February 13, 2017
Culture clash … and the journey to cloud
By: Michael Liebow

For many IT organizations making the strategic shift to the cloud, a stark reality has yet to sink in: Culture eats strategy for lunch.

No matter how robust a cloud strategy you may think you have, you will fail if you don’t have 100 percent support from those who report to you. It’s likely you don’t. A recent Accenture survey shows that while leaders are committed to their journey to cloud, only twenty-nine percent of organizations’ rank and file concur. As many leaders working to shift from a CapEx to OpEx model have learned, the transition can be bumpy. Three main hurdles almost always arise.

  • Technical

  • Cloud is different. It requires you to rethink how systems and applications are modernized, simplified, rationalized, migrated, integrated and managed. If your people expect the cloud to conform to how you operate—for example, how you deploy disks—you can expect problems. Similarly, if your staff doesn’t understand that designing applications for the cloud is different, there will be trouble. In the cloud world, you provision for the valleys, not the peaks. You buy as little as possible, and when your application needs additional firepower, it, not you, scales capacity accordingly. Approaches to disaster recovery and redundancy are also different. You no longer need “hot spares” or assets sitting idle.

  • Commercial

  • Agreements with vendors take much longer to finalize than most organizations expect. This prolongs the journey and frustrates IT. Most procurement teams and lawyers view the cloud as just another data center, and apply the same approach to cloud as they did with co-location. That’s absurd. Cloud providers provide a utility service. How you use it is entirely up to you. Your procurement and legal departments need to understand what has changed, and embrace new terms and business constructs. Most struggle.

  • Operational

  • In many cases, the convergence of the application and infrastructure worlds becomes a collision. Here’s why. Development professionals created the world of cloud. They were pioneers who used to sneak servers under their desks and, more recently, provision servers with their corporate charge card—all to avoid the IT department and its elaborate labyrinth of Service Management. Now, agile and lean approaches require speed and innovation. To satisfy multi-mode or bimodal expectations, developers must be freed from the constraints of the past. But are Devs really interested in the “Ops” portion of their new DevOps role? Most probably want to operate “natively,” but the digital age requires them to think about security, compliance, cost management and other mundane responsibilities. This creates an opportunity for IT Ops professionals to enable a new style of operations.

To resolve the culture clash that these hurdles create, CIOs or CTOs must become true agents of change. Clear communications describing the need for—and value of—bimodal operations are key. But there are other things IT leaders can do to ease the transition:

  • Use different language. Words matter. One of the reasons DevOps and IT Ops are resistant to joining forces lies in the language used to reference each group. Terms like “Shadow IT” and “Legacy IT” have negative connotations. The former implies illegitimacy. The latter, inflexibility. Consider using “Mode 1” and “Mode 2.” That terminology places both groups on more even, and equally valuable, footing.

  • Define new roles—and new management strategies. A bimodal operating model calls for new or refined skills. Automation and big data skills will be in high demand. So will new roles, such as cloud administrators and architects, API integrators and scrum masters. Identify the jobs, roles and skillsets you need, and then evolve workforce strategies accordingly. Some existing workers can be re-skilled. But not all. New hires will fill the gaps. Vendors, too, must be reconsidered.

  • Evolve the IT strategy. In a bimodal environment, DevOps and IT Ops must work together. Extend the agile strategies embraced by DevOps so the entire IT organization can work quickly, as a team, toward common goals. Understand the business’s short- and long-term IT needs, as well as how these needs impact Mode 1 and Mode 2 operations. Above all, be clear about how IT’s new operating model adds value to the business

  • Recognize that failure is an option. The goal of agile is to create an environment that permits, even promotes, failure. The ability to quickly provision and de-provision reduces the cost and increases the speed to failure. Promote a culture of innovation and experimentation. Doing so will attract new talent to your organization—and give your mission the jolt of energy and exuberance it may need.

Shaping the right culture isn’t easy. But it’s critical to how quickly and how effectively you can establish bimodal IT as a true enabler of business success.

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