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

The usefulness and reliability of cloud-based technology is a fact. Businesses of all sizes around the world rely on the cloud every second of every day. As we detailed in part one of this series, the human element—getting people to change long-held ways of doing things—is often the biggest hurdle tech leaders face when leading their company to the cloud.

So, how can the CIO overcome resistance and grab the reins as a transformational leader? Let’s take the different constituencies one at a time.

Get Executive Buy-in

Getting buy-in from others in the C-suite is a matter of correcting misperceptions and selling the long-term vision. When it comes to misperceptions, a remaining major misperception is that your data is safer if it’s on your own premises.

“In the past, IT professionals clung—sometimes for good reason—to the notion that proximity equals security, and that you need to physically see and manage servers to deploy security measures,” writes Workday Chief Trust Officer Josh DeFigueiredo in a blog post. “But now, cloud applications dominate the enterprise landscape, as they provide a more reliable and economically sustainable option, and proximity is no longer a factor in security or data availability.”

Easier and more transparent compliance—and the peace of mind that the vendor is responsible for keeping the service up-to-date as regulations change—is what’s driving many companies to the cloud.

As Mark Clark of Teradata says in a CIO article, “When you look at Amazon and look at their security certifications, they have a 600-person security department. I don’t think the biggest company in the world has that many security people for cybersecurity.” In fact, there’s a growing movement to think of security in the cloud, especially in the public cloud, as table stakes.

In finance, there are worries about compliance especially, but in fact, easier and more transparent compliance—and the peace of mind that the vendor is responsible for keeping the service up-to-date as regulations change—is what’s driving many companies to the cloud. The need to comply with the EU’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is encouraging some companies to move to the cloud sooner rather than later.

Once you address common cloud misperceptions, it’s time to get buy-in on the vision. Only then can you decide what technology is best—this is an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the way business is done. Mike Hite, CIO at WeWork, offers advice based on his experience with numerous cloud deployments. “Don’t replicate your current business model in a new financial management system,” Hite says in a blog post. “Leverage the tool to change and enact change.”

After all, digital success isn’t mostly about technology, it’s about strategy, MIT Sloan Management Review authors find. “You have to think beyond the technology itself and sell the vision of what it will do for the business,” says Mark Judd, HRIT director at Rolls Royce, in a blog post. “Get it across to your business that you are buying an idea . . . you are buying something that is changing all the time.”

According to the Deloitte 2016–2017 “Global CIO Survey,” “CIOs can transform a conversation about individual technologies and their ROI to a more robust discussion about building a set of capabilities to support and drive the organization’s digital agenda. Enhancing the conversation in this way can allow CIOs to calibrate their technology investments, capabilities, and the talent needed to deliver value, today and in the future.”

Collaborate with Business Users

With business users in finance, HR, product, marketing, and other areas—whether IT is leading the cloud effort or just assisting—CIOs should gather feedback, try to understand concerns, and invite people to participate in the process as much as possible.

“One of the most helpful things I have done to help employees prepare for and engage with change is to brand it,” says Mike Knitter, associate vice president at the University of Chicago, in an interview. “We built campaigns of change around themes that reflect the values and cultural norms of the university.”

In fact, storytelling is a skill that CIOs are finding increasingly valuable.

“Communicating business value is a hard thing for many IT people,” says Workday CIO Diana McKenzie in a blog post. “It’s natural for many of us to be activity-based versus outcome-based, and prefer to say, ‘I delivered X system at the request of our business partners to assist them as they set up new regions.’ I advise flipping the equation: start with outcomes, and then explain technology’s role.”

The ability of CIOs to build consensus and tell a story that conveys a bold—yet achievable—vision of the future will set apart the winners from the also-rans.

Dave Smoley, CIO of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, used the power of narrative to drive a multiyear IT transformation at the company. Smoley cut IT costs in half while making IT a force that helps create competitive advantage. When it comes to convincing the business, Smoley says in a CIO article, “You have to connect the dots and translate it into a compelling story that various people who meet with the CEO can share and get people excited about [the tools].”

Engage IT Staff

Although you should use the same educational, inclusive, and collaborative approach as with everyone above, there are extra sensitivities with IT personnel. According to a report on an AWS conference and panel discussion, “A cloud move can often cause IT staff to worry about job security. However, panelists and other speakers argued the loss to staff was minimal and cloud could actually lead the way to hire more impressive, necessary talent—something vital to a creative industry.”

Regardless, IT has a right to wonder how a cloud move will affect its day-to-day duties, so it’s important to help IT become active participants in the cloud move—not helpless observers. “Work with central IT early on,” advises Mur Muchane from Wake Forest University. “In our case, IT was part of the process from the very beginning, which helped ensure strong collaboration and a successful project.”

Not including IT early on is a land mine to avoid. As one CIO relates in this Computerworld article, “One of the mistakes we made early on is not fully appreciating how scary this can be to people who have been in IT for a long time.”

Training is important—not just on how to understand the incoming cloud system, but on how to best modernize existing applications to avoid a lift-and-shift, where the same old applications are running in an inefficient way on a new platform. The good news is that, in the words of Stephen Orban, “You already have the people you need to succeed in the cloud.” But you do need training and education to prepare everyone, mentally and in terms of job skills, to succeed.

As one longtime CIO explains in an InfoWorld article on changing IT careers, “The more complex and interconnected these cloud environments become, the higher amount of a general understanding and knowledge of how it all works together will be required from IT teams . . . . The days of simple technology verticals are over. If you want to build it, maintain it, or fix it, you have to be able to see and understand how it all connects together.”

At a recent roundtable with Workday customers, a business leader shared that he doesn’t think of the benefit of upgrading to the cloud in terms of removing the burden from IT, but more about how it empowers people at all levels of the company—including IT—to accomplish more than they ever thought possible.

And, it’s important to emphasize with IT staff that because business users are going through the same transformation, there are likely new opportunities to collaborate, and new places where IT skills can be used to drive the business forward that don’t exist in the traditional “stand up and power up servers” world of the past.

Facing the Future

Because we live in a time of rapid technological change, the best practices for leading organizational transformation will be in demand for quite a while. Companies that have already successfully adopted the cloud are using their agile infrastructures to power an ever-faster evolution of the business. The ability of CIOs to build consensus and tell a story that conveys a bold—yet achievable—vision of the future will set apart the winners from the also-rans. In other words, in a world where the technology that is already on the horizon will have ramifications we can barely imagine, the CIOs who can implement the best tools for the business while overcoming organizational resistance are on track to not only help their organizations succeed, but to also have long, meaningful, and fruitful careers.