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What skills will IT ops professionals need going forward?

As the field of IT ops rapidly advances, professionals and organizations need to continuously upskill in these key tech areas.

As IT ops roles change and adapt, more companies are looking for employees with multifaceted backgrounds or experience in several specialized roles, such as networking and database management. Employers also look people who are adaptable in a constantly changing workplace. 

The changes driving the need for new IT ops skills include increasing integration across disciplines, a mass move toward automation and cloud-based systems and the ever-changing landscape of security and innovation. While the push toward automation moves some of the focus of IT operations from people-focused tasks, the push towards increasing integration and adaptability brings pressure back to IT ops professionals to handle complex product lifecycles.

Some challenges created by the changing landscape of IT ops include the need to clearly define objectives earlier in product lifecycles, slow or outdated manual processes and rapidly changing security obstacles.

Valuable IT ops skills going forward

A wide range of skills form a fully integrated and holistic IT ops team. The roles within the ever-changing operations technology industry need to be diverse and adaptable. IT ops teams need to work seamlessly across various groups within the organization.

Traditional skills are still highly valued for IT ops roles, including hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills can include a strong understanding of software, hardware and security, while soft skills can include the ability to balance between strong people skills and the ability to deep dive into complex technological problems.

As enterprise IT evolves, certain trends will become more important and change how those in the IT ops space do their jobs. The role of IT ops teams requires skills and familiarity with the following technologies and trends.

Cloud

As companies and sectors rush to adopt cloud-based products, a focus on container-based orchestration, highly scalable cloud services, APIs and cloud infrastructure is key within an IT ops structure.

Specifically, hybrid cloud is an important component of companies' cloud computing strategies as they no longer depend solely on on-premises environments. IT engineers should become familiar with how to support hybrid cloud, as it has become more of a norm and less of an exception.

Data

Most IT ops roles require an ability to deep-dive into a wide range of technology practices. IT ops professionals are often expected to be comfortable with reviewing code, writing programs and automating environments. IT service management (ITSM) will play an important part as data moves to the cloud and there is increasing integration between departments, organizations and industries. Most roles require the ability to handle a large amount of data processing and geographically located data centers.

AI and AIOps

As the size of available systems and data grows, the scale of tasks is steadily becoming too large for manual processing, causing a shift to more AI and systems with the ability to analyze enormous amounts of information at an extremely fast pace. The purpose of artificial intelligence has moved from the ability to replicate actions to the ability to augment human and machine intelligence. IT ops pros should become more familiar with responsible AI, AI at scale, accessible AI and autonomous systems.

Integrating AI into workflows will become a primary focus for many organizations going forward. AI is expected to create new challenges for many industries, but it will also open countless possibilities for research and innovation.

Security

IT departments used to focus on dealing with risks in real time on a case-by-case basis. Now, the goal is to focus on using simulations, planning and other tools to predict risks well in advance and proactively prevent them from occurring. Eliminating and mitigating risks will take on greater importance as the scale and impact of tech expands.

A large part of maintaining security is problem solving within networks and staying on top of evolving risks. IT incident management will continue to play a key role within security systems.

Operations

IT ops teams need to work with operations management and operations teams, collaborating across projects.

The basic functionality of working with hardware continues to be an important part of the IT ops job description, although it is moving away from a siloed, back-room style of earlier models. For example, basic cabling is still a foundation of IT ops roles. 

IT ops professionals are expected to understand the following hard skills:

  • configuration
  • network management
  • firewall management
  • identity and access management (IAM)
  • network infrastructure health
  • hardware deployment and maintenance
  • server management
  • managing and provisioning infrastructure
  • service desk leadership

More operations soft skills include the following:

  • root-cause analysis
  • problem solving
  • objective defining
  • workflow escalation
  • mentoring
  • professional development
  • leadership

Other important operational skills are maintaining processes, utilizing engineering tools, logging events,  monitoring metrics and maintaining continuous integration products.

IT ops professionals are often in charge of maintaining and troubleshooting the various telecommunications tools used by a company. They also take care of service delivery and planning. Recruiting and planning great teams with robust skill sets is important for leadership within IT ops, along with planning for network capacity and usage.

Intersectionality and integration

One major change is how IT ops is increasingly expected to integrate across disciplines. One common example is the coordination of IT ops with AIOps, DevOps, NetOps and SecOps.

Along with decentralization comes the need for individuals to collaborate across time zones, home and office work locations, cultures and projects.

The potential for innovation expands quickly the more collaboration and cross-discipline work is facilitated and encouraged.

Hybrid work models and mental health

With the COVID-19 pandemic, a renewed focus on work-life balance has coupled with a push for employees to work remotely or work from home.

Clear messaging and plans are now focused on real employees and real customers. This is sometimes referred to as an experience-first approach. Many corporations have begun to include employee wellness objectives in their training and core values.

Additionally, there is a cultural shift to value diversity, equity and inclusion.

Like everything in enterprise IT, recommended skills and experience will change with the technology. If IT ops professionals remain diligent, flexible and innovative, they should be able to grow and take on any new challenges in the future.

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