On the surface, most cloud transformation projects share common traits. Companies usually wants to move faster, increase agility, add capacity and become generally more efficient.
But beneath the surface, each company’s journey to the cloud is different. Every organization has its own distinct culture which is ingrained into its processes. The company’s makeup and operational style play big roles in its ability to drive change inside the organization using cloud.
How easy is it for companies to adapt their cultures to best align with the cloud? Having worked with hundreds of companies, we have learned a lot about the process of cultural change. This can be tough, and getting companies to change requires an understanding of the culture in place: the organization’s ability to change; the team’s experience with and willingness to undertake transformational change; and the level of their leadership’s commitment to change.
In this article we outline four customer stories of cultural change. The first three focus on cultural missteps the organizations made which ended up severely stalling their cloud transformation program. In contrast, the fourth story highlights an organization that underwent successful cultural transformation and is seeing its cloud program flourish.
Throughout this article, we reference the following CTP services the reader should be aware of:
Cloud Transformation Maturity Model (CTMM): This enables our clients to accelerate their cloud program and ensure its continued success by providing the guidance needed to define their structured decision making, communications, training, standards and expertise in the use of cloud capabilities.
Cloud Business Office (CBO): This serves as our client’s central point of decision making, communications and cultural change for the cloud program.
Minimum Viable Cloud (MVC) Methodology: This is a secure public cloud environment running at least one application, designed to quickly exercise an organization’s muscles, engage all necessary stakeholders and demonstrate the viability of cloud services.
A Software and Services Provider for Nonprofit Organizations Learns the Value of Program Prioritization
Seeking to move their flagship software application to AWS and thereby create a SaaS product, a supplier of software and services for nonprofit organizations initiated a cloud project. The goals were to provide more stability in their product, increasing performance and uptime, while keeping a lid on the use of internal IT resources.
After bringing in CTP to do a Cloud Transformation Maturity Assessment which looked at capabilities across 10 domains, the organization realized that its readiness was low in each of the cloud maturity categories.
Working with the client, CTP established a Cloud Business Office (CBO) to guide the customer’s development and execution of its initiatives across each domain. In parallel, CTP created a cross-functional team and configured a Jira instance to build the required epics and stories for an agile execution.
Very quickly, issues began to crop up. The team members the customer assigned to the job were viewing the project as a secondary task — something to do “off to the side of their desks.” They had a lot of competing priorities in their day-to-day responsibilities, so they were not really taking the cloud project seriously. Their leadership was still pushing for deliverables and was not allowing the cloud team enough time to devote to the program.
We paused and put together a workshop to identify the competing priorities. Each worker not only had daily tasks to complete — many also had to participate in a governance risk audit that was assigned right before the cloud project launched.
At the end of the workshop, the client’s CTO attended a meeting where the cross-functional team discussed the cloud project’s needs and identified the tasks that were getting in the way. The CTO listened and offered support, but did not make any moves to realign priorities. Not surprisingly, the cloud program slowed and lost momentum.
The biggest lesson we all took away was that a Cloud Business Office can only be effective if leadership supports the project. Leaders need to make the tough decisions to re-prioritize work, backfilling with additional resources so the team can focus on cloud activities, and make sure the priorities are communicated throughout the organization to ensure continued alignment.
An Energy Company Fails to Focus on a Specific Deliverable
A large integrated energy company undertook a cloud transformation project to accomplish two organizational goals: reduce costs and roll out new features and functionality when lines of business come calling. Leaders supported the initiative and looked forward to getting it done.
The company brought in CTP to do a complete Cloud Transformation Maturity Assessment. As with many companies brand new to cloud, this customer needed to do a lot of work to get up to speed. They also had what their leaders readily acknowledged was an “old-school” culture that required many approval levels and a methodical approach to planning.
The energy company’s tentative approach created challenges for the cloud project. It got off to a slow start when the customer put it on hold for four months after we finished the maturity assessment. As part of that assessment, we developed a roadmap and encouraged the client to get started, so they could meet their strategic goals for the year. However, it took several months to get the funding approved to launch the next phase.
The months-long gap between the completion of the Cloud Transformation Maturity Assessment and the launch of the cloud program sapped the project’s momentum. When proponents tried to pick it up again, they had a hard time gathering support, partly because they did not tie their next steps to a specific cloud-related initiative or a compelling event. Usually, a company pursues a cloud project to accomplish a particular goal — such as to migrate a certain number of workloads by a certain date, or to close two data centers within a year. When the project has marching orders, the CBO team members can map out tasks. If they need to migrate workloads, they can set up a plan to modify the related processes.
That didn’t happen here. The energy customer created a CBO to develop processes to advance the company skill sets, but did not give the team a road map to follow. And when the project picked up again, there was no direction for how to proceed.
The lesson the customer learned was to engage early on a short- and long-term plan for cloud transformation. The long-term plan can be general in nature – for example, to become a cloud-enabled organization ready to compete in the modern marketplace. But the short-term plan has to be focused on a deliverable – to accomplish a specific project and map all cloud-related initiatives to that project.
