“Culture shock” is the anxiety, feelings of frustration, alienation and anger that can occur when a person is placed in a strange environment. One of the most common causes of culture shock occurs when you find yourself in a strange country. Another common cause is when you find yourself immersed in a new technology, often called “future shock” after the Alvin Toffler 1970 book of the same name. He defined “future shock” as “too much change in too short a period of time.” I am not talking about the next generation of smart phone; I am talking about the kinds of changes that cause you to rethink how you act and react everyday. These are the changes that cause the fall of long established industries, and the rise of new ones. These are also the changes that cause a lot of personal FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). What is the impact on me? Will I lose my job? Will I need to be retrained? Will I have to relocate? Can I afford this thing “everybody must have?” How do I fit in?
If you could pick an industry that should be immune to future shock, it would have to be the computer industry. No other industry has gone through so much change in such a short time. The average smart phone has more capability and performance than a several million-dollar computer in 1965. If you have lived through that period and been active in the computer industry, you have seen a number of events that have significantly changed how computers were used and what they could do. At least once a decade there has been a discontinuity: things were done very differently on the other side of the event. Many of these events coming out of the computer industry have had impact far beyond the industry: GPS, cell phones, the Internet, email, texting, Cloud computing, ….
While globally the computer industry is capable of producing these discontinuities, locally organizations are not always eager to adopt them. One example: I recently dealt with a fairly large company that would not accept an emailed document. If it had a signature on it, it had to be faxed or sent through US mail.
Cloud Computing is one such disrupting technology. It is a huge hurdle for many IT managers to give up total control to strangers, even when the strangers can often do it better and for less cost. It causes a lot of FUD within the IT department.
Clearly Cloud Computing provides significant benefits to the whole company: the opportunity to significantly reduce the cost of IT, allowing the correlation between the benefit of IT and the cost of IT to be clear, and making IT much more agile and thus able to react to market pressures and opportunities quickly. What is up with these IT managers for not immediately embracing it? They are concerned about change. If they have been around for a while, even five years, and the business relies on IT to keep track of customers and orders and revenue, IT is a critical component of the company. When IT is down, the company is down, and it is the IT manager’s fault. These IT managers have responsibility over dozens or thousands of servers. Change is a pain, often a dangerous pain. Any change has to be carefully planned, and carefully executed to ensure that the critical processes IT performs stay available. Change is risk. What if something goes wrong? That patch from your software vendor does not really work. That latest software change your team made corrupted some database records. The new storage units do not perform as advertised. The latest network configuration change just made half of your servers inaccessible. And all of this is just a normal day.
Most medium sized and larger companies have a very complex IT infrastructure, and often one that has evolved over years. Often the IT infrastructure and even the software running on it were not designed for the current functionality and workload. Instead, it has evolved over time, and usually has significant pieces that were never actually designed to do what they are doing but have been patched together to meet some critical deadlines along the way. It all works, but it was hard to get it there and keep it working. The result is that many IT infrastructures are fairly fragile. They work well and get the job done 99% of the time or more, but a seemingly simple failure in equipment, software or manual procedure can bring some or all of it crashing down.
The result is that most IT managers are very conservative – they want things to stay the way they are as much as possible. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Most of them do not want to be the first to embrace a new product or technology. Many wait until the second release of a product or major upgrade before they will even consider moving to it. Let someone else catch the spears thrown at early adopters.
Compared to those changes, moving to the Cloud is a really big change. Moving to the Cloud is not an event; it is a process that is likely to go on for months. You may plan to reduce the size of your IT staff when the process is over, and that fact or the fear of that becomes known amazing quickly to the staff. During that time you have to keep the critical IT people engaged, interested, and on board.
Moving to the Cloud is a change that impacts not only IT but also the processes and procedures that the entire company uses. This often leads to future shock in more than just the IT department. A lot of non-IT people, and some IT people, go through at least three stages of FUD when they hear that the company is moving to the Cloud:
- What is the Cloud and why do you want to go there?
- How are you going to meet my requirements when we get there?
- How are we going to survive the journey?
Some of these non-IT stakeholders for the journey are:
- Chief security officer, or whoever has overall responsibility for the security of the company’s data.
- Legal department. They will often need to review contracts with Cloud Service Providers, ensure that current company contractual commitments can continue to be met, and often also have responsibility for data life cycle management and discovery orders policies and procedures.
- Chief compliance officer and internal or external auditors. These are the people responsible for interfacing with and certifying to compliance and regulatory organizations.
- Chief Financial Officer. Moving to the Cloud often moves significant IT costs from capital expenses to operational expenses. This is almost always a good thing, but there are depreciation and residual value issues over any owned capital equipment that will be phased out, plus the desire to make sure that all expenses related to the journey are properly accounted.
- Chief marketing officer and head of sales. They will be concerned that their organizations will not be negatively impacted, and will also want to participate in the planning to make sure that IT can continue to meet their needs for increased agility.
- Partners, either suppliers or external sales channels. They may need to modify some of their processes because of your changes, and they will have FUD about the impact to the security of their own data. If you already have advisory groups set up for suppliers and sales channels, they are usually the right groups to communicate with. If you do not have such groups, this is a good reason to establish them.
- Customers. In most cases, the customers are not even aware of what is going on and do not care as long as everything continues to work for them in terms of their interface to your company. However, I suggest that you take a careful look periodically at your planning for the Cloud. If it is possible that customers might notice something negative, then it is time to get your customer advisory board involved.
My recommendation: communicate to these stakeholders early and often. Address their three stages of FUD one at a time. Often the easiest way to get started is a short presentation to all of the internal stakeholders where the CIO or, even better, the CEO defines why they are taking the company to the Cloud, including the benefits and risks. Include in that presentation a high-level lists of the identified risks and a brief description of how they will be handled.
Then meet individually with smaller sets of stakeholders to give them a chance to explain their concerns, and either describe in more detail how their concerns will be addressed or make a commitment to define a solution they approve of before you move too far. I usually put a five-minute rant rule on these meetings: let them vent about what a silly idea it is, but with a time limit. Expect that you will hear about issues that you had no idea existed. Just make sure you factor in a solution to those issues in your planning.
Periodically repeat – a short status update to the internal stakeholders, followed by smaller meetings. If everything appears to be on track, sometimes the status update could be an email.
Keep in mind that silence does not necessarily mean consent. The fact that some stakeholder has not called you to talk about a problem does not mean there is not a problem. The ones that are not calling me are the ones that I’m most worried about. Talk to each of the stakeholders periodically. Any one of them can derail your plans.
The last word:
The Cloud really is a culture change for most companies, primarily but not exclusively to the IT department. It is critical that it be treated like you would any other really significant change of direction or organization in your company. It is important to have active buy-in from the CEO and executive staff. It is important to communicate with the entire company about why you are doing it, and the value it will bring to the company and to them.
Keep your sense of humor.