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The good news for organizations moving to the cloud is that there are plenty of free training programs to tap into. Since there are lots of things IT leaders need to learn to set up and manage cloud programs, if courses are offered for free, great. The bad news? The free training that is available does not fully prepare your organization for what is ahead. Sometimes it trains IT people only enough to be dangerous.
The problem is not with the content itself, which is usually helpful. It is simply that free – or at least heavily discounted – training provides just a broad overview of the services identified. Other, more defined cloud platform and tool training programs are generally geared toward certifications and the application of services, but not to the integration of those services, which is key.
To succeed in the cloud, organizations need a holistic approach to training that covers all the skills necessary, from process to tools. They need programs targeted and tailored to their institutions’ individual requirements, providing assessments, guided learning paths based on roles, active measurements and plans designed to continually improve operations in the future.
In short, one-size training does not fit all when it comes to cloud. There are three critical success factors that have been identified for helping organizations to successfully upskill their teams: 1) find effective methods to assess the current skills of employees; 2) define and assign tailored, role-based learning paths which effectively and efficiently help individuals to progress in their skills; and 3) establish metrics and reporting that enable team leaders and decision-makers to know whether the training program is having the appropriate, needed effect.
Back when on-premises data centers managed everybody’s IT needs, training was important, but it was less of a challenge. To manage a server, router or network, a data center professional had to be trained on how to operate that particular piece of hardware. Hardware providers typically offered support packages that included free training for whoever needed it.
Training in data centers was like mathematics – learning sets of skills that build on each other. Just like in math, where you master arithmetic and then move on to advanced topics like trigonometry and calculus, managing servers and software tools required IT leaders to learn technologies from the ground up.
Things are different in the cloud. There are no products to pick up and look at. In the cloud, IT pros need to know how to provision an environment to handle applications. They need to understand scripting languages and tools associated with whatever is being done with specific applications. There are many more moving parts in a cloud environment, and many more skills which need to be sharpened.
In the public cloud you have to learn the particular cloud platform – AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google – and then each tool that goes with that platform. Tools on one platform do not necessarily work on other platforms. The tools themselves that perform important functions – configuration management, logging, monitoring, security, administration – all work very differently on different cloud platforms.
Where do you go to get training? Cloud platform providers offer programs that meet some of the requirements. And third-party tool providers can fill in some of the gaps. But usually you will end up with decent training on a particular tool, but not enough knowledge about how to integrate a variety of tool sets into a particular environment.
There are other training options. Unlike in on-premises environments, where trainers earn credentials over a period of years, cloud gives more people the ability to get a foot in the door. Basically, anybody with a credit card can buy cloud services and develop a base level of skills in the cloud. That person can market himself as an expert, and offer free training. A small shop can get certified on a platform, and then offer that platform’s training on a white-label basis. This is how you end up with a plethora of free, or discounted, training options – often offered as hooks to market more expensive services down the road.
These kinds of training options may be able to get you started in the cloud. Or they may certify you to manage minor projects. But they will not prepare you to manage more complicated environments.
Advanced training, on the other hand, can make an especially big difference in two areas – security and cost control. Security is not an area to underplay. Free training will introduce you to basic security concepts, but it likely will not cover the subject fully enough so you can provide the protection you need. On the cost side, you will want to make sure you are keeping your cloud operations in check – understanding usage patterns and setting up triggers to shut down unused instances.
To truly optimize your environment, you need to train your staff using a holistic approach. That means tailoring training for specific personas. IT roles do not all require the same skills. Business units and teams – finance, security, risk, compliance – are all impacted, so they will need specific levels of preparation as well. Everyone’s role changes when an organization moves to the cloud. When you rely on free training, you approach the task from the myopic view of one person. You are not looking at the impact the change will have on the whole organization.
Keys to Success
Here are several features cloud training programs should have to provide the depth of knowledge organizations need to succeed.
- Assessments: Trainers need to know what the trainees know, so they can get them beyond the free training. Start with a questionnaire mapped to the cloud platforms and tools that will be needed for specific job functions. Tailor the questionnaire to the company and to the individual’s role.
- Consultations: Moving to the cloud can be stressful – for IT people and for the HR team, as well. The staff may be worried that cloud will take their jobs away, and the HR team could be wary of a team offering training that might present concepts that do not mesh with the company’s existing learning management system. Take time to figure out how you integrate with existing systems, and how you can best speak to an audience that is worried about where it fits in a new environment.
- Guided learning paths: Cloud restructures people’s roles, so you need to develop learning paths that address those role changes. Identify people’s needs and create individualized courses to fill the gaps in their knowledge bases.
- Communication, metrics and reporting: Training programs should be more than just knowledge dumps. They should provide insights, and measure the level of value the trainee is receiving. Trainers need to communicate the goal of the course clearly at the outset, and if it is not generating the desired effects, tweak the delivery.
- Future learning: Training programs may only last for a certain amount of time, but they should generate lasting impact. Make sure to offer ways people can keep learning, keep training and keep improving. How can they stay current with all the changes happening in cloud environments? Extend the learning paths beyond the course dates to ensure that as the industry changes, your people will continue to grow with it.
Free training is an enticing option for companies getting started in the cloud. It has its advantages, but it has many downsides too. Free training can get you started, but it will not get you to where you need to go. You will learn how cloud works and how to perform certain functions, but you could be opening up your organization to issues down the road, such as security hacks and cost overruns. You could also end up with a frustrated team, and your cloud program could stall.
Signing on for more comprehensive training requires an investment by the company, but it is worth it in the long run. Typically, training programs are tactical, but the best ones take a strategic approach to continuous learning. Companies need to go all in on training, because their competitors are making moves of their own. The organizations that equip their workforce with the knowledge they need to succeed in the cloud will position themselves to succeed in the marketplace.