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Cloud Transitions – People First

The first step in cloud adoption isn’t about the technology. It’s about the people. It may seem a bit obvious, but when most cloud discussion centers on technology, it’s a point worth repeating. At our eCloud Summit the emphasis on the people proposition was made with persistent emphasis.

A cloud transition means creating new mindsets. Employees will need to change. They’ll need to retrain, to think and develop differently, followed by rebuilt process and policy. Management needs to change too. Ultimately, all layers of the organization need to be on board. But it won’t necessarily happen all at once. That’s where pilot projects help to effectively change minds by showing results specific to the business.

skydiving_cloudSuccessful cloud advance teams are a blend of people with technical and development skills who are willing to change norms. They’ll have both experience and imagination. They’ll also need some training. Choosing the right cloud technology will have less significance at the outset than lining up the right internal advocates.

The idea of cloud computing is often presented as simple. And in some cases, it can be, if all you require is an easily accessible sandbox. But for essential production purposes, conjuring your perfect cloud will likely begin with lots of questions and few obvious answers.

During our eCloud Summit, the repeated advice was to start by asking “which”. That is, which applications are most appropriate to move to or create in the cloud? Which service providers can best help? Which, if any, qualified resources are already available in-house? And an important one, which of your processes must change to leverage cloud potential effectively?

Expectations need to be managed. While cloud computing presents great promise, visions of competitive advantage need to be tempered with reality. And cloud isn’t a universal remedy. Successful cloud integration into existing IT operations is a technical challenge that demands realistic expectations along with careful planning, time, and expertise. Cloud has the potential to displace traditional IT thinking but time is needed to organizationally embrace cloud as a transformational opportunity.

Enterprises will need people of experience and judgment to make the decisions. To choose a Cloud Service Provider. To evaluate service offerings, quality of service, flexibility, stability, security and customer support. What are the cost benefits and trade-offs? What is the most effective design for technical transitions? Who can carry out the planning and execution? And, because cloud adoption doesn’t always meet expectations, what is the fallback plan? Exit options.

For many businesses shifting away from the costs, operation and management of legacy infrastructure is a primary motivation for a cloud move. The technical challenge often becomes managing the transition and integration of a service spectrum spread across internal and external resources. And that starts with managing the transitions for the people involved.

Established enterprises have well defined processes to accomplish business and IT objectives. But cloud can challenge legacy systems and “the way we’ve always done it”. That makes transitions difficult. Change is hard.

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof”.
— John Kenneth Galbraith, American Economist

On the other hand, recently founded companies don’t have legacy systems, existing business processes, and a workforce with comfortable skills to transform. They can use a small dedicated staff to cope with exponential growth using cloud-based IT. They can do it because cloud is where they started.

For most organizations the question isn’t cloud or not cloud. It’s how much and for what purpose? For what advantage? To shift employees’ ways of thinking may mean internal selling and several proof of concept projects before the change is accepted. The benefits must be clear. It may never mean moving your legacy systems to the cloud, but rather looking at innovations that can be easily created there and effectively deployed. Quickly.

Cloud doesn’t change the essential IT mission. It does change the “how”. Getting to the vision can be daunting and scary. But some organizations, Enterprise Service Providers in particular, have been doing this for a long time now. They can be models for people and process change. So it’s not quite the Louis and Clark Expedition that it was just a few years ago. There are trails to follow.
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