Mythbuster Monday (Part 2 of the Series) – Moving to the cloud is too hard (or too easy)

June 28, 2010 Appirio

Ryan Nichols

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

  • We have too many sunk costs in our existing systems to adopt new cloud technologies
  • Our team doesn’t have the right skills or expertise to develop or deploy on cloud platforms
  • All the questions about cloud integration, security and availability make it too difficult to move to the cloud

You may have heard these (or variations of these) from people on your team, your boss and even your vendors trying to convince you that it’s just too difficult to adopt public cloud platforms in your organization. “Just wait. See how things play out. It’s always better to play it safe.” Let’s be clear – moving to the cloud isn’t always easy – there’s a myth about that as well (see recent Network World article by Jon Brodkin). But it’s also not any more difficult than any other technology change. And since when does technology not change or progress? If you’re hoping for that, this probably isn’t the blog for you.

It’s no secret that we at Appirio encourage people to think big about adopting the public cloud. We work with many enterprises who are pushing the envelope in their use of cloud platforms and applications, and we’ve heard most of the reasons why people drag their feet. We have also seen what’s possible when people stop resisting and make the move. The ability to innovate faster than your competition. Move quicker and be more nimble. Get closer to your customers and serve them better. Enter new markets with less effort. The list goes on.

So why all the foot dragging? The book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath presents a good philosophy on why there is hesitation when it comes to thinking about a move to the cloud. The premise of this book is “for things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.” To get that one person to start the act of change can be difficult, especially when a company is tied to existing systems, specific skill sets and entrenched vendor relationships. The Heath brothers suggest a Switch Framework to break down the change until it no longer “spooks the elephant.”

We’d like to use this framework to lay out a few steps one can take to convince the skeptics in their organization that a little bit of change may be worth it in the long run.

  • FOLLOW THE BRIGHT SPOTS. Investigate what’s working and duplicate it. Find a cloud application that’s already being used successfully in your organization (we guarantee there are more than you think). Point out the reasons why it’s so successful. Expand on that success in adjacent areas. For instance, our customer Genentech has talked publicly about how their switch from a heavy, outdated calendar application to Google Calendar contributed to other cloud successes. They’ve since moved thousands of employees onto Google Apps, and are always finding new applications they can build on and integrate into cloud platforms to improve productivity and compliance.
  • SCRIPT THE CRITICAL MOVES. Think about specific behaviors you want to see. Don’t wait until every solution provider in your architecture becomes cloud-based before you decide to move to the cloud. Instead, take a more proactive approach and look at the specific applications in your portfolio that are most in need of modernization or best suited for the cloud and start there.
  • POINT TO THE DESTINATION. Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it. Most view a move to the cloud as a cost saving measure – and it is – but don’t forget about the other critical business benefits that the cloud enables – innovation, flexibility, etc. Understand the business’ imperatives, and model out how cloud technologies and the surrounding ecosystem will help move those imperatives forward. Create a Cloud Adoption Plan for the next 1, 3, 5 years. Remember, the transition is not going to happen overnight but if you identify the end goal and show skeptics the path to get there, they can be part of the journey.
  • FIND THE FEELING. Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something. Part of motivating this feeling is finding the pain point (or the common enemy) and starting there. Many a Salesforce CRM deal happened because the sales team hated using Siebel and wanted something – anything – different. Find those people who are sick of the complexity and the overhead of Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes, and show them why Google Apps is a better way.
  • SHRINK THE CHANGE. Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant. Some organizations, especially those with a strong leadership who want a business transformation, can change by developing an overarching roadmap and forcing change through the organization. Mark Newhall from Execution Specialists Group talks about this in a recent cloudsourcing webinar. But many teams work better by breaking the problem into smaller chunks. Point to the destination, and like agile development, parse out the solution into more easily consumable chunks.
  • GROW YOUR PEOPLE. Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset. Yes, people may shy away from change but they also don’t want to stay stagnant. Show them why incorporating cloud development or cloudsourcing skills into their repertoire will not only help the organization, but will better prepare them for the cloud-centric world of tomorrow.
  • TWEAK THE ENVIRONMENT. When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation. If certain groups in your team are cloud-phobic, start your path to the cloud with another team that is more open to the journey. Or create a separate group inside your organization that has the charge of evaluating cloud technologies or platforms, and apply it to a specific problem.
  • BUILD HABITS. When behavior is habitual, it’s “free” so look for ways to encourage habits. When you’re evaluating new technologies or systems, make it a habit to ensure half (or more) of the options include SaaS or cloud-based technologies. For example, at Appirio we don’t believe in reinventing the wheel (one of the biggest issues with traditional on-premise technology). So whenever we’re developing a new solution, we always start with what we can tap in the open source community or the existing cloud ecosystem. If that won’t suffice for our, and our customer’s needs, then we build.
  • RALLY THE HERD. Behavior is contagious. Help it spread. Once people have a taste of cloud innovation, it can be addicting. Remember to keep highlighting successes to keep up motivation. When a prototype is created in days rather than months, show it. When you get some new innovative features in your SaaS application without the cost of an upgrade, talk about it. When you can deploy in multiple languages because you built on a cloud platform, celebrate it.

It’s an inherent human trait to fear change, but little in the world has been accomplished without it. If you can make that change palatable, then just maybe you won’t stall progress.

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