IT Pros Must Adapt to the Subscription Services Shift
A major shift in the way software is delivered will change the way you work -- or make your life really, really difficult if you don't adapt. Some of these challenges are already upon many of you, although they may not have become obvious or painful, yet.
The shift in how software is delivered is changing how you manage your IT environment. For companies like Microsoft, becoming a services provider is where its financial growth is. As customers, you've refused to buy every new version of Windows that trots out the door, so Microsoft needed to look elsewhere for ongoing revenue and growth. The company has responded by selling services and, in 2014, reaped huge growth from it. Consequently, Microsoft has made clear it's only going to do more of it. That means the products Microsoft creates are going to be more cloud-focused, with an emphasis on automation and massive scale.
What's that mean to you? It means your IT environment is going to become difficult to manage, unless you buy into the "private cloud" management approach. That means you'll have to have a team capable of building automation into pretty much every back-end function, because doing things manually is going to become more difficult and more time-consuming than ever. "Manual effort" is going to fight the way the products "want" to work, and is going to create more obstacles and bottlenecks. This is a huge shift for many IT teams, and if you're not already preparing for it, it's probably going to catch you off-guard in the coming year.
The "cloud-first engineering" approach Microsoft is now embracing also means it's going to offer fewer tools and pre-built solutions. Instead, Redmond will focus on building platforms that support broad customization. In other words, instead of shipping you a completely pre-built set of toys, Microsoft will be shipping buckets of LEGO bricks, and you'll be expected to put those together into your own, unique toys that meet the specific needs of your business.
Again, this is a huge shift for many organizations. You're used to getting plug-n-play software that more or less works after a bit of minor, point-and-click configuration. Those days are disappearing. With shorter product cycles, Microsoft product teams will focus more on raw functionality, and less on tooling. Instead, it will give us APIs -- like Windows PowerShell -- that let you create your own workflows and tools. This vision will play out, of course, if you're ready to do so.
And "ready" means having the right skills. Too many organizations have focused their training efforts on either reducing training, or on skill sets that meet the organization's current needs. That focus must change. Your team needs access to future-ready training, meaning they need to have a basic familiarity with a lot of things, and the ability to quickly dive deeper on technologies and approaches that become relevant. Weeklong classroom training is probably going to fade, simply because it can't keep up with product release cycles anymore.
Look for training options that offer a more on-demand approach, such as the Microsoft Virtual Academy video offerings or other on-demand libraries. More important, learn to start treating those training options as first-class citizens. Create a mini training center where your IT team can retreat for a couple of hours per day to focus on uninterrupted training time. You'll get more efficient training, at a lower cost, that more precisely meets the business demands of the day.
Brace for Change
All of this simply means that IT, after a decade or so of relatively little "movement," has become exciting again. Now, "exciting" doesn't always mean "good." Exciting can be dangerous, and it can be stressful. But by and large, I'm looking forward to an exciting new IT. I like change, and I like the challenges of bringing that change into business environments.
Are you ready for the changes?
Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of PowerShell.org, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.