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Abandon your old-school IT mind-set for cloud

For successful cloud deployment, IT teams should move away from the traditional break/fix model, and adopt a cloud broker mind-set instead.

Since purchasing their first mainframes decades ago, enterprises have been on a quest to spend less time setting up their computers, and more time using them. Cloud computing, which offers a high level of IT automation, is the latest advancement helping enterprises meet that goal. However, using the cloud means evolving a long-standing IT mind-set -- a step many businesses are having trouble taking.

Historically, IT teams spent the bulk of their time managing computer systems, dabbling with command-line interfaces and performing tasks, such as allocating storage or setting up user permissions. A recent study from Forrester Research estimated that IT departments spend 70% to 75% of their time just "keeping the lights on," or isolating and then fixing various system problems.

IT departments spend 70% to 75% of their time just 'keeping the lights on,' or isolating and then fixing various system problems.

But with the move to virtualization and now to cloud, IT systems have become smarter and taken on more of the mundane maintenance functions. Such changes have extended from hardware to software. In the past, IT spent a lot of time outlining system specifications and working with the business units to code applications. But with cloud, IT's role is starting to change.

As your organization moves to the cloud, here are three ways your IT mind-set should evolve.

No more 'break and fix'

As companies move away from a traditional "break/fix" model, IT pros need to transition from being technical tinkerers to resource managers. They should establish high-level best practices and ensure business departments adhere to them. But change is often difficult.

"New IT brings a lot of complexities and support issues that managers are trying to wrap their heads around," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, a consulting firm in Oakland, Calif.

To overcome these challenges, IT pros need new skill sets. While traditional Windows Server and on-premises systems remain running, the new IT mind-set should focus on mobile, cloud and, increasingly, the Internet of Things. Consequently, companies need to invest in training -- and many recognize that need. According to a recent survey from online IT training company Cybrary, 61% of companies feel they need to provide more IT training for their employees.

Taking on the integration challenge

While the traditional IT mind-set required IT pros to serve as first-line technicians, the cloud's self-service model positions them as a second line of help; IT managers become more like consultants advising someone else making the changes, versus actually doing the alterations themselves.

But, as front-line coding becomes less important, integration moves in to fill the void.

"System connectivity today is getting better, but solutions are still not plug-and-play," said Christian Perry, principal analyst and practice manager at Technology Business Research, Inc., a research firm based in Hampton, N.H.

IT has to take new cloud applications and tie them to underlying components, such as database management systems and authentication technologies. The department's role now includes easing the consumption and integration of cloud services into the corporation, regardless of whether those services originate in a private or public cloud. In a growing number of cases, the IT department acts like a cloud broker or a mobile application store; it provides the business units with a checklist of potential cloud services, the department selects them and then IT pulls all the pieces together for deployment.

In addition, IT teams spend more time writing and reviewing contracts and less time coding. Cloud providers develop boilerplate contracts for all customers, but IT has to refine the wording and ensure the service meets the departments' needs.

Locking down the system

Because of recent high-profile breaches, security has become a top priority for many organizations. IT has to help the business develop and follow sound security practices for cloud, and be prepared to tackle any traditional security issues, such as those related to access and authentication.

Companies conduct security tests to see if employees fall for ruses, such as phishing scams.

But ensuring safe communications has become more challenging, and it can be difficult to lock down all enterprise applications and end points. Consequently, much of an organization's security success or failure depends on users' understanding of security risks and their willingness to follow sound procedures.

As a result, new techniques, and a new IT mind-set around security, are emerging. Greenbaum, for example, said companies conduct security tests to see if employees fall for ruses, such as phishing scams. When they do, the IT department educates the workers about the potential risks.

Computer systems have constantly been getting smarter and requiring less hands-on work. Through automation and a self-service model, cloud computing takes this concept to the next level. Businesses can reap more benefits from cloud, but must evolve their IT mind-set first.

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