2018 AWS Public Summit Notes – Culture Shock: How a Legacy, Siloed Organization Can Move to the Cloud

In this session, which was filled to overflowing, Sherry Stevens of NAIC and Jeffrey Olson of The College Board discussed their organizations journey to the AWS cloud.  I found it interesting to hear their thoughts and appreciated that both organizations were in different stages of their cloud journey.  NAIC (National Association of Insurance Commissioners) is in the early stages of their cloud migration (year 2 or of an estimated 4 year process, 3 applications currently in the AWS) whereas The College Board has been in and using the cloud for some time.

NOTE: I certainly mean no disrespect to Mr. Olson, but for this post, I’m going to focus on what Ms. Stevens said during her presentation, as I in my day-to-day life as a consultant, I primarily work with organizations who are at the beginning of the cloud transformation.

The session began with Sterling Beane, an Executive Advisor at AWS, discussing how cloud initiatives are bringing about culture change within organizations and stating that an important part of any cloud strategy should include guiding users through the non-technical part of a cloud migration.  There seems to be a natural tendency in people to fear, or at least be wary of cloud initiatives as they believe a move to the cloud will result in their job termination.  It’s great to be able to explain to your employees/co-workers the benefits of AWS to the organization, but what people really want to know is, “How will moving to the cloud affect me?”  So as a leader, how do you get employee ‘buy-in’?  How do you ensure that your employees feel valued?  And how do you train them with the skills needed to support cloud environments?  It is vital that business leaders/managers to connect with their people at this level.

Once Mr. Beane finished the introduction, Ms. Stevens spoke about the change journey at NAIC.  As stated earlier, NAIC is in year 2 or a 4 year cloud strategy with most applications being prepared for cloud migration in 2019 and 2020.  NAIC launched their cloud journey to be quicker to innovate, to take advantage of the latest AWS services/capabilities so as to bring value to their customers faster than ever before.  But this was a great challenge indeed as NAIC was a very siloed organization meaning it can be difficult to get multiple teams, under multiple managers to act and think as one.  NAIC is not alone in this silo mentality as it’s an attitude common to many companies.  Personally, I worked on a project on which deploying a single virtual server involved a meeting of 17 people representing the virtualization team, the storage team, the Windows server team, the network team, the DNS Hostname administrator, the IP address team, the subnet mask team, etc.  Yes, I honestly made up the IP address and subnet mask teams but this organization did have a team dedicated to creating hostnames and because of this structure, what should have taken 30 minutes to complete took days.  Why?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Anyway….

Ms. Stevens said what may be the most profound sentence of the week, imploring us to recognize the people side of a cloud transformation when she said, “The people side of the cloud is just as important as the technical side.”   She then went on to describe NAIC’s cloud journey using the following bullet points:

  • Cloud Panels
    • NAIC hosted several internal cloud panels in which NAIC employees were encouraged to ask questions regarding the cloud transformation. She stated that a normally quiet crowd, had tons of questions.
    • The goal of the panels are to explain to your users why you are moving to the cloud and that you’re not trying to fire people, but to enable them with training in new skills. We’re moving to the cloud to become more agile, to drive innovation, etc.
    • Stevens then said that through really listening to and addressing the concerns of the people, some of the most skeptical people can become the most passionate cloud evangelists
  • Engaging and Enabling Managers
    • NAIC realized that a cloud dictation strategy from a few key people won’t achieve success
    • NAIC also implemented the principals of the ADKAR Change Management Model
    • really worked on giving people the tools they need for effective communication
    • dealt with “resistance management” through education and reinforcing to the manager teams why the cloud transformation is beneficial for them and the organization
  • Learning Opportunities
    • NAIC provides an AWS sandbox where users can experiment
    • NAIC is also providing training and is encouraging (not requiring) that employees obtain AWS certifications
  • Demystify the Cloud Business
    • Continuous reinforcement on the benefits of changing to the cloud. Why is this important for NAIC and its employees.
  • Strategic Hires
    • NAIC is bringing on people with Dev/Ops experience to instill confidence in the cloud journey as it’s always nice to have someone (or many people) on your teams was has “been there, done that”
  • Modeling and encouraging a different way of working
    • The culture of NAIC is changing and the desire is to have everyone’s buy in as the organization is made up of individuals so NAIC is working on developing metrics to gauge employee satisfaction as well as working on ways to develop excitement and enthusiasm for Dev/Ops, CI/CD, and the cloud in general.

Overall, I found what Ms. Stevens said to be very insightful and beneficial.  We’ve been told these presentations will be available online within a week or two and I highly recommend you find a spare 50 minutes to listen/watch to this session, especially if you are part of an organization that is beginning a cloud transformation journey.

 

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