How cloud can accelerate business transformation in Singapore

BrandPost By IDG Online Staff on behalf of AWS
Feb 02, 2020
IT Leadership

CIO in ASEAN, in association with Amazon Web Services, hosted CIOs in Singapore for an exclusive roundtable discussion debating local research findings and assessing the opportunities and challenges in relation to cloud skills development.

The skills gap is slowing the ability of Singaporean organisations to accelerate business transformation activities, impacting the pace of cloud adoption as a result.

According to IDG Research – in association with Amazon Web Services – the skills gap is hampering the progress of cloud deployments for 45 per cent of businesses in Singapore.

With a further 74 per cent of organisations classifying talent development as “critical” to future growth, a multi-faceted strategy must be deployed to address ongoing talent challenges in the cloud.

Skills in Singapore

In assessing the local market, David Herrera, senior vice president and leader of Public Cloud at DBS Bank, observed that demand remains “high” in relation to recruiting cloud expertise.

“It’s very difficult to find experienced resources,” he said. “The reason could be that the big cloud providers are focusing now on corporations as customers and these companies require a large amount of resources compared with SMEs.

“Today, most of what we are talking about is focused on artificial intelligence [AI], machine learning and deep personalisation. But we tend to forget that to be able to execute these technologies we need foundation skills, such as security and networking.”

On occasions, Herrera said the focus centres around developing “top notch skills” while forgetting the immediate need to “cover basic skills”.

“There is no standard recipe to attract and retain staff, but I see that if you are able to provide a very challenging environment with a set of latest technologies you will have better chances to keep the right resources with you,” he advised.

Taking the conversation further, Sujith Kumar, director of solutions at Getronics, observed that Singapore is currently in “stronger shape” from a cloud skills perspective than 24 months prior.

“This is mostly due to increased adoption of cloud and cloud-related technologies by customers,” Kumar said. “Singapore is not only a leader in Asia Pacific but a leader globally in terms of cloud adoption.

“Due to this increase in adoption, most companies are trying to up-skill or cross-skill their existing employee base to provide the most optimum support in terms of cloud services and solutions.”

Traditionally, Kumar said most businesses were focused on enhancing expertise specific to infrastructure-as-a-service, billed as the “need of the hour” during the earlier days of cloud implementations.

Fast forward to 2020 and such prioritises have changed due to the heightened importance of running business critical workloads in the cloud.

“This requires a different level of skill and approach,” Kumar acknowledged. “The cloud skills in-demand currently are machine learning, artificial intelligence [AI], data engineering and serverless architecture, which represents a shift in focus from previous years.

“Companies today are up-skilling or cross-skilling employees either through in-house training or by partnering with larger public and private cloud providers to leverage learning modules.”

In contrast, Nagaraja Kharvi, vice president of eCommerce at Singapore Post, cautioned that efforts to accelerate skills development remains hampered by an inability to keep technology projects on city-state shores.

“Skills are not evolving because Singapore is outsourcing all technology efforts to other developing countries such as India, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, where developmental costs are very low,” Kharvi added. “But the usage of cloud skills is increasing every day because cloud is the future.

“Cloud is not the end but the beginning for all future success and it’s a way to make things faster. While cloud skills are being used in Singapore at a high-level, most of the developmental skills still go to low developmental cost countries.”

Taking the conversation further, Ben Kellas, regional IT director at Aimia, reported a change in technology approaches from educational institutions in Singapore, amid increased focus toward the evolution of cloud.

“This isn’t limited to just Singapore, we are seeing this happening elsewhere,” he added. “But the key challenge in Singapore remains attracting and retaining key talent, especially when the market remains extremely competitive.

“What is even more challenging in a client solution business like ours is finding the right balance between the business and technology priorities because we want to invest in the new, maintain the current, and sunset the legacy – all which requires our ‘cloud’ resources to be spread across the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Skills challenges

Businesses in Singapore, and the wider region, are adopting cloud to improve processes and develop innovative products.

Yet as outlined via IDG Research – surveying 150 IT professionals across Australia and Singapore – challenges remain in “finding and retaining” the right skills to extract the most value from cloud.

According to findings, both technical and non-technical skills are critical in maximising the benefits of cloud deployments, yet skills shortages continue to “significantly hamper” such efforts.