The energy customer started its CBO too early. It should have laid out the specific deliverables, such as building out a nonproduction cloud platform for application teams to use, ensuring a cloud business case is in place and assessing a set of applications for their cloud suitability. A quick win would have positioned the company for long-term success.
A Financial Services Organization Neglects to Dissolve its Silos
A financial services customer embarked on a transformation project to increase its agility while keeping costs down. The company faced internal pressure to release features and functionality faster, so it turned to the cloud.
The company came to CTP to get help building out core foundational services and a cloud service catalog that would be used by application teams. Company leaders authorized extensive prep work to ensure that the project proceeded correctly. CTP led a variety of maturity assessments, cloud strategy plans and DevOps consultations, and then helped to build out the capabilities.
Unfortunately, people and politics got in the way. Despite all the planning on the IT side, the customer did not involve the application teams in the project. When the application teams were told about the new cloud capabilities, they did not buy in. They claimed the new IT procedures were too cumbersome, and kept building and deploying apps the way they did before.
We see this quite often. One side of the organization thinks it is achieving cloud culture change and building required cloud capabilities, but changes are being made in two key departments not in the habit of talking to each other. Members of the infrastructure team are developing services they think are needed for the cloud, while the application teams are developing apps on the cloud but not talking to the infrastructure side of the house.
No matter how pristine your plan is, make sure you get buy-in from the key players who need to work together to achieve success. The work cannot be done in a silo. You will risk creating cloud capabilities no one will use.
The infrastructure team should align their development of cloud capabilities with the needs of the business application teams. Infrastructure leaders should not be building out cloud capabilities without ensuring there is a need for them within the organization. “Build it and they will come” is not a sound cloud strategy.
An Insurance Company Assigns the Right Resources and Prioritizes for Success
We worked with a Fortune 500 insurance company to develop a plan to get started on AWS. The company chose to move cautiously to avoid the mistakes its peers made jumping into cloud too fast without assigned processes and team. They engaged CTP on several fronts:
- To complete a Cloud Transformation Maturity Assessment to assess baseline maturity, set a strategic roadmap to improve it and identify challenges and blockers to cloud adoption
- To create a CBO to establish a baseline of resources
- To draw up a roadmap for future work
The insurance company did a good job of identifying challenges and understanding their own areas of weakness based on the up front assessment. They approached the project in a flexible, cooperative manner and were realistic about what could be accomplished. When the maturity assessment revealed low readiness scores across all ten categories, the customer did not try to catch up all at once. They agreed to focus on three categories to mature:
While maturing these three categories, CTP also kicked off an application assessment and started building out their cloud foundational services using the Minimum Viable Cloud (MVC) methodology. Doing these activities in parallel, the CBO created new and updated operating processes and models for operating on AWS. As the MVC was being built, the CBO was developing and putting in place the new operational processes that were needed.
The customer also assigned leaders to the three categories they focused on and gave them time to devote to their new tasks. These three leaders gathered up feedback and reported to a designated, full-time CBO leader. The CBO leader served as a champion who reported into an assistant to the CIO. This person had the responsibility, visibility and accountability for the cloud transformation program.
Of the four stories we discussed, this insurance company did the best job of changing its culture to accommodate a cloud initiative. The company set reasonable goals and engaged with experts to help plan out a project to meet those goals. It assigned people to specific tasks and gave them the time and expert resources needed to do their jobs well. Even though the organization operates in a decentralized manner, it set up a clear path to manage tasks, report on process and escalate issues to the right people. Being new to the cloud, the client set reasonable, achievable goals and therefore accomplished them.
Even though this company’s cloud journey has only just begun, they have set themselves up for a successful future. They have the right processes and the right governance model in place. They have also established a communication strategy to frequently provide updates and share the successes of their cloud program throughout the enterprise. Finally, they continue to transform their workforce culture to adopt new ways of thinking about agile solutions, while growing a cloud skills pipeline of organic talent. When new challenges present themselves, this organization will be ready.
Get the Most Value from Your Cloud Transformation
Every cloud project is different. Therefore, there are no cookie-cutter approaches to success. But there are best practices which companies can follow that will help them deal with challenges that may crop up along the way. The best move companies can make is to be open to changing the way they operate, to align with the needs of cloud projects. Take a step back and plan. Support a culture of cloud learning and provide opportunities for people to take on new cloud roles. Open up new lines of communication to get departments thinking along the same lines. Understand your cloud maturity baseline and then plan from there.
Clients may be challenged by a lack of resources or leadership support, but a transformation program, coupled with a prescriptive approach from an experienced partner, can help on all these fronts.
Cloud initiatives can be challenging to pull off. But with a little ingenuity, the right people in the right roles dedicated to the effort and a prescriptive methodology, cloud initiatives can indeed succeed.