When companies decide to unplug on-premise servers, ditch the applications housed on them and adopt vendor-hosted software in the cloud, the IT staffers in charge of supporting and maintaining those discarded in-house systems are bound to get nervous. High level IT executives may have all the "i"s dotted and all the "t"s crossed in their research and planning process, but if the switch to the cloud causes ill will among their IT troops, the initiative could well be doomed, because buy-in from the IT rank and file is key.

It's the IT department's foot soldiers who will be in charge of training and supporting end users on the new cloud-based software, which often requires adjusting to an interface that is different. These staffers may also have to build links between the new and existing systems, develop customised applications and tools, monitor the cloud vendor's performance and keep tabs on end user activities.

If IT staffers feel left out of the conversation and used as expendable pawns bound to go the way of the on-premise systems they used to maintain, their aversion to cloud-based software could spread to the organisation at large. "With a move to enterprise cloud applications, IT executives shouldn't assume that it will be any different than other technology adoption in terms of the human, cultural and political factors," said Rebecca Wettemann, a Nucleus Research analyst.

IT staffers raised concerns about job security quickly and directly at advertising and event marketing agency Momentum Worldwide as soon as they were informed the company planned to move its enterprise portal to a cloud, software-as-a-service model offered by enterprise collaboration vendor Socialtext. "As we talked this through with the IT group, they were very concerned about: 'What are we going to do? If we're not managing as many servers, if we're not supporting infrastructure, where does that leave us?'" said Momentum Global IT Director Doug Pierce.

About eight of the IT department's 28 staffers saw their roles change when Momentum turned off its data centre servers. "Our IT employees had a lot of questions. They flat out asked: 'What does this mean for me and my job?'" Pierce said.

IT leaders better be ready to have an honest and informed conversation with their staffers. The path to success begins with explaining to them clearly the rationale for the move. "Being upfront about it, not hiding it, keeping it very open and making sure IT employees understood was very helpful to our department's successful transition," Pierce said.

That's what IT leaders also did at electronic manufacturing services provider Sanmina-SCI when it decided to move 16,000 employees from an on premise Microsoft Outlook/Exchange system to Google Apps, a communication and collaboration suite hosted by Google. "The starting point is laying the context of what one is trying to do and where IT organisations in general are headed to over the next several years. That helps to frame the discussion," said Manesh Patel, CIO of Sanmina-SCI, which has about 700 IT staffers. "Setting that context is the first thing that CIOs need to do," he added.

At Sanmina-SCI, IT leaders told their team that with cloud computing, IT departments can shift grunt, hands on system maintenance to hosted vendors, freeing up the IT department to provide value with more custom work tailored to their business. "My view is that IT is becoming more of a service-oriented organisation, providing more value added services, with less emphasis on [maintaining in-house] systems, networks and architectures," Patel said. "You still need some of that, but not as much."