Cultural challenges when migrating to the cloud

In Computing’s experience, nearly every large enterprise is using at least some form of cloud computing in their organisation. And some, such as British Gas and Atkins, want to make everything cloud-centric in the years to come.

That’s not to say that cloud computing works for everyone; just ask Rocco Labellarte, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead’s head of technology and change delivery.

He told delegates at Computing’s Data Centre Summit 2015 that the cloud doesn’t save the local authority any money, and has actually led to the council needing more technical staff than before.

But for those people for who cloud computing could still yield benefits, there are obstacles before, during and after implementation – and much of that has to do with the cultural impact the cloud has on an organisation.

So without further ado, here’s Computing’s top 10 list of cultural changes when migrating to the cloud.

1. Don’t underestimate the need for technical preparedness

It may sound stupid, but many organisations are just not prepared to shift to the cloud.
“It’s really easy to get started with the cloud. Before you know it, your environment has ballooned out of control and you have thousands of unlabelled objects that might or might not be important (all of which you’re paying for) and dozens of people who have administrator credentials and could destroy everything on a whim,” warns Matt Bishop, QA’s principal technologist, cloud.
“It’s much easier to lay down some standards for security and governance at the beginning than to try and retro-fit them afterwards,” he adds.

And it’s not just about standards – there can be a tendency for firms to underestimate the investment of resources that a successful cloud migration requires.

“It’s easy to say ‘of course, we won’t migrate all of that old data to the new cloud system’. But separating the old from the new (or the irrelevant from the relevant) can be fiendishly difficult and people can be very resistant to the idea of you dumping what they see as their vital data into an archive,” says Dr Malcolm Newdick, MD and founder of Riverbank IT.

Newdick also warns that there could be surprises for employees when it comes to uploading data too.”You could come across issues like slightly different file naming conventions or limits to the number of files you upload. Your careful calculations on the time required for data upload can be thrown into disarray when you discover that the cloud-based system absorbs files more slowly than your line transmits them. Factor the unexpected into the implementation and you will see dividends in reduced disruption and stress levels,” he says.

Essentially, companies are urged to ensure that the business isn’t disrupted. The worst thing that could happen is for people to not be able to do their jobs. This would affect morale and trust in the strategy and ultimately lead to a moderation of business performance, says David Kavanagh, technical director at Purplebricks.com.

“The best rollouts of any kind adopt a carefully planned, measured approach. Starting teams off with low-risk projects; then medium-risk projects, perhaps moving non-customer facing apps into the corporate cloud first; and finally, high-risk projects, such as moving over mission-critical systems,” he says.

2. Finally(!) working with other departments

Shadow IT has been an issue prior to cloud computing and continues to be a headache for IT departments with the incorporation of cloud.
Kevin Linsell, director of strategy and architecture at Adapt, suggests that organisations should hold a “cloud amnesty” for discovery within the organisation.

“It is likely you already have cloud solutions operational in your business now. It is also likely that your formal channels will be unaware of some of these solutions, so it’s worth getting your departments to explicitly specify which tools they use to see if any further efficiencies can be gained through aggregation,” he states.
If you don’t, then departments may see cloud services as an open buffet to pick at for their own needs, leading to new vectors for shadow IT headaches.

“This can lead to duplication of services, and so wasted spending, increasing risk if departments have chosen service providers that don’t meet compliance needs; and reduced bargaining power when trying to negotiate deals with providers,” says Andy Soanes, CTO of Bell Integration.

Rufus Grig, CTO of Azzurri Communications, believes that despite this threat of shadow IT, the IT department has to avoid being the “man in the middle” if no value is being added.

“Some cloud services offer quite discrete and self-contained services back into a business. In some cases, it might be best to let the cloud provider interface direct into the business function owners rather than going through a layer of IT,” he says.
But Soanes says that IT departments should have the final say over what cloud services are adopted.
“A greater engagement in technology and its potential from other departments should be welcomed, but not at the expense of IT’s overall control,” he says.

3. New skills

When you take up a new operating model or a new type of technology, you need new skills.
Cloud is no different, and as QA’s Bishop has highlighted in this article, the most essential skills when migrating to the cloud are: business and financial skills, project management skills, security and compliance, and technical skills. Some of these, people in-house will already have, others, they will have to learn, and some specific skills may mean companies have to recruit specialists or even consider outsourcing.
But beware – Andrew Heyes, MD Southern Regions, Harvey Nash Professional Recruitment, warned companies that were moving to a public cloud that they may engage with a cloud consultancy such as Colt, Atos, IBM or Cloudsense to come on site and build a strategy and do the actual migration, but they will charge triple what it would cost an enterprise to hire contractors and manage the project internally.

According to Computing’s latest data centre research, when respondents were asked what the most important skillsets or attributes were for managing outsourced data centres or cloud services, negotiation and contractual skills came out on top, representing a big shift from traditional facilities where “understanding the technology” was the first choice.

“The blend of skills here is quite extraordinary – from legal, to commercial and technical,” says Rufus Grig, CTO of Azzurri Communications.
“But the most difficult skill to master when moving to the cloud is the ability to see into the future. When it’s your people managing software that you have licensed on your servers under your roof, you can change direction quickly. In a multi-year cloud or managed services deal, they are not your people, they are not your servers, and it’s probably not your software,” he adds.

4. Resistance to change

“If a business pushes cloud computing onto a resistant IT culture, the project may become so difficult that it is likely to fail,” says David Kavanagh, technical director at Purplebricks.com.

One of the key issues is, as stated before, the change in skills necessary. Many IT technicians, for example, like supporting hardware, building blade servers and so on, might find that if they want to carry on doing that they’ll have to get a job at a cloud provider.

“You’ll probably have some server-huggers who aren’t happy unless they can get down to the physical details. It’s important to get away from that mindset and understand that the physical details are abstracted away; they aren’t your problem anymore, you’re paying somebody else to worry about them for you,” says QA’s Matt Bishop.

Paul Gregory, principal technologist at QA, adds that “servers must no longer be looked after like pets, they need to be managed like cattle”.
Gregory suggests that losing access to the physical servers makes people uneasy and can affect their confidence and therefore their ability. In some instances, employees may rebel against a cloud strategy before its even in place, and therefore will cause disruption to the organisation while the plan is being executed.

Some people will rebel because they believe that their jobs will be at risk.
“There is a false perception that cloud will remove or reduce the need for internal IT. This can lead to a situation where IT teams challenge cloud as an option, which can actually precipitate the slide towards more ‘shadow IT’,” says Nigel Tozer, product marketing director EMEA at Commvault.

“The IT roles might adapt – as evidenced by the increasing popularity of the Cloud Architect – but these new roles can be equally if not more rewarding,” he claims.

For Purplebricks.com’s Kavanagh, one way of getting everyone onside is to involve everyone from the outset.
“When people are given the time and power to evaluate cloud technologies, they are more likely to provide a fair evaluation of the technology. They are also likely to feel empowered, and, more open minded,” he says.

5. Keeping everyone updated, all of the time

Transparency, frequent communication and inclusion should address employee concerns, while also helping the IT team stay focused.
It is a new way of working perhaps for many IT teams, and indeed many organisations. But keeping everyone in the loop about what is happening, why it’s happening and when it is happening can help to allay any concerns staff might have.

And keeping people updated isn’t merely just a simple notification by email that a new app will be available or that a server won’t be working over the weekend – it also means raising awareness through training and other methods.

“There’s a learning curve to be addressed,” says David Kavangh, of Purplebricks.com.
“Effective training is one of the challenges that companies need to address to respond to concerns and help make the cloud work for them,” he adds.

6. Managing expectations around change

One of the first things IT leaders need to do is to get their teams into the mindset that things will change.

“They need to anticipate that it will be different,” says Dr Malcolm Newdick, MD and founder of Riverbank IT.
What this means for managers is that they need to keep an eye on behavioral changes from employees. Cloud can enable access to corporate systems and data from anywhere, at anytime, and this can mean the organisation will take on a “flexible working” approach, which is in itself another strategic decision altogether, but a shift to cloud computing can force an organisation’s hand, and there should be clear guidelines of new ways of working.

