How the CTO can Maintain Cloud Momentum Across the Enterprise

Embracing cloud is easy for some individuals. But embedding widespread cloud adoption at the enterprise level is far more difficult. Even with a robust strategy, funding plan, and training program, many organizations struggle to maintain the momentum required for a years-long rollout. Overcoming limiting factors to deliver successful cloud adoption requires careful nurturing of teams and strategic use of budget and training.

Needs of Teams: Embrace Change (and the Fear it Brings)

Cloud strategies are meant to set the direction and inspire the organization to move as one. Priorities and goals are generally established following team engagement, so they are aligned with real needs. Strategies also draw on best practices, references, and knowledge from both inside and outside the organization. Why then do so many run into roadblocks soon after launch?

A successful business is never static, with leadership, structure, and growth rate or focus changing in line with the marketplace. It follows that a good cloud strategy must adapt to these forces along with the wider organization. However, this need is often overlooked during cloud strategy development. This is where a well-managed cloud center of excellence (CCoE) comes into its own.

CCoE members should constantly seek input from across the organization, understanding pain points and directional changes, then adapting as necessary. The best decision for a governance standard on day one may not hold true come day 100. The constant tension between maintaining standards and allowing freedom doesn’t disappear in the cloud. Ongoing conversations are crucial to avoid the trap of a ‘set it and forget it’ mindset.

Another barrier to success is the replication of datacenter practices in the cloud. This fails to make good use of cloud capabilities such as scalability, leading to major issues with budget and operations. Many teams are hardwired to design for 40 per cent utilization of infrastructure. The cloud is different, and autoscaling isn’t a business risk, it is a business necessity.

Honest communication is vital too. So, if the security team shuts down something that was available yesterday, ask them to explain why. The same applies if the cloud engineering team isn’t yet offering a new service you’ve heard about. When people understand the processes, and learn what each team provides, the whole organization can achieve more in the cloud. When the inevitable barriers are encountered, it’s more likely that they will be resolved efficiently as well.

Decision Making & Budgets: Engage in Conversation

Good communication also plays a central role in decision making and budget management. This is about establishing and maintaining open channels of communication so everyone feels like their voice can be heard. Create opportunities for meaningful conversation, rather than relying on simple Q&A forms.

Clear communication also helps ensure all stakeholders are aligned and informed throughout the cloud adoption journey. This applies to technical teams, business units, management, and end-users. When it’s handled well, communication facilitates the creation of a shared vision and purpose, which is crucial for successful cloud planning and execution. Stakeholder buy-in is a precursor for active contribution to the adoption process, and this can only be achieved when teams communicate well.

If you’re not familiar with the Toyota Way, it’s worth a look. The principles set forth are a great guide to the cloud journey, clearly articulating how decisions should be made. What decisions should be made by a team? When do you include others in the decision-making process?

One of the most impactful Toyota principles is “Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation”. So, if a business unit is complaining about how long it takes to obtain a cloud service, set aside time to step through the process yourself. Investing a few minutes to fully understand the frustrations and problems can enable quicker resolution, potentially saving many hours across the organization while avoiding wasted spend.

Any cloud journey can be derailed by budgets. Many are. Budgets are sometimes held high in the organization, in others they’re pushed as low as possible. Whichever model your organization uses, using budgets to accomplish personal goals rather than wider organizational goals is a common problem. Many teams spend money simply to avoid losing it the following year. They spend with their own outcomes in mind, and never invest in adjacent teams.

The conventional wisdom that company money should be treated like your own can have an adverse effect, resulting in teams keeping budgets to themselves instead of considering the bigger picture. It’s not easy to step away from this mindset, but it’s an important change which enables better organizational outcomes in the cloud.

Training Plans: The Trident Approach

People are at the heart of cloud performance, yet talent is extremely difficult to build, acquire, and maintain. Three different types of employee need to be catered to: new joiners, tenured staff, and subject matter experts. Some people will be covered by more than one category. The following trident approach to training offers practical guidance on how to support them all.

