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Assembling Your Cloud’s Dream Team

By: Pierre Moncassin

Putting together a Cloud Center of Excellence (COE) is not about recruiting ‘super-heroes’ – but a matter of balancing skills and exploiting learning opportunities. 

On several occasions, I’ve heard customers who are embarking on the journey to the cloud ask: “How exactly do you go about putting together a ‘dream team’ capable of launching and delivering cloud services in my organization?” VMware Cloud Operation’s advice is fairly straightforward: put together a core team known as the Cloud Center of Excellence as early as possible. However, these team members will need a broad range of skills across cloud management tools, virtualization, networking and storage, as well as solid processes and organizational knowledge. Not to mention, sound business acumen as they will be expected to work closely with the business lines (far more so than traditional IT silos).

This is why at first sight, the list of skills can seem daunting. It need not be. The good news is that there is no need to try to recruit ‘super-heroes’ with impossibly long resumes. The secret is to balance skills, and taking advantage of several important opportunities to build skills.

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First let’s have a closer look at the skills profiles for the Cloud COE as described in our whitepaper  ‘Organizing for the Cloud’. I won’t go into the specifics of each role, but as a starter, here are some core technical skills required (list not inclusive):

  • Virtualization technologies: vSphere
  • Provisioning with a combination of vCAC or VCD
  • Workflows Automation: VCO
  • Configuration and Compliance: VCM
  • Monitoring/Event Management: VC OPS
  • Applications, storage, virtual networks, applications.

But the team also needs members with broad understanding of processes and systems engineering principles, customer facing service development skills, and a leader with  sound knowledge of financial and business principles.

Few organizations will have individuals with all these skills ready from day one – but fortunately they do not need to. A cloud COE is a structure that will grow over time, and the same applies to the skills base. For example, vCO scripting skills might be required at some stage in order to develop advanced automation scripts – but that level of automation might not be required until the second or third phase of the cloud implementation, after the workflows are established. However, we need some planning to have the skills available when needed.

Make the most out of on-site experts:

Organizations usually start their cloud journey with project team as a transitional structure. They generally have consultants from VMware or a consultancy partner on-site working alongside them.  This offers an excellent opportunity to both accelerate the cloud project, and to allow internal hires to absorb critical skills from those experts. However – and this is an important caveat – the knowledge transfer needs to be intentional. Organizations can’t expect a transfer of knowledge and skills to happen entirely unprompted. Internal teams may not always have the availability or training to absorb cloud-related skills ‘spontaneously’ during the project. Ad hoc team members often have emergencies from their ‘day job’ (i.e. their business-as-usual responsibilities) that interrupt their work with the on-site experts.  So I advise to plan knowledge exchanges early in the project. That will ensure that external vendors and consultants train the internal staff, and in turn, project team members can then transfer their knowledge to the permanent cloud team.

Get formal training:

Along with informal on-site knowledge transfer, it can be a good idea to plan formal classroom-based VMware training and certifications. Compared to a project-based knowledge exchange, formal training generally provides a deeper understanding of the fundamentals, and is also valuable to employees from a personal development point of view. Team members may have additional motivation to attend formal courses that are recognized in the industry, especially if it leads to a recognized qualification such as VMware Certified Professional (VCP).

Build skills during the pilot project:

Many cloud projects begin with a pilot phase where a pilot (i.e. a prototype installation) is deployed with a cut-down functionality. This is a great opportunity to build skills in a ‘safe’ environment. Core team members get the chance to familiarize themselves both with the new technology and stakeholders. For example, a Service Catalog becomes far more real once potential users and administrators can see and touch the provisioning functions with a tool like vCenter Automation Center. For technical specialists, the pilot can be a chance to learn new technologies and overcome any fear of change. Building a prototype early in the cloud project can also give teams the opportunity to play around with tools and explore their capabilities.

A summary of how your IT organization can structure its Cloud Center of Excellence and prepare it for success:

  1. Plan to build up skills over time. All technical skills are not required in-depth from day one. Rather, look at a blend of technical skills that will grow and evolve as the cloud organization matures. The Cloud team is a ‘learning organization’.
  2. Plan ahead. Schedule formal and informal knowledge transfers – including formal training – between internal staff and external vendors and consultants.
  3. Make the most out of a pilot project. Create a safe learning environment where team members and stakeholders can acquire skills at their own pace.

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