Cloud computingIn Part 1 of this series I wrote about how, despite a lot of smart people calling for changes in the role of Learning and Development* (L&D) for years, not much has changed. That precipitated a lively exchange on Twitter between several of those same smart people, who reaffirmed my assertion. I ended part 1 with my belief that substantial changes in the workplace are coming, and L&D professionals had better be prepared for them. The changes aren’t being driven by executive decree, new approaches, or demands from workers. Instead, the changes are propelled by global competitiveness and an ongoing need for organizations to cut expenses while increasing capability and agility. They’re looking to decommission their behind-the-firewall server farms, applications, services, and platforms by migrating to more cost-effective cloud-based infrastructures that are also “elastic,” able to be expanded and contracted as needed. As organizations undergo this transformation, they will fundamentally change the way their people interact with work-related data, information, and knowledge. This will in turn affect the way workers interact, and the nature and structure of workplace networks will change as well. Both are things L&D should prepare for.

How workers’ relationships with their work-related data, information, and knowledge will change with a cloud-based infrastructure

Schematic of "traditional" workplace infrastructure

Schematic of “traditional” workplace infrastructure

In traditional information technology (IT) infrastructure, the firewall connects the workplace to the Internet while protecting workplace IT assets and the proprietary information they contain. Workers generally have facile, high-speed access to the organization’s assets on the internal network. They also easily connect to the Internet, through the firewall, when needed.

Workers outside the workplace (remote workers) usually have facile access to the Internet, but accessing the organization’s internal network and IT infrastructure means tunneling through the firewall, which requires a combination of technologies and security techniques. Working remotely, disconnections and other issues are common, both in personal experience and what I’ve heard from others. Working while mobile is often impossible since many mobile workers have only limited or no access to their infrastructure resources.

Schematic of cloud-based infrastructure

Schematic of cloud-based infrastructure

When applications, services, and platforms are in the cloud, remote workers have easy access to their work-related data and information via the Internet. Of course those behind the firewall continue to have access; firewalls are adept at handling communication originating from the inside. The result is an equalizing of workplace and remote work experiences, which in turn will likely result in even greater numbers of people working from home in those organizations that support it. One projection is that by 2016, 43% of workers in the United States will work from home.

Another result of working in the cloud will be more people working while mobile and using their own devices. Most cloud-based service providers offer mobile options, whether through a mobile-friendly Web interface or native mobile apps. Organizations that have not yet embraced bring-your-own-device (BYOD) technology will suddenly be fully BYOD-enabled. Mobile workers will begin accessing work-related information the same way they do other Web resources today. These interactions are typically in short, but frequent, sessions (Clark Quinn, “Mobile Learning: The Time is Now”, p. 4, 2012, The eLearning Guild). They will likely also do this more often outside work hours than today.

Workplaces have always been social, but ultimately workers, especially knowledge workers, have their independent work to do. Where that work happens has increasingly been at the time and place of their choosing. As discussed above, this will be even more the case when working in the cloud, continuing to erode what convenience remained for face-to-face interaction. Facilitator-led online courses and elearning courses are traditional L&D responses to this, but aren’t terribly agile approaches for fast-changing, dynamic organizations. They also only get to the small fraction of organizational learning that’s formal and ignore the tremendous potential of the social/collaboration tools that will soon (now, in many organizations) be routinely used to do work inside the closed workspace. Workplace social tools in the cloud offer unprecedented opportunities for L&D to play a significant role in the social and experiential learning that makes up the bulk of learning in an organization (see Charles Jennings’ 70-20-10 framework).

In part 3 of this series, I’ll discuss why I believe the way workers interact and network will also change with the move to cloud-based work. Wirearchies, as discussed by Jon Husband and others (Harold Jarche, for one), will develop within the workplace, which will have a profound impact on organizational learning. L&D will have the option to “ride the wave” or be overcome by it, possibly being marginalized out of existence.

*Learning and Development, Learning and Performance, Training and Development, etc.

Thanks for reading!

The Cloud Computing image courtesy Wikicommons user Sam Johnson


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