Cables in a data center Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images

Training the Cloud Architect: Five Things to Learn

Digital transformation is impacting all business verticals, and your cloud architects must start thinking differently when it comes to supporting next-generation business initiatives.

The way we approach and think about IT has fundamentally changed. In my experience, some of the most successful IT professionals now influence the business model and strategy. Digital transformation is impacting all business verticals, and your cloud architects must start thinking differently when it comes to supporting next-generation business initiatives.

As Gartner recently predicted, all IT roles will require an intermediate level of proficiency in business acumen by 2020. “Developing strong business acumen in IT is a prerequisite to effectively shift IT focus from optimizing IT operational efficiency to driving business effectiveness, value creation and growth,” Lily Mok, a research VP at the firm, said in a statement. “At the heart of an effective IT communication strategy is the ability to clearly link the vision, strategy, and action plans of IT to the business to drive desired behaviors in the workforce that contribute to improved IT performance and business outcomes.”

Communication aside, new management styles are required to gain as much value out of the employee as you can. To get to that point, you need to train your people to truly think and act like cloud architects.

Whether you’re a major data center provider, a traditional VAR, or an end-user organization, you should find the following data center architect training tips useful. I’ve gathered them over the years of observing what successful cloud architects do to meet today’s evolving needs.

A Paradigm Shift

Today’s IT person isn’t just here to deliver professional services or a standard architecture. They’re here to innovate. This means that the same rules that applied to our jobs in the past may not entirely help us in our careers moving forward. As a cloud architect, there are some great things you can do to progress, add value to your own career, and help your company progress.

1. Speaking the language of business, but through a technology lens. Think of a picture; and now think of what a technology like Snapchat or Messenger filters can do. They add a layer to the original. In a way, cloud architects have to look at the business challenge and know how to superimpose a technology filter that applies to the situation. From there, you must be able to discuss these layers and how they change the business process. This is different from just being able to “talk business.” This means being able to constantly apply technology architecture around business demand.

2. Immerse yourself in the world of security, now. Your business acumen has to be coupled with a thorough understanding of the security requirements. IDC’s infographic, titled Crossing the IT Security Skills Gap, describes the growing risks and need for skilled and qualified cybersecurity experts as follows:

  • 75% of firms experiencing some type of security event
  • 33% impacted by cybercrime
  • 63% of organizations are not prepared to respond

I can’t stress this enough. If you want to create job security and help your business become more resilient, learn as much as you can about security. Working with various security architectures, especially when it comes to cloud, is a growing challenge. Where do you store your data? How are you securing it? Are you creating a proactive security strategy? As a cloud architect, you will absolutely need to learn about security, where it impacts your design, and where there are challenges. That said, you do not need to be a security expert. However, your value will greatly increase if you incorporate security into your skillset.

3. Cross-train as much as you can. As a cloud architect, you need to learn about relevant technologies that are parallel. If you’re creating a public cloud architecture, learn how platform like OpenStack can help with management. You never know what the future holds; your organization may one day require a hybrid approach. If you can manage scale, you’ll help your company adopt powerful cloud technologies. Cloud architects often focus on specific technologies. For example, DevOps, virtualization, or just packaging and provisioning architecture. If you have a specific cloud focus, make sure you widen your cloud architecture aperture. Learn about cloud management (ITSM/ITOM), automation, integration for improved user management, and even how to optimize WAN connectivity. As a cloud architect, you can have specific focuses. However, knowing the DNA of cloud services allows you to cross-train and provide valuable feedback to business and other IT teams.

4. Use social media – it’s a powerful tool. Using social media as an empowerment tool needs to be taught more to cloud architects. I’m not asking everyone who reads this to become a blogger (although that can be useful as well). Rather, social media tools like Twitter can help you learn more, connect with like-minded architects, and broaden your perspective on cloud design. Cloud architects who are stuck on their own little island and don’t collaborate simply won’t progress as fast as those who are a part of the cloud architecture community. I always try to encourage cloud architects to invest in social media for their own learning capabilities and to enhance their brand in the market. Don’t be afraid to write a blog or a Facebook post, respond to a comment, or make a new friend on LinkedIn.

5. Understand risk, design, and corporate impact. Cloud architecture is a critical part of the business. In the past, architects would focus on the challenge and immediately try to work on the solution. Well, there’s a new concept cloud architects must learn: their customer’s appetite for risk. Yes, you can design an amazing architecture, but what if it doesn’t support the risk model your customer ultimately needs? Cloud architects must start asking a new question: “Mr. Customer, what’s your risk tolerance? Before we design this application or virtual workload, tell me the impact on the company if it all comes down.” From there, you’re not only creating an environment around their requirements, you’re also designing around resiliency. Remember, this isn’t just a design around high availability. Rather, you’re specifically focusing on risk factors around users, business applications, and specific components that can never go down. As a cloud architect, your role is to help customers better understand what they need, what they can and cannot live without, and how it all ties in with corporate strategies.

Technology, today and moving forward, has become a fundamental part of the organization. It’s helping create better levels of productivity, improved services, and optimize entire user experiences. However, there will always be the people who help design and architect these environments.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to never allow yourself as an architect to be stuck with blinders on. This means always working to see the big picture. Whenever you design a cloud architecture, always have three points in mind: People, Process, and Technology. You must apply your design around those three concepts every single time. You could have the best technology in place, but if you don’t train your people and don’t develop a process, the technology will be useless. The role of the cloud architect will continue to change and evolve as we move through new digital requirements. Make sure you stay fluid, always have the drive to keep learning, and keep thinking of ways to improve people’s lives by using new technologies.

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