Jun 17 2013

Why IT Workers Should Become Shape-Shifters

The shift toward a nimble, flexible computing environment demands more from IT professionals.

Few things stay the same for long in technology. The floppy disk gave way to the USB flash memory stick, and now many are perfectly comfortable with non-physical, cloud-based storage.

So why do some in IT expect that their skill sets should remain the same?

The litany of new acronyms popping up in IT can be dizzying at times. BYOD, SDN, MAM, MDM, IoE and so on. And IT workers are tasked with keeping up with and supporting each of these trends as they emerge. If they choose to ignore one, users can turn “rogue” and deploy the forbidden technologies behind their backs and under their noses.

Similarly, IT workers who have spent much of their time in specific IT silos are suddenly tasked with projects that require them to switch on skill sets outside of their day-to-day workflows. Shape-shifting is now, more than ever, necessary for IT workers. They can perhaps draw inspiration from the color-changing chameleon, or the mutant supervillain with morphing powers, Mystique from X-Men.

Redefining What IT Does

As IT tasks change, people are trying to redefine the role of IT. Ken Oestreich, a veteran IT marketer, wrote on GigaOM that the new CIO is a supply chain manager. Bill Kleyman, an IT consultant, writes on Data Center Knowledge that in a cloud-focused world, “IT professionals will often act as the liaison between numerous different, still very important, business stakeholders.”

Behind many of these new definitions lies a common thread: The notion of the IT worker as the sole gatekeeper of technology tools and resources will be disrupted. That role may have been true in the 1980s and 1990s when users weren’t walking around with powerful mini-computers in their pockets (aka smartphones), but with the multitude of user-empowering, free cloud applications available today, corporate IT isn’t the only game in town.

In a world where the user, not the IT worker is in full control, where do IT professionals fit?

In 2011, two Gartner analysts presenting at the Gartner Symposium painted a stark view of the future IT worker’s role, according to a report by Larry Dignan of ZDNet.

“The long-run value proposition of IT is not to support the human workforce — it is to replace it,” wrote Gartner in its presentation. In other words, any job loss related to offshore outsourcing may look like a walk in the park once cloud computing gets rolling.

Completely machine-driven IT is hard to imagine, but even if you dismiss the Terminator-style prediction, it’s important for IT workers to be flexible and fluid in their roles and with their skillsets.

Become an Enabler, Not a Disabler

Among the biggest concerns about trends like bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and cloud computing are compliance and security issues. Who owns the data when a personal smartphone is used for work? What rights do users hand over to the company once they agree to a BYOD program? If a personal phone is used for work, who’s responsible for maintenance and repairs?

Companies are still sorting through many of these thorny issues, but outlining them upfront in a BYOD policy should help defuse uncertainties. Things can become stressful when the policy states one thing while the company does another. For example, asking to remotely wipe the entire phone when the policy says only work data must be deleted.

While the challenges facing this brave new world of IT are many, more IT workers appear to have an upbeat attitude toward it all.

A 2012 Intel survey of 3,000 IT managers found that 47 percent agreed with the statement that “BYOD makes my job easier.” On the opposite end, 32 percent said BYOD made their job more difficult. But there’s room for optimism in the fact that a plurality of managers are taking a glass half-full view of BYOD.

If IT workers aren’t wedded to any one role, they’ll be better off in the IT world where the sands never seem to stop shifting.

Digital Vision/Thinkstock