Point of View

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Cloud Native: Align People, Process, and Culture

January 27, 2021

As an executive in a large company, you may be struggling with your role in aiding your organization to achieve its desired outcomes by embracing the cloud. Begin your cloud-native journey by using the current situation as a catalyst for change. You can do this by focusing your team, adopting incremental process improvements, and investing in a digitally fluent culture that promotes innovation.

Over the past two decades, technology promises rarely seemed to materialized into clear business outcomes

While you had more access to information and costs have shifted from CAPEX to OPEX, your people, processes, and culture have continued to act, work, and remain the same. What is preventing your organization from becoming cloud-native like Amazon or Netflix, who leverage agility in developing solutions that attract business?

We’d argue that with all its intentions, your company’s digital transformation efforts were more about optimization, automation, and easing transactions than about innovation, experimentation, and transformation. Regardless of what new technology brought, the bureaucracy of how people work, make decisions, and serve customers has remained virtually the same. As a result, curiosity was rarely rewarded, and experimentation was drowned out by fear of risk and uncertainty.

We’ve finally arrived at Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HHGTTG), a cult classic of modern comedic fiction. In short, HHGTTG is about destruction in the name of progress, overcoming bureaucracy, and expecting technology to have all the answers. In Arthur Dent’s journey, we learn how people, processes, and culture are equal to more than just the number “42.” Only with the destruction of everything Mr. Dent knew was he finally able to embrace and effect the change needed to rise to genuinely noble challenges.

What does HHGTTG have to do with becoming cloud native?

Much like Earth’s destruction by Vogons in HHGTTG, COVID-19 ushered in a dramatic change in our lives. It was with the aid of technology that we could adapt over the past year. Given the pandemic’s ongoing nature, we continue to witness fundamental cultural shifts as social, economic, and technological rifts affect us. This blindside has made a willingness to embrace change a necessity for survival. Those companies who recognize this and commit to adapting will be the ones that survive.

The shift to cloud native will dominate the next decade and drive companies to adopt HFS’ Digital OneOffice perspective. Technology will be the agent of change for how we work, and it will be baked into every organization’s culture by 2030. Becoming agile, removing monolithic applications, and developing containerized microservices will be things we do, but they won’t be why we do them. The why will always come back to who you are, the services you offer, and the customers that consume them.

This is born out in a recent study by HFS. In our survey of 150 senior executives, 88% said cloud migrations have become a necessity because of how their businesses are evolving post-COVID.

Exhibit 1: 88% C-level executives agree that cloud migrations have become an absolute necessity post the pandemic shock.

Sample: 150 C-level executives across the global 2000 enterprises

Source: HFS Research

Why do people matter in your cloud-native journey?

How do you get your people to seek innovation and be curious?

Ownership of the cloud strategy must reside with the CEO, CFO, CIO, and the rest of the leadership. Commitment from leadership to support and encourage experimentation across the organization is more than just embracing technology. It is rewarding for people and teams to seek out how your outcomes improve for the customers who depend on your products.

The pandemic forced executives to pivot in 2020. Command and control and hierarchical structures based on staff being in the office no longer applied. Teams became virtual, managers optimized teams, and the technology teams stepped up. In an interview with Brian Humphries, the CEO of Cognizant, he cited, “Out of chaos comes opportunity.” As COVID-19 impacted the company and its customers, it focused only on “what needed to change, but also what didn’t.” By empowering people to focus on tasks that mattered to them and their customers, they successfully grew during the pandemic.

As a leader, encourage employees to deliver change that is both local and simple. Incremental changes are both more effective and sustainable than a swing-for-the-fences approach. The team will naturally seek out co-creation opportunities once they have started making progress. This is why the C-suite is vital in playing an active support role for these operations, and costs will predicate lasting change and success.

Why do processes have to change to become cloud native?

What will it take to re-imagine how you do work?

Successful processes are based on either an understanding or a joy in doing the things you do, these can be mutually exclusive, and sadly most operations are done because we understand how to do something, not because we feel we benefit or enjoy doing it that way. People, teams, and leadership must collaborate and use technology as a lever, not a crutch for change.

Jamie Dobson, CEO of Container Solutions, describes COVID-19’s impact on process improvements as “[it] has become the forcing function to take what was once a plan or idea into an actual implementation.” We agree with Jamie that the process should reduce risk over time. Iterate on technology investments that can help your business reach the desired target state. These clearly defined results achieved by teams create joy in accomplishing goals, not just pushing the pawns across a board.

As a leader, encourage your teams to continually conduct formal and information gap analysis to find the deficiencies where improvements can yield immediate benefit.

How can you lead a cultural shift in your organization?

Leading your organization to become competitive in the decades to come is all about leaving the old monolithic technology towers behind and embarking on a bold journey of paying down technical debt, crafting new applications, and migrating workloads to the cloud.

Becoming cloud native isn’t solely about technology change; instead, it is an evolutionary moment for an organization to take dramatic, determined steps toward what HFS refers to as the Digital OneOffice. And as such, it will require everyone to be on board, a willingness to do things differently, and a curiosity to embrace cultural change. This speaks to investment in technology, people, and process. What will sustain and drive success will be the shift in cultural values as business and technology teams work together to achieve results.

Exhibit 2 illustrates the maturation needed across eight critical stages to move individually or together to achieve a more progressive organization.

Exhibit 2: Cloud Native Maturity Matrix

Source: HFS Research, Container Solutions

As a leader, measure your organization’s maturity and readiness for the next steps against the stages in Exhibit 1. Share these goalposts with your team, and drive the discussion on what has led to success and challenges. The game is changing, and awareness of shared goals led by the executive team will clarify how your business needs to function as a cloud-native company.

The Bottom Line: Becoming cloud native is about achieving business outcomes resulting from adapting your people, processes, and culture toward a more dynamic service delivery model.

This will likely be the most challenging decade of the computing era as organizations will need to improve technology fluency, clarify requirements, embed security, encourage curiosity, and re-tool processes and workloads.

As you mature, your organization can take on more core solutions and processes or data that start with small applications in non-core markets. Take a crawl, walk, and run to manage stakeholder risk and exposure until you get it right.

A cloud-native technology stack will not give you value unless your people’s mindset and shift in culture go along with it.

  1. Don’t go for a “go big or go home” strategy. You need to gradually get to cloud-native by systematically reducing risk with clear outcomes.
  2. Encourage teams to continuously conduct formal and information gap analysis to find the deficiencies where improvements can yield immediate benefit.
  3. Realize that being cloud native is an evolutionary journey. It doesn’t stop, and you’ll never get too comfortable.

By adjusting your plans to this Hitchhiker’s Guide, your organization can bring the discussions back to entirely digitized processes and end-to-automation. These will be essential to aligned to HFS’ concept of the journey toward the OneOffice: an architecture aligned to linking the customer and employee experiences to deliver business outcomes.

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