Opinion

Cloud computing will fail unless you have the people skills to lead technical staff, says Colt

Mark Leonard, Colt's executive VP for infrastructure, says internal resistance will be the biggest barrier to cloud acceptance. He explains how they it be overcome

You have to recognise that for most people in your organisation, cloud computing presents a massive culture change, Mark Leonard told the audience at the BroadGroup Data Centres event in Nice.

The CIO, says Leonard, is the person who spends time with the stakeholders in the company, trying to make IT deliver more profits for the shareholders and the board. But it's suddenly become much easier, as the cloud takes the pain out of rolling out new IT services. At least it would if he could get the IT staff behind him. But given that CIOs aren't always the best people managers, is that an easy task?

No, admits Leonard. The success of any cloud project relies entirely on the infrastructure people getting behind the programme. Change is notoriously difficult to implement, especially change that could threaten the livelihood of the people implementing it. That would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Colt experienced this very human drama recently, as it strove to reinvent itself as a cloud services providers. "We couldn't sell cloud services if we weren't a perfect example of how it works," says Leonard.

The techies at Colt, however, were used to doing things a certain way. We all take comfort in rituals and tradition and techies have long observed the sacred routine of taking big tin machines out of boxes, plugging them in, installing software and sitting at a console solving trivial puzzles over teething problems with Unix or Linux.

You can only get people to accept change willingly. Colt achieved this through coercion by advising infrastructure staff how their careers could be improved. The British Computer Society (now the Institute of Certified IT Professionals) played an instrumental role in creating the right environment.

"The BCS was very useful in helping us build a career path for our staff," says Leonard.

The job of an infrastructure techie has changed enormously in recent years. For example, they spend far more time using VMware now than they did on hand cranking Linux, says Leonard.

All the old divisions at Colt, for example, such as Linux, Unix, Windows and Infrastructure Design teams, are now amalgamated into one virtualisation design team. (That's sounds like the sort of change that would unsettle anybody).

According to Leonard, the transition worked. Now Colt claims to have a much more fluid operational and business support systems, which have eliminated 95 per cent of its costs. Leonard didn't give me a breakdown of these costs, so you'll have to quiz him yourself.

This was first published in May 2011

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