New joiners: This may include tenured people joining from other organizations, new team members from within the company, or other external hires coming into a new role. Regardless of their background, these team members need to start out with an introduction to the organizational view of cloud. This should encompass the strategy, the processes, and the rationale for decisions made up to this point.

Where things go wrong:

  • There’s often a mistaken assumption that when people are new to a role or organization they have more time for learning.
  • Rigid learning plans that don’t flex to the individual are not conducive to success.

Getting it right:

  • It’s better to determine which learning path best suits an individual by engaging with them up front.
  • A buddy system where tenured staff mentor new joiners can be hugely successful.
Tenured staff: These are the rocks of any organization who know how things work both on paper and in practical terms. They need to understand why the cloud strategy matters, and they need to be assured that it won’t repeat any past mistakes. It’s also important to convey how any role changes will be handled in real terms. These team members can disrupt the progress of new joiners and subject matter experts, so care must be taken to understand and address any concerns they have. Communicate end goals clearly and inspire them to become change champions rather than detractors. Setting tenured staff up to mentor new joiners can be highly effective.

Where things go wrong:

  • If you fail to address the question “How is this different to last time?” the strategy may be met with skepticism and/or a lack of enthusiasm.
  • It’s easy for change to become a heavy burden for tenured staff as they mentor new joiners, learn new skills, and take on new targets. They can’t be expected to do it all.

Getting it right:

  • Progress can be smoother and quicker when people are given training options or choices, and are allowed to change their minds.
  • Make sure goals are not exclusively tied to a single role. Shared responsibility is a fairer approach and encourages team spirit. If a target is missed, everyone fails together.

Subject matter experts: Whether they are tenured staff or new joiners, the role expectations of these individuals can vary hugely. Some are looking for the best compensation, while others are looking for the next career-making challenge to overcome. The personalities are as diverse as the knowledge and skills that these team members bring. Any attempts at a one size fit all approach will fall flat. Discussing individuals’ wants and needs will reveal what energizes and motivates them.

When it comes to training, some subject matter experts have clear expectations, while others may prefer to operate independently. It’s important to enable them to make time for learning. This is less about investing in the latest learning platform, and more about encouraging self-learning, then creating opportunities to apply new approaches in daily work activities. An adaptive approach will reap dividends.

Where things go wrong:

  • Subject matter experts shouldn’t have to gain external validation of skills when their job performance is evidence enough. It’s demeaning and demoralizing.
  • Asking them to train others to “free up their time” can also be perceived negatively.

Getting it right:

  • Engage with subject matter experts individually to discover whether they want to continue on their current path or explore different opportunities based on transferable skills.
  • Challenge individuals to step outside of their comfort zone and extend their skills, for instance by speaking at a conference or publishing a paper.

There is no single route to cloud success in the complex world of business. However, there are common pitfalls to avoid. While everyone understands the need to adapt and change, large enterprises have a strong tendency towards ‘set it and forget it’ approaches. Annual reports and updates are not fun, but they do serve a purpose.

Continually asking ‘why?’ is also incredibly powerful. Seek to understand challenges and ascertain whether you can help. When in doubt, take a closer look. Don’t underestimate the value of direct experience, and nurture a whole-team mindset, considering how you can help others and even sharing or pooling budgets if it will secure a better outcome. When it comes to training, take care to avoid costly mistakes. This can be achieved by putting people and their training interests first, rather than insisting on a content-led training strategy.

Six takeaways:
  1. Avoid the ‘set it and forget it’ enterprise cloud strategy pitfall.
  2. Ask ‘why?’ things are done (or not done) and then offer to help.
  3. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand a situation (Toyota Way Principle).
  4. Do NOT treat company money as your own. Allocate budget with organizational goals in mind.
  5. Encourage tenured staff to become change champions.
  6. Don’t expect a one size fits all approach to deliver successful outcomes.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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