George Marootian is the Executive Vice President and Head of Technology for US Distribution at Natixis Investment Managers. This is the second article of a three-part series that will discuss the firm’s move to the cloud, continued operations in AWS, and the innovation and agility the organization has benefited from since the migration.
When we began migrating our IT environment from data center to cloud, we understood the physical challenges ahead of us. We had to sunset approximately 100 virtualized servers, lift and shift dozens of apps to AWS and refactor dozens of others that were old, unfit or needing to be modernized. It was a big job.
What we may have underestimated was the work required to transform our culture to fit Natixis Investment Managers’ new cloud-focused business model. You cannot simply flip a switch and change the way you operate. We spent time planning, training, reviewing impacts and reworking processes to make sure the move progressed the way we anticipated.
Now, three years later, we are on the other side, and we have made great progress transforming the organization. The staff has adopted a new set of processes and developed new skills. Specific departments are leveraging the cloud to work faster and more productively. Additionally, IT is taking on a more strategic role that is responsive to the needs of the business.
Cloud Invites Change and Change Invites Fear
Organizational cloud transformation seemed unattainable back in 2014. We had a data center at our old Boylston Street location in Boston’s Back Bay, and IT’s job was essentially to keep it running. We handled basic operational and facilities-type tasks such as coordinating with power companies, measuring the air gas in halon systems and cataloging applications. IT was viewed as more of a service department than as a facilitator for innovation.
We saw the move to the cloud as the means to achieve a few things: save money and avoid building a new data center, of course. But more importantly, it gave us an opportunity to change IT’s charter. By eliminating the hardware maintenance and configuration tasks, we believed the team would have more time to function strategically and drive value to the organization. We are pleased that this conclusion has been realized.
Meanwhile, when we first started planning the cloud project, there was a level of concern in the ranks. Cloud invites change, and change invites fear. Some associates were apprehensive about the changes they would have to make shifting off hard-wired applications and onto web-based tools. There was uncertainty that cloud would impact jobs or force employees to learn new ways of working. Whole departments, such as Legal and Compliance, were concerned about retaining the same level of command and control over their domains moving to the cloud.
Clearly, we needed to educate the organization. People have to have a true view of what you’re proposing for a future state and how it’s going to affect them. That’s the piece that’s missing on a lot of projects I hear about. We weren’t looking for tactical agreement every step of the way, but we did want to ensure we had buy-in going forward.
The first group that needed training was the IT staff itself. In order to educate others, we had to be fully conversant with all the technologies and their impact on our associates. Cloud Technology Partners (CTP) helped us in this area. The company was already consulting with Natixis on several facets of the cloud program – creating a Total Cost of Ownership assessment, identifying compliance and technical requirements, building a Minimum Viable Cloud. CTP delivered ongoing training sessions to the firm’s IT staff, offering focused education on specific platforms and layering in more general concepts over time.
We used a standard approach to train the rest of the staff and then followed up with more customized sessions. Some associates were comfortable after attending one training session. Others responded to surveys saying they needed one-on-one sessions to get up to speed. Using a blend of internal IT staff and outside experts helped us gain fresh perspectives on employees’ progress.
Throughout the process, IT kept a steady flow of communication with the C-suite and the rest of the organization. We issued periodic surveys and constantly checked with project managers to give employees a chance to address issues they were encountering. In my position, I made a point to cross-check feedback from both above and below the organization. I was surprised there was so much unease around the change and found that transparency and the concentrated training efforts helped alleviate the uncertainty.
Changes in IT
Inside IT we adapted to our share of changes. I restructured the department in order to carve out a group of six people from the infrastructure team and put them in change of infrastructure automation. The team leader – who had experience in software management, DevOps and cloud – focused this group on all the modern cloud pieces and the modernization of the internal virtualized environment.
We also instituted a series of process changes, including realigning our release management processes and our security processes. We didn’t adopt a full CI/CD model because we have no need to continuously deploy new, updated versions of our software platform. We chose an alternative approach that functions better in a highly governed vertical like financial services: essentially creating a “version 2” of processes followed in the data center model rather than making wholesale changes.
These changes helped make IT more efficient. We have been able to deploy infrastructure changes at a much more rapid rate. Also, with the scale-out infrastructure, we can have infrastructure dynamically configured to meet the needs of our end users. We have the ability to spin up resources quickly so our time to market for many of our infrastructure stacks is very short. Projects can move through the queue very quickly. Time to market for getting infrastructure ready used to take days or weeks compared now to hours or days. Our mean time to remediate is also a lot faster.
Our cloud transformation project was a big undertaking, but we are happy with the outcome. We have met our goal of closing our physical data center and retaining only a few mission-critical applications in a local co-located facility. We have effectively aligned our organization around a new way of operating.
Although the education portion of the project proved challenging at times, we were able to navigate and move along faster than expected. We learned that with the right level of training and exposure we were able to mitigate the fear factor and create an atmosphere of inquisitiveness about cloud efficiencies. Getting ahead of the issue, helping our workforce understand the transformation process and learning how the changes directly impacted associates were the key factors in our successful cloud migration.
This material is provided for informational purposes only. Natixis Distribution, L.P. is a limited purpose broker-dealer and the distributor of various registered investment companies for which advisory services are provided by affiliates of Natixis Investment Managers. Natixis Distribution, L.P. is located at 888 Boylston Street, Suite 800, Boston, MA 02199. • 800-862-4863 • im.natixis.com