Overcoming the skills gap for cloud and digital: Where does security and automation fit in?

James has more than a decade of experience as a tech journalist, writer and editor, and served as Editor in Chief of TechForge Media between 2017 and 2021. James was named as one of the top 20 UK technology influencers by Tyto, and has also been cited by Onalytica, Feedspot and Zsah as an influential cloud computing writer.

Digital transformation initiatives require a distinct technological and cultural change – and the element which binds both together is skills.

Yet getting the right skills remain a near-impossibility. The skills gap shows no sign of lessening, with two recent studies proving this point. In December OpsRamp found the vast majority of businesses continued to struggle finding the right talent for cloud environments. Nine out of 10 hiring managers polled agreed the digital skills gap was anywhere between ‘somewhat big’ and ‘huge.’ In the same month, Cloudera found similarly with machine learning (ML); more than half of 200 European IT managers polled said they were reticent at adopting ML technologies because they did not have enough knowledge of the area.

With no real sign of change, IT solutions provider Kainos fears the worst. The company warned last week that skills gaps would continue to widen unless positive action was taken to ensure ‘joined up’ digital skills training initiatives. The company argued current initiatives, particularly in the UK, had scratched the surface but done little more. Earlier this year 12 technology institutes were launched to ‘offer top-quality, higher level technical education [and] help close skills gaps in key STEM areas.’

For Kainos, enterprises, educational establishments and governments need to work more closely to achieve real change, rather than just paying lip service. This is by no means an idle statement either; the company has its own academy, with more than 5,000 users benefiting from it. The process goes from business to education and government, as well as educating parents on potential careers for their children in IT.

Accenture released a report earlier this month focused on expectation versus reality in cloud initiatives. Organisations see the benefits overall, with above 90% satisfaction on average, but only a third of companies polled said they were fully satisfied on cost, speed, and business enablement metrics.

This suggests a gap in itself. “If you listen to what is happening at the CEO table and also what we have seen in our global survey, is that you see there is a clear understanding of the benefits of cloud, the adoption,” Marco Franzen, Accenture Netherlands managing director for technology consulting, tells CloudTech. “If you then look at the results and analyse them, two out of three [companies] think we’re not there yet. They have implemented cloud to some extent but there’s still a new leap, a new platform to reach, above the normal TCO.”

What are the drivers of this gap? Skillsets are certainly one; Franzen notes that smaller-scale companies in particular may be lacking a key skill to ‘make the next move and go all-in on cloud.’ Complexity of change internally was also cited. But the biggest boon, as often tends to be in any cloud study, is security. Two third polled in the Accenture survey said security compliance – particularly handling security in a new cloud-based environment – was of concern.

Is security therefore the biggest stumbling block when it comes to achieving digital skills and digital transformation? It could be argued that it is one area where all the investment in the world won’t bridge the gap. Last month, Oracle released a report which argued better enterprise cybersecurity would need to be remedied through automation rather than a surge in employee training or great security talent being hired. The report, ‘Security in the Age of AI’ (pdf), found the default response for almost half (47%) of respondents was to invest in more people rather than in more technology regarding security.

Tom Gray, CTO at Kainos, notes the importance of automation bridging the gap to some degree with security, but warns against it being the bulwark of any long-term strategy.

“There are an increasing number of areas where the volume of data or the complexity and velocity of the environment makes it impossible for humans, however skilled, to be as effective as an automated solution,” Gray tells CloudTech. “The management of compute and storage infrastructure has become increasingly automated as this infrastructure has evolved from large numbers of modest sized on-premise installations to a small number of large-scale environments whose scale and complexity makes human operation unviable.”

Gray argues organisations need to invest ‘strategically’ in their training to focus on which areas will need further investment and where employees will progress. “It remains to be seen whether automation will create more new jobs than will be lost through automation but, as with today, skills in creating digital technology – as opposed to simply using it – remain in short supply,” he says.

“There is a growing need for skills in identifying opportunities for automation, making best use of the current automation techniques, and understanding and managing the human aspect of automation on both the organisation and broader society,” Gray adds. “Conversely, some of the more repetitive tasks in solution delivery – including some programming, testing, deployment and operations tasks – will inevitably be ripe for automation.

“It behoves organisations to consider accelerating automation in these areas, rather than trying to build skills that may become unnecessary or, at the very least, prioritise building foundational knowledge and transferable skills to ensure that the individuals and organisation is responsive and resilient to the automation opportunity.”

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