With growing investments, an increasing mix of both public and private platforms, and new industry developments cropping up on a daily basis, it’s no longer a matter of debate to ask if cloud computing is here to stay – the only real debate left is now between cloud’s “computing” and “on-premise computing” capabilities!

IDC recently asserted that the growth and benefit associated with major digital transformation initiatives and the implementation of “3rd platform” technologies such as mobility and data analytics would not have been possible without the cloud as the foundation. Meanwhile, Gartner predicts that more than $1 trillion in IT spending will be directly or indirectly affected by the shift to cloud in the next five years.

But as our comfort with and acceptance of the cloud model means we increasingly migrate more processes and systems into the cloud, it also provides us with an opportunity to learn from this innovation cycle to better prepare for future ones. Specifically, why have businesses favoured the cloud and where did the acceptance, adoption and even eagerness for the cloud come from?  And importantly, what skills were essential to making the change effective?

Freedom to evolve

The cloud has made it possible for organisations to free themselves from the tasks of selecting, procuring, installing, managing, maintaining and retiring racks of bulky onsite servers. The need for an impressive, intransigent physical system has been eradicated for an ideal, interactive off-premise alternative. So far so useful. However, the exhilarating benefit of the cloud is that it heralds IT’s change in role from fixing broken systems to fixing business problems. IT departments now have the opportunity to focus on innovation and real changes within organisations – leaving infrastructure specialists to worry about hardware investment cycles, backup scheduling and hard-disk obsolescence.

Suddenly, the IT team has grown up. It empowers, evolves and maybe – hyperbole notwithstanding – even energises the business, rather than merely equipping it. The lesson for future innovation is, therefore, to not only consider the way in which the business might immediately benefit practically from the new technology but also to look at how the IT team’s role and subjective perception may change. Where does the opportunity lie? Will the benefits largely be the removal of costs, or will it remove burdens and increase the chance to contribute strategically?

Negotiation of needs

Some companies use the cloud because of its scalability – perhaps for backup needs, or for the elasticity associated with cloud – accommodating a wide variation in monthly or weekly demand – and would contract on a pay-as-you-go basis.

But with this flexibility comes a need to negotiate with suppliers to protect the business with proper SLAs that mirror both the flexibility and the continuity the company is looking for. And of course to be able to predict needs no matter how the business might change accurately.

So what’s the lesson to be learnt from how we dealt with the cloud for when the next significant evolution in business computing pops up? Ensuring the IT team had the soft skills to take advantage of – or to harness – the new capabilities that cloud offered was crucial to the success and speed of cloud adoption. It has shown that the technical skills, infrastructure and even imagination are one thing, but that learning the non-IT skills necessary to make it practical and acceptable to a business environment are just as crucial. When the next innovation appears, what will be the next non-IT power the IT team needs to learn?

Actively learning from, and not just riding, innovation cycles are essential for the IT industry. Ours is too fast-paced an industry to miss opportunities, so as new cycles start, we must be prepared and flexible enough to capitalise quickly and efficiently, while also having the wisdom and experience to sort the innovation wheat from the chaff early. The nature and therefore usefulness of the newest technology will of course always be different as each cycle starts, but motivations for adoption and triggers for hype will remain mostly the same. Which means we as an industry need to observe and understand this cloud cycle, rather than rest on our laurels and watch it float by.