Currently, only 15 per cent of businesses consider IT employees to be “completely prepared” for cloud adoption from a skills standpoint. Meanwhile, the most difficult skills to find and source internally include big data and analytics (35 per cent), security (31 per cent) and business intelligence (29 per cent).

Despite recognising that a “relatively mature” cloud industry exists within Singapore, Cheng Hwee Tan, director of IT at Covenant Evangelical Free Church (CEFC), said a “retooling of skills” must be actioned to maximise market potential.

“Return on investment is not always clear with no tangible business advantage demonstrated,” Cheng Hwee added. “The perception is to use cloud vendors to solve a business problem but why do we need heavy investments? Do they help overcome our competitors?

“Unless there is a strategic vision to reinvent the business, the best course is to be strategic through your choice of building the right cloud technologies, both foundational and those needed in targeted new projects. And also, focus on winning mindshare at CXO and board levels.”

Echoing Cheng Hwee’s observations, Khalid Nizami, director of IT at ECOLAB, believes the slow pace of cloud skills development can be pinpointed on four key areas, spanning business buy-in; security; a lack of strategy and cost.

According to IDG Research, budget constraints (48 per cent) and change management issues (45 per cent) are cited as the leading obstacles in providing training for IT employees.

“Business buy-in is crucial, especially for senior leaders,” Nizami said. “But the decision-makers in many cases are still old school and hence selling new technologies remains a challenge.

“Specific to security, there has been a lot in the news about organisational data being hacked which has put off many businesses from making a decision about cloud. As a result, building out cloud skills has taken a back seat.

“Most businesses also lack a clear strategy and thought process regarding how they intend to transition people from traditional data centres to managing data in the cloud. And then there is the cost of migration to the cloud, not just from a dollar point of view but also the wider impact to business.”

Due to the advancement of technology in such a short period of time, Kumar of Getronics said the ability to keep resources focused on specific solutions is also stalling efforts to up-skill the workforce.

“Business model changes require an agile change in technology which therefore means that, every person and engineer needs to be constantly adapting and trained for the latest trends and technologies in the market,” he outlined.

“One of the biggest challenges today is not just the shortage of talent for cloud applications, software development and operations, but also for technical architecture.”

According to Kumar, technical architecture represents a “core area of expertise” in the designing of complex cloud-based services, expertise which “clearly lacks” in Singapore.

“The easiest work around is to import talent from other markets, but with visa regulations that approach is becoming more difficult each day,” he added.

Skills strategies

Acquiring the right talent remains an ongoing process for Singaporean business in the fast-paced world of cloud, with demand for new and emerging skills heightening rapidly.

According to IDG Research, 85 per cent of organisations are “actively addressing” the skills gap, embarking on a journey of resource transformation.

To combat a slowing down of skills development in Singapore, the onus is also on CIOs to shape new strategies around enablement and up-skilling, as a way of maximising cloud investments.

According to Kellas of Aimia, this can be achieved through adopting a multi-layered approach, starting with “tempting the team with new technology”.

“This could be via proof of concepts and hackathons which can then be used to support the creation of business cases and whitepapers,” he advised. “Before we look at new resources, we also want to sanity check ourselves and the internal team to ensure we have looked inside before going outside.

“When eventually searching for new resources, we don’t constrain ourselves to industry verticals or specific project experience like we might have in the past – we need to think outside of our box sometimes.”

Creating the “right environment” within an organisation is also key, according to Cheng Hwee of CEFC.

“Culture is crucial which is helped by recruiting the right people to do the right jobs with room for growth,” he said. “Remember, the best people are ‘volunteers’. If they are good, they can easily find another place to work.”

Kumar of Getronics recognised that different strategies must be applied for retaining and attracting talents at each levels of the ecosystem, from a developer to an engineering leader.

“A one fix for all solution doesn’t usually apply in all the cases,” he clarified. “Some of the better ways to retain talents is by clearly showing and defining their career path based on their area of interest.”

Such guidance is endorsed by IDG Research, which advises that “no single strategy will eliminate the skills gap”, instead advising CIOs to focus on “hiring new talent, training, certification and leveraging managed services”.

To summarise, companies are currently embracing a mix of strategies, with effective training worthwhile for both internal and third-party cloud management.

According to findings, 68 per cent of companies are using third-party service providers for cloud deployments, while 78 per cent are managing implementations internally.

IDG Research – in conjunction with Amazon Web Services – was fielded among IDG’s audience in Australia and Singapore in 2019, with all qualified respondents working in an IT related function.