When speaking with executives who are embracing cloud within their organization they often tell me that while they like the speed and financial flexibility that cloud provides, they still aren’t sure if they’ll get the most value from their cloud investment much less how they’ll make money from it. One topic that almost always comes up is that the system went live so fast they didn’t have time to think through all the changes – and many times the chaos – that it would bring to their organization.
Cloud is young – and still has a lot of unknowns…that you need to know about upfront
While the cloud is “all the rage” these days, it’s easy to forget it’s still relatively young as an IT strategy. This is especially true when it comes to embracing enterprise-wide cloud applications, versus putting IT infrastructure into the cloud. What is emerging is a murky (cloudy?) mess of uncertainty and confusion regarding how to best introