Culture Crosses Cloud Chasm

  • June 16, 2021
Two business men standing on either side of a chasm formed by white blocks
Many years ago, I was the IT support manager for a software development organization at a large company where one of the largest software development organizations was struggling with the traditional maladies: development speed, code quality, increasing cost of re-work, etc. Their director decided that the solution was for them to become Agile, since Agile addressed all of these things. So he hired consultants to come in and give workshops on how to become Agile. The consultants started by talking about culture and mindset (as they should). However, midway through the first day, the director, who had been absentmindedly checking email through the morning, popped his head up and interrupted them, saying “this is all well and good, but just tell me what tools we need to buy so we can be Agile”.   

Anyone who knows anything about true Agile methodologies knows that this type of mindset is setting the organization up for failure.  Simply throwing “new tools” at old processes will actually make things worse, as people now have to figure out how to adapt the tool to their process, which is what ended up happening.  Of course, that director left a couple of years later as they wound down the business unit, assuredly with an entry on his resume claiming, “implemented Agile methodologies”.  While this example in today’s world seems absurd, we are witnessing history repeat itself in the industry as companies farther down the adoption curve start to adopt cloud. 

The cloud adoption curve 

Startups, small companies and mid-sized companies have great stories of growth and innovation. It’s a classic example of Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm theory, which states that technology first gets adopted by risk-takers who see potential, then by companies who see results and finally by those who can no longer avoid adoption. 

 Graphic representation of Geoffrey Moore's technology adoption model

While cloud still has a LONG way to go on the adoption curve, we’re already starting to get into the end of the Early Majority phase. Large companies are starting to adopt now not because they want to, but because they believe they HAVE to in order to remain competitive.  This mindset conflates “cloud adoption” with “innovation”. Such companies end up viewing a lift and shift strategy as being innovative because they are now in the cloud – never mind that they are doing what they’ve always done, which is not innovative.  

The problem with this definition of success is that lifting and shifting “traditional” IT practices into a cloud setting is expensive and it does not give anyone the benefits that cloud can truly offer. Simply porting over your existing operating model to the cloud will yield frustration, extra cost, and missed customer expectations.   

The trouble with “IT time” 

IT processes are generally evolutionary and react to the confluence of circumstances, business processes, and a desire to avoid repeating mistakes.  Often, processes become focused on risk avoidance rather than business enablement. Paperwork and approvals dominate to ensure that costs are contained or downtime is avoided. This leads to working in “IT time”, as a former customer of mine put it – a comparison to geologic time.   

Conversely, cloud providers strongly market cloud’s speed and agility and when you have the kind of culture and processes that leverage automation, you absolutely can accelerate velocity.  But if you buy into the “there is no cloud, it’s just someone else’s computer” theory of cloud, you’ll not really be much faster because the true speed impediment is your process and your culture of execution.  This mismatch between documented case studies and your implementation will frustrate everyone involved.  

IT staff will view cloud as a waste of time because they realize they are no better off than they were; they’ll learn plenty of new cloud concepts, which they will reduce to a comparison of “this is how I used to do this on prem, and this is how to do it in cloud”.  It’s a classic case of running to stand still.  Business users will be frustrated because they know they should be able to move faster with the cloud, but they see no appreciable change. Finance won’t be happy because promised cost benefits aren’t being realized since a lift and shift mentality pervades, nullifying the transformative cost improvements possible through cloud native implementations.  

What it takes to succeed 

Fundamentally, an organization that successfully embraces cloud and realizes outsized benefits from the investment starts with the right expectations.  The cloud is more about culture than it is technology.  With infrastructure an API call away, you no longer manage physical machines.  You no longer manage datacenter space, network port capacity, air chillers, power, or any other “traditional” aspect of IT.  You now manage a code base which brings up (and down!) hardware components virtually instantaneously.   

Is your organization achieving all the benefits of the cloud that it could be? To find out, ask yourself:  

  • Is your organization managed like a software development organization?  Or is your organization more aligned around manual processes for machine deployments, application deployments, or maintenance?   

  • What is your organization’s deployment velocity?  Do you release new features often, measuring their impact, and rolling back if key metrics are misaligned?  Or do you take more of a batched approach to change, where there are fewer implementation windows with bigger change sets?   

The former helps to isolate risk into smaller events while the latter concentrates risk and magnifies bugs.  This leads to even fewer change windows, concentrating risk even further and slowing down velocity enormously.  The cloud, with its emphasis on automation, lends itself to smaller, incremental change sets which can be rolled back if needed.   
Organizations that successfully adopt the cloud treat their environment as a software project. And the benefits are huge.  Version control of the environment, repeatability, auditability, and change management all come in to play.  Since new iterations build upon existing code, your ability to enhance existing services, react to new learnings, or roll back to a known good state become push button.   

Running what you already have in the cloud is not a formula for achieving cloud-based innovation. Instead of lifting and shifting your existing IT culture and mindset to the cloud, focus instead on how the cloud can serve the business, rather that serving as yet another IT tool. In these cases, IT gets bogged down in the mechanics of the cloud, overlooking the strategic impact it can have. By seeking business fueling innovation that sheds your current IT time culture, you’ll be able to achieve true innovation that rivals the Innovators and Early Adopters. 

Learn more about cloud-based innovation and how NTT DATA can help you get there faster

Subscribe to our blog

Derek Magill

Derek Magill, solution architect at NTT DATA , brings more than 20 years’ experience in IT Engineering with specialization in high-performance computing. Derek currently serves as the Chairman of CELUG, and is the Executive Director of the Association of High-Performance Computing Professionals.

Related Blog Posts