Creating a Cloud Culture

Creating a Cloud Culture

By Gary Barlet, CIO, USPS OIG

Gary Barlet, CIO, USPS OIG

Move to the cloud! That is the battle cry heard all across CIO shops as they look to leverage the benefits that cloud computing promises. Most efforts are focused on the technical challenges that such a move requires: Identify which systems to move and when, choose providers, design architectures, and then migrate. Too often, as IT professionals, we overlook the most important aspect of cloud migrations—the cultural changes necessary to make such a migration truly successful. In fact, there are really three cultural changes which must take place if an organization is to be successful in their pursuit of a cloud migration.

Culture of the Administrator

Three years ago when I first began discussing the idea of moving to the cloud, the very first group of people to raise concerns were system and network administrators from within my own CIO organization. These were dedicated, hardworking professionals who had spent years, and in some cases over a decade, building and maintaining the existing IT environment. They took great pride in what they had accomplished, and rightfully so. Suddenly, there is talk about “abandoning” what they had built and placing systems and capabilities into an “unknown” environment partially or completely beyond their reach. Next came the questions: “What was wrong with the current way of doing business?”; “Why not spend the money improving our in-house capability?” And most importantly “What is going to happen to my job?” These questions, especially the last one, are key indicators of the need for a culture change. 

“A truly successful migration must address the cultural changes necessary of their administrators, their security staff, and most importantly, of their customers”

Migrating to the cloud is often seen by administrators as a personal attack, that somebody can do their job better than they can, and these feelings must be addressed for a successful migration to the cloud. It is important to deal honestly with IT staff when discussing a migration to the cloud if you hope to change the existing culture. While one might highlight the benefits of the cloud from a capabilities standpoint (availability, expandability, survivability, etc.) there is much more required. Beyond the benefits, it is necessary to address the future roles of existing staff. Depending on your migration, this may mean they are merely administering boxes they don’t physically touch anymore or they might not have those responsibilities at all. You might explain they will do more engineering work or interfacing with customers on requirements. Also, the bills required for a cloud environment become “must pay” vice being able to defer upgrades and replacements to later years due to budget needs. Finally you might explain the new training they will receive and the new marketable skills they will be learning. Whatever the case, just remember, this is personal to them and they need to understand what their role will be in this new world if you expect them to accept and support it.

Culture of IT Security

Organizational CISO’s and the professionals working in SOCs see themselves as the warriors of IT, standing guard at the digital walls of the enterprise, defending against the ever growing digital threats, both externally and internally. They are committed to reducing risks to their organization and beating back the “bad guys” with the tools at their disposal. They work hard to gain and maintain visibility across the entire enterprise in order to detect and deal with threats as early as possible. The cloud holds many challenges for IT Security professionals.  Sure, things like FedRamp and Government dedicated clouds seek to alleviate some of these concerns, but they are not completely eliminated.  Living in the cloud requires a new mindset for these security professionals.

Cloud hosting introduces a large set of unknowns for IT Security professionals. They now have to rely on others outside their organization to help guard against intruders.  There is no longer a single digital wall encircling the enterprise, the enemy is everywhere. Defense is now multi-dimensional vice linear and they need a comprehensive knowledge of their new environment. These are all very real concerns and will require a new mindset. You will have to help them understand that their role may be one more of oversight vice “hands on”. They have to become the interface to vendors and develop new tools and processes for dealing with all of this. Most importantly, you will need to help them evolve to living in a world where they no longer have the sole responsibility of protecting the organization. This change of culture won’t come easily, but it is critical to the success of any cloud migration.  

Culture of the Customer

Every organization has a unique customer culture which must be addressed during a cloud migration. Sometimes the customer is not aware of where their services are hosted or who provides them. Whatever the case may be, your customers are an integral part of any cloud migration and their needs, wants and expectations must not be overlooked if you hope to have a successful migration. The culture of the customer, in all of its variations, literally defines the very organization you are supporting.

Often, we “sell” the customers on the benefits offered by the cloud: less downtime, expanded capabilities, quicker response to needs, etc. However, we need to ensure the customer understands the change of relationship which may occur between themselves and their IT staff. The IT staff may no longer be able to directly resolve their issues, but they are the ones who will hold the vendor accountable. This may result in a change in the service relationship between staff and customer. Also, if your customer base is used to a large degree of flexibility or customization, this may no longer be the case in a cloud world. But, the IT department will champion their needs and seek out new cloud solutions. Finally, the IT department may not control when or how changes are rolled, but they will still serve as the voice of the customer. If a cloud migration is going to be successful, customers need to understand the “new normal” they will face day in and day out.

A Brave New World

Moving to and living in the cloud offers great possibilities but also offers many challenges. While there are many technical issues which must be addressed, there is usually training or vendor support available and most IT professionals are comfortable with how to approach them. Cultural changes are often overlooked in the migration process and many IT professionals are simply not as experienced with how to affect these important changes. However, a truly successful migration must address the cultural changes necessary of their administrators, their security staff, and most importantly, of their customers. 

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