The skills gap is very real, but savvy businesses are looking to the cloud for IT help and technology solutions that will allow them to do more with less personnel.\n\nInstead of looking to fill gaps with new, quick hires, it may make sense to leverage cloud services in place of IT support staff. In doing so, companies free up their existing IT teams to focus on strategic challenges instead of watching over infrastructure or managing change. \n\n"It's increasingly expensive, not to mention time-consuming, to find and retain people with the skills required to support legacy infrastructure. It's made businesses look at the cloud in different ways so they can focus on how to impact business strategically rather than babysit aging systems," says Kevin McMahon, marketing director at unified communications provider West IP Communications.\n\nCloud communications and networking\n\nFor West IPC, that means helping clients transition from traditional on-premises PBX systems to a cloud-based platform that helps them save not only on infrastructure costs, but on personnel that used to take care of things like system upgrades, onboarding new hires or removing users who leave the company. \n\n[ Related Story: IT continues to struggle to find software developers, data analysts ]\n\n"Voice infrastructure is a great example. Now, clients don't need personnel to replicate a PBX in each branch office \u2014 for larger enterprises \u2014 or to spend time going from office to office with system upgrade DVDs, or worry about how to onboard new hires individually or remove their extensions and voice mailboxes when someone leaves. It's all done in the cloud," McMahon says.\n\nWest IP customers also benefit from the firm's clout when dealing with network management issues and service interruptions, McMahon says. In the past, smaller clients would have to contact network providers individually, wait at the bottom of a priority list and deal with costly downtime, West IPC can often solve network problems much more quickly. \n\n"As an added benefit, we're a much larger entity; we have thousands of customers under contract, so in the event of network management issues, we can intervene on their behalf and get them help and access. We have a much more reliable fail-over solution than some of the other major providers, and that helps them get back on their feet more quickly," McMahon says. \n\nCloud storage\n\nStorage is another area where companies are leveraging the cloud to mitigate the effects of the skills gap and talent shortage. Solutions like Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) or Backblaze's new B2 offer storage so cheap it's crazy not to consider offloading some data, says Brett Gillett, cloud practice lead for managed services provider Softchoice. \n\n[ Related Story: How to use culture interviews to build a better team ]\n\n"The cloud is gaining a lot of ground, because businesses know it's simple, easy and efficient to get started themselves, in a lot of areas of infrastructure. Storage, databases, communications -- this is the allure of infrastructure-as-a-service. The provider's going to maintain the physical environment, the networks, even some of the security. You don't need a person or people to do that," Gillett says. \n\nOr, he adds, instead of hiring an entire team of database administrators, perhaps a company can leverage the cloud along with one DBA at a more junior level.\n\nAt the basic infrastructure level, leveraging the cloud can certainly ease the talent crunch. But there are some areas where businesses shouldn't skimp. \n\nWhere to splurge on tech talent\n\n"Application services and integration are still areas where there's a significant skills gap companies need to focus on. Amazon, for example, has released hundreds of updates to their various services, and knowing how to keep up with those changes, how to integrate the cloud with on-premise solutions and technology is a major skillset you need in-house or through a managed service specialist," says Gillett.\n\nThat's something McMahon and West IP deal with daily, as customers wrestle with how to integrate cloud solutions with their existing technology stack, as well as contemplate new purchases that will help them remain competitive.\n\n[ Related Story: Is your careers site driving away candidates? ]\n\n"It's really necessary to have talented people who can integrate best-of-breed solutions using industry best practices so you know technology's working for you, strategically. That's something you can't farm out to the cloud," says McMahon.\n\nLeveraging the cloud to handle lower-priority, mundane tasks while focusing on attracting, hiring and retaining skilled cloud architects and integration specialists may be the best option for companies struggling with the IT skills gap.