Clouds clear for tech workers

The term 'the cloud' means many different things to many different people. To some, it's where their Instagram pictures are stored. To businesses it can mean the Google servers where their documents are shared. To telecoms companies in Hong Kong, however, the cloud means huge data centres in Tseung Kwan O, an imminent end to unlimited data plans and a dire shortage of talent to drive the business forward.

'The telecoms industry is going through a transformation,' says Brandon Lee, chief strategy officer at NTT Com Asia. 'Smartphones, mobility, everyone staying connected anywhere, any time - it's making everything into a blur. The challenge at this moment is the sheer demand for talent.'

Companies are short of talent in many areas, from business leaders to system architects to the thermodynamic engineers required to model heat flows through data centres.

'They're not easy to find here,' says Lee. 'Hong Kong has a lot of really bright people in terms of management and business mindsets who have a lot of innovative ideas on how to make money, but at the end of the day they outsource it all to India.'

Lee's experience - that internet and telecoms has lost its status in the job market - seems at odds with the world of potential opportunity in the industry right now. According to Elinor Leung, head of Asia telecom and internet research, CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, the cloud has breathed new life into the telecoms sector and it will only keep growing.

'Unlike voice, data growth uses a lot of capacity on the network,' she says, predicting that telecom companies will regain pricing power in data soon. 'We'll see telecoms moving away from 'unlimited' data and they will raise prices.' While customers may find this painful, for potential employees it paints a solid career path backed by growing revenues and innovative business models centred around mobile broadband and cloud content.

For Telstra's head of North Asia, Andrew Wildblood, it's a hugely exciting time, particularly at the enterprise level. 'There's a significant groundswell of change going on in the industry of what cloud offers to the enterprise and how it can change the way people communicate - and ultimately how IT is going to be structured over the next decade,' he says.

Although cloud computing is yet to seriously take off at banks and professional institutions, Wildblood sees widespread adoption within three to five years, just as integrated voice and data has become the norm in new office infrastructure.

For PCCW, cloud has 'moved the battlefield from the ground to the sky', according to Florence Chow, head of group human resources. This offers many exciting opportunities for graduates in particular.

She says that while technical skills can be taught relatively quickly, PCCW's challenge is in finding good leaders and communicators. 'The ability to communicate, to translate strategy into business results - to get people with these skills is increasingly difficult,' says Chow.

Lee says that some of the most attractive and exciting work for potential employees is being done in bridging the gap between the laboratory and the real world.

It's a similar structure at PCCW, according to Chow. The company has a function where the 'hardcore R&D' takes place - this is the technology which may appear in 10 years' time. Closer to reality, each business unit has incubators for medium-term technology and new developments.