Moving to the Cloud: How to Lead a Cloud-First Technology Strategy, Part One

Some of the most important parts of our lives don’t exist in our pockets, our homes, or our neighborhoods. Our life savings, our dating profiles, the most cherished pictures of our loved ones—they all live in the cloud.

Thirty years ago this was unthinkable, but today we take it for granted. In fact, when digging through our desk drawers we come across old photographs that strike an emotional chord, and our first instinct is to digitize them with the super computers in our pockets and give these precious artifacts immortality in the cloud.

Now, many parts of our businesses are increasingly moving to the cloud as well—accessible from anywhere, with the actual physical location where the data is stored almost immaterial. Why have many companies chosen to trust the cloud? Outside of some notable exceptions (so notable that even a minor outage triggers news alerts), it’s because the cloud “just works”—and the differences between those who have adopted cloud technologies and those who haven’t are becoming starker by the day. Companies that have taken full advantage of the cloud and other technologies are thriving. Those who haven’t are often struggling to stay ahead of their peers.

We’re getting to the point where most business leaders don’t particularly care how technology is delivered as long as it gives them better business results—faster, with more flexibility, and ideally at a lower cost than whatever they were using before. As the introduction to McKinsey’s ITaaS Cloud survey puts it, “The cloud debate is over—businesses are now moving a material portion of IT workloads to cloud environments. The impact will be considerable, for consumers and vendors of technology alike.”

Why? Because according to a recent Forrester report, 75 percent of business leaders cite improved business agility and 74 percent cite speed of implementation and deployment as the benefits that factored into their firm’s decision to move to pure SaaS.

So, What’s the Problem?

If it’s taken as a fact that cloud-delivered business services not only work but can also give a clear competitive advantage, why haven’t all companies embraced a cloud-first technology approach? One word: change.

CIOs are uniquely placed to lead not just the technology adoption, but the organizational change management required to fully realize the advantages of the cloud.

More specifically, three words: fear of change. As much as we crave change in the abstract, we’re loathe to abandon long-held habits. Executives are finding that reorganizing their businesses to make use of new technology is their biggest obstacle. This requires collaboration across silos, “but managers and employees tend to resist these changes, putting a damper on digital transformation,” according to a Harvard Business Review survey cited in the Wall Street Journal’s CIO blog. According to an InfoWorld article, “Now that cloud computing is the new normal, it’s the company culture—not technology—holding back the cloud.”

Oddly enough, it’s this very resistance to change at some companies that make it an excellent time to be a CIO. Due to the collaborative skills they’ve honed during their careers, CIOs are uniquely placed to lead not just the technology adoption, but the organizational change management required to fully realize the advantages of the cloud.

In fact, these collaborative skills are so important, that a lack of them is the top firing offense for CIOs, a Korn Ferry survey found. The Wall Street Journal author who summarizes the survey notes that this is “because the role of CIOs is fast expanding beyond IT, spreading across the entire enterprise, and into strategic business decision . . . .”

A collaborative, consensus-building CIO can lay the groundwork for success well before a deployment is set to go live.

And, according to Korn Ferry executives, “CIOs who can channel their inner CEO by reassessing their business, adjusting their strategy, and executing earn the coveted ‘transformational CIO’ moniker, and typically earn 25 percent to 35 percent more money than more purely tech-focused CIOs.”

The bottom line: CIOs should take the responsibility of leading organizational change management in choosing and deploying cloud technologies. Job security and financial rewards aside, CIOs tend to have the experience and personality that make them suited to spearhead change. Here’s how they can do it.

Create Consensus

A perfect deployment—from a technical perspective—is useless if users reject it or purposefully don’t take advantage of the new system. This is where a collaborative, consensus-building CIO can lay the groundwork for success well before a deployment is set to go live.

Mur Muchane, CIO at Wake Forest University, emphasizes the need for outreach. “The cloud can seem threatening in an environment that seeks to evolve from a primarily on-premise model of managing technology to a cloud-first strategy,” he says in an interview. “To allay concerns, we built a structured process that enabled individuals at every level, from staff to executives, to contribute ideas and influence decisions. This inclusion and transparency demonstrated the impact a unified cloud financial and HCM platform could bring to the university.”

The best-structured process for any particular entity—and the many formalized change management models that already exist—is a huge topic. But one thing that all change experts agree on is creating a center of excellence: involving experts from each functional area and centralizing them to speak with one voice on best practices for a cloud migration.

Stephen Orban, the head of Enterprise Strategy at AWS, observes in his article on creating a cloud center of excellence, “I knew from seeing change-management programs succeed and fail throughout my career that having a dedicated team with single-threaded ownership over an organization’s most important initiatives is one of the most effective ways to get results fast and influence change.”

In part two of this series, learn how CIOs can overcome resistance to change with executives, business users, and IT staff.