Nearly three years ago the analyst firm IDC published a visionary document describing what it termed “The Third Platform.” The Third Platform represents the latest core framework for IT organizations, succeeding the First Platform (mainframes) and the Second Platform (client/server and Internet).

The Third Platform represents the confluence of four technology trends: social, mobile, big data, and cloud computing. In IDC’s view, the Third Platform is going to prove transformative for vendors and users alike. In its document, IDC made 10 predictions, which I discussed shortly after the firm published the document.

Today, I want to discuss one of IDC’s predictions -- one that received less notice within the IT industry, but one that I believe will prove as challenging to address as any of the other nine that IDC put in its report.

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As IDC put it: 

Cloud spending will surge by 25%, reaching over $100 billion. We predict a near doubling of cloud datacenters from Amazon's newly energized traditional IT competitors. There will be a pitched battle for cloud developers, with numerous big platform-as-a-service (PaaS) rollouts and enhancements, driving 10 times growth in SaaS.

Certainly IDC was accurate, if a bit conservative, as to cloud computing’s growth. However, the most interesting part of this prediction is the effect that this growth will have on IT organizations as they attempt to become digital enterprises capable of building Third Platform applications.

Simply stated, IDC merely continues its logic -- if there’s going to be an upsurge in cloud applications, there needs to be a growth in development resources capable of building cloud-ready applications. Unfortunately, most IT organizations fail to make the same leap of logic and are woefully unprepared for the coming war for developers.

The truth is, the vast majority of existing IT staff is not prepared to build cloud-based applications, and IT leadership needs to figure out how to prepare for the responsibility of creating a digital enterprise.

One way to obtain cloud skills is to hire them. While current staff is not cloud-capable, a company can recruit external staff already up to speed on cloud computing. Unfortunately, people skilled in cloud computing are in short supply -- and they know it. Moreover, every company is looking to hire people who are already up to speed on cloud technology, which means hiring companies are in competition with many other organizations. Naturally, this competition has the inevitable effect of any high-demand/low-supply market -- prices are driven up. Put another way, expect to get sticker shock when you see the offer letter.

The other option is to educate current staff. Naturally, this will require investment in training -- but there are many positives to this approach:

  • They already work for you. It’s a cliche of sales, but selling to a current customer requires vastly less effort that landing a new one. Likewise, convincing a current employee that he or she is well-served by staying with the company and learning new skills is much easier than convincing an external person to join

  • They already have domain-specific skills. While your current employees may not have great cloud computing knowledge, they know *your* business. And that’s worth a lot. It makes sense to leverage that domain knowledge by training employees on a new technology

  • Investing in them is likely to increase their commitment to the company. When someone can see that his or her employer believes in them enough to invest money in educating them, that increases their bond to their job and to the company

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Of course, there are those who resist spending money on employee education. Their feeling is that employees, after gaining new skills, might decide to take them into the marketplace and get a new job. It must be said, that is a real danger. However, I’ve always felt that the aphorism “Question: What if we train our employees and they leave?” Answer “What if we don’t … and they stay?” captures the reality of the situation.

Enterprise IT organizations can’t afford to sit on their hands and hope for the best. The wave of digital business transformation is sweeping through every industry and, as IDC predicted, will upend poorly-prepared incumbents. The choice is stark: make your employee base smarter and better, or stick with the way things are and consign yourself to also-ran status.

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