, future-proof their professional career and invigorate their skills, or a release from the monotony of maintenance to add creative value elsewhere.

Secondly, today’s highly-trained IT professional is likely to have followed an established course of education and professional development, sometimes up to chartered status and beyond. The learning frameworks for these qualifications can be slow to change. Many still reflect the requirements of an earlier, more traditional IT environment, with computing, networking and data storage covered in isolated modules. New courses are needed, and needed now.

A converged environment, for example, requires a deep, blended skill set including all the above areas, as well as a good grasp of management, design, software, service delivery and wider business needs.

Furthermore, the introduction of convergence supports other emerging IT roles, which themselves combine different skill sets. These include Information Architects, who blend system administration skills with an understanding of how these systems integrate with existing technical operations and business processes; and DevOps professionals who fuse development and operations to transform the speed at which applications are created and deployed.

Change in one area influences and is influenced by change elsewhere. One by one established IT operations, development and service roles are being transformed. CIOs and their frontline IT managers need to work with HR to understand and address the implications of this ripple effect.

Industry commentators are divided on how well CIOs understand this. According to Gartner, 81 per cent of CIOs are overly focused on the near term, the next three years at most. At the same time, the IT industry trade association, CompTIA expressed surprise at the revelation in its 2015 global workforce survey that in an age of digital technologies it’s the skills gaps in networking, storage and computing that are accorded the greatest priority. There is clearly a gap between the infrastructure skills companies have and the skills they need.

Training in new infrastructure solutions such as converged and hyper-converged technologies is becoming business-critical. Not just informal, on-the-job training to meet immediate needs, but robust, certified training. The practical benefit as well as the emotional reassurance of this should not be underestimated. CompTIA’s study showed that a significant 44 per cent of respondents in the UK say that IT certified staff offer more value to the organisation, with certification in infrastructure technologies topping the list in terms of overall added value and ROI.

Our own VCE Certified Professionals Program, for example, introduced in April 2014, helps IT professionals to develop the skills needed to design, deploy and manage converged infrastructure as a seamless, single environment. Every month, around 500 newly certified VCE converged infrastructure professionals return to their desks ready to change the world.

It’s time to break down the walls of resistance and tradition that are suffocating IT. No-one embarks on a career in technology hoping that every day will be the same as the one before.

IT professionals need to rediscover their thirst for knowledge, their passion and their aspiration to become more, and CIOs need to lead by example. The age of cages is over and the open savannah awaits.

Nigel Moulton, EMEA CTO at VCE

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