HR needs to get its head in the cloud

Cloud computing

By Kate Southam

Cloud computing will not only change the way companies work but also who works in the company, according to expert and author Nicholas Carr.

Speaking after his presentation at the World Computer Congress in Brisbane this week Carr told CareerOne that a transition to “the cloud” would see the creation of new IT roles while other roles such as network administrators would no longer be needed “in house”.    

Cloud computing involves companies accessing a range of resources via the internet instead of developing those resources internally. Examples could include storing data externally rather than on internal servers as well as accessing applications and technology platforms from a shared infrastructure via a browser on a computer or mobile device.

Educated at Dartmouth College and Harvard University, Carr has spoken and written extensively and often controversially about technology including for the Harvard Business Review. His books include The Big Switch and his latest, The Shallows, which looks at the impact of the internet on the way we think.

Carr likened using the cloud to companies plugging into an electricity grid instead of generating their own power.

He says consumers were already big users of the cloud pointing to social networking sites such as Facebook where users plug into the ever evolving platform to communicate with friends and post photos rather than create that technology themselves.

Carr says cloud computing would reduce the need for internal maintenance roles such as network administrators but would create new types of roles such as an “IT broker” to advise companies when to move into the cloud and how best to take advantage of the resources on offer.

He says the huge cost savings offered by the cloud in areas such as labour and infrastructure could then be spent on other areas to give organisations a competitive edge such as customer service.

For HR and workforce strategists the issues surrounding moving to the cloud included not only the loss of some roles and the creation of others but also assisting organisations to make the enormous mind shift required to be part of “the biggest revolution in IT since the personal computer.”

To demonstrate his point Carr took WCC delegates back to the 1800s when a company’s ability to generate their own power provided its competitive edge. It took “an enormous leap of faith” for companies to then start using the power grid.

By 1910, 60 per cent of US companies were plugged into the grid and by 1930 it was 80 per cent.

“Until 1900, the assumption was that you had to run power generation as an internal function," he explained adding that many organisations still believed they have to run their own “IT plant”.

Many companies were still delaying a decision to move to the cloud due to issues such as capacity, security, privacy and the loss of control by not creating propriety technology but these barriers were being progressively removed.

He expects organisations to also become more receptive as network speeds increased and companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Google built out a "cloud grid".

According to a story published by The Australian this month, Telstra is currently developing cloud platforms for about 100 clients.

Carr told CareerOne that while the move to the cloud could still be five years or more away for many organisations, HR professionals should be educating themselves on cloud computing and the implications for people management right now to ensure organisations secured the right skills sets in future.

"Organisations now have to choose whether to be the disruptor or the disrupted," Carr says. "At the very least, it’s more fun to be the disruptor."

Article from, September 22, 2010.

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