This year, mainframe computing celebrates 50 years. The mainframe in many ways marked the dawn of computing, which was characterized by larger and larger volumes of data to be stored, processed and analyzed. Like any revolutionary technology, the mainframe’s entry into business also ushered in a new wave of IT job opportunity: the mainframe specialist.

Big, complex machines that required constant configuration and maintenance also required workers that had specific knowledge of computing languages, hardware and nuances of the systems that they would run. This created a need for mainframe specialists in the job market who would be the masters of what has come to be known as core legacy systems.

But in the decades following the advent of the mainframe, the technology revolution picked up speed and shows no sign of stopping. We have seen the need for new and different enterprise IT specialties grow exponentially – so much that today, 50 years later, there is a shortage of mainframe skills amongst IT professionals and we have specialists not only in database, but in Oracle or Microsoft databases; in different programming languages from Java to C++ due to the rise of the OS; and specialists in virtualization, storage and more. Today we are on the cusp of another era of specialists brought on by the cloud. To understand how IT will continue to transform, it’s crucial to explore how IT has adapted to technology developments of the recent past and glimpse into what’s expected for the cloud era and beyond.

The Cloud

Today’s IT roles are marked by IT administrator functions across different specialties, but the cloud is expected to create another disruption that will transform enterprise computing. Already, applications have become the lifeblood of organizations, and their performance and availability are directly related to business success. What’s more, end-users consistently rely on these apps, with 93 percent stating app performance and availability are critical to their jobs in a recent survey we conducted.

Despite the rise of applications as king of business infrastructure, applications and some form of management tools to support them have been in general business use for decades. However, the complexity of the modern application stack (software, middleware and extended infrastructure required for performance) create new challenges for IT pros who are tasked with ensuring top functionality of business-critical applications.

In the new IT era, marked by the app-centric and cloud-based enterprise, it’s important to note that the advent of the cloud doesn’t eliminate the need for specialists that understand mainframes or that are siloed within the database or network—instead, it will create an opportunity that will give rise to the importance of new IT roles – IT staff that understand both development and operations, can liaise between business and IT, and understand the underlying infrastructure so they can work effectively with third party providers to ensure seamless service delivery within their organizations.

As these new, cloud-specific roles emerge, IT pros should consider these tips for evolving with the New IT landscape:

  • IT cannot be isolated: The New IT is a revolution, being brought on by cloud, BYOx and the Internet of Things. Businesses are lot more interconnected – both to their customers and to other businesses – and people expect things to work, with no downtime, delay, or complexity. This makes it crucial for IT to support business, and for groups within IT organizations not to be siloed.
  • Distinguish needs from fads: It’s not all about what’s popular and new. Technologies that have been around for decades are still here, and new technologies don’t just make old problems disappear. To innovate, leaders need to periodically re-evaluate infrastructure and not blindly jump on the hype of trending technologies.
  • Speaking the same language as business: Even after years of talking about how IT and business need to communicate, many IT people still fall back on tech-speak and jargon that often hinders their efforts to support business. In addition to open communication, successful leaders in the age of the “New IT” will have to be conversant on both sides and IT leaders will need to be able to explain risks and rewards in plain English.
  • Continuous development and delivery: Architect the IT organization so that updates and upgrades can be delivered without any downtime. For example, having one group deal with devops is a good way to ensure developers know how the product is deployed so when problems arise they can easily be fixed. This also mitigates the problem of having too many handoffs between groups that slow remediation and development.

With each new disruptive technology in enterprise computing comes a complete change in job roles and opportunities. The question is, what will cloud usher in three, ten or twenty years from now? While looking at the historical transformation of IT specialties alongside technology innovations that breed them won’t give us the crystal ball into the future of IT, it will provide an understanding of what’s needed to stay nimble as IT continues to transform.