As Andy Hardy, EMEA MD at Code42 says, the CIO and the IT team must engage with staff and create solutions that work for everyone.

7. Keeping data secure

Much has been said about security in the cloud. Is data safe in the cloud? Can you put mission-critical apps in the cloud? Well, those are hopefully questions that the IT leader has answered before moving ahead with cloud computing.

But one thing is for sure, the changes in the way that organisations work will mean that data will increasingly reside on employees’ laptops and other devices. As Computing has documented, this can be an easy way for both public sector bodies and corporate organisations to lose sensitive data, and as Andy Hardy, EMEA MD at Code 42 says, it means the CIO is forced to relinquish control of company data security to a certain extent – and allow employees to play a bigger role in safeguarding corporate information.”The CIO must educate staff about protecting company data and provide the correct easy-to-use tools and real-world data security policies,” he explains.

The same goes for employees who bring their own cloud solutions into the work environment by downloading and using tools like Dropbox.
“This brings its own challenges for IT and HR because it increases the chance of security breaches, both accidental and malicious, as corporate data is stored outside the company’s firewall,” says Martin Ashall, CTO UK of CA Technologies.

8. Fear of the unknown

Linked to “resistance to change” and “keeping data secure”, many employees are struck by the fear of the unknown when it comes to cloud. But this doesn’t just mean employees will rebel against cloud computing – others may just try to avoid new ways of working, new apps and new services that are delivered through the cloud, making them unproductive. And this fear goes all the way up to IT directors and senior execs too.

“When I talk to IT directors and managers they are often cloud reluctant and cite security as the main concern. But when the layers are peeled back and I demonstrate the security and regularity compliance (through documentation) that most public cloud data centres conform to – which far exceeds the companies I am talking to – you find the real concerns over cloud computing: it is, of course, the unknown,” says QA’s principal technologist, Paul Gregory.

“Today, most IT departments keep the wheels on IT with break and fix, patching and next version upgrades, and they are very comfortable with that… but the business is evolving faster than ever and IT has to be a part of the revolution,” he adds.
Gregory believes that it’s an uncomfortable place for IT managers and directors to be in because they think the old way is a “safe zone”, but he warns that the “safe zone” is not going to be safe for much longer, as organisations have to move with the times and get used to new ways of doing things.

9. Controlling the influence from cloud service providers

As mentioned in the skills section, enterprises need proactive staff with good negotiation skills who can seek redress if contractual obligations are not being delivered.

But as it is their technology, cloud service providers can also significantly influence a CIO’s entire roadmap.
“Rather than controlling their own technology roadmap, CIOs will have to accept that cloud service providers will significantly influence the selection choices. Indeed, rather than dictating their precise needs to vendors, IT departments may find that their workloads and strategies are being driven by the latest developments in cloud services,” says Andy Soanes, CTO of Bell Integration.

Soanes gives an example of an organisation’s CRM service provider changing its terms of service, or the capabilities of its product, and asks whether this would suit the end user.

“Will those changes suit the business? Will it need to adapt its strategy to fit? Or will it need to spend time and resources sourcing a new provider, which may not use a compatible standard?” he asks.

“Ultimately, a move to cloud services can make it more likely that, when it comes to adopting technology for the business, the tail will be wagging the dog,” he suggests.

10. Using the cloud like it should be used

Out-dated, bureaucratic ways of working must be ditched when moving to the cloud.
“I’ve had customers whose change-control procedures required forms to be filled in for every new server that was created, and reports to be filed every time a server stopped,” says QA’s Matt Bishop.

“In a cloud environment, if you’re doing it right, servers might stop and start dozens of times a day for entirely innocuous reasons – say, a fleet of web servers is configured to auto-scale based on public demand, or an analyst starts up a temporary cluster to run a big data job and shuts it down when the job is done. That’s an awful lot of pointless form-filling to be done,” he states.

“Agility is a huge benefit of using the cloud; don’t stifle it with bureaucracy!”
In other words, the cloud can be an opportunity for organisations to instill a new culture into the business, don’t waste it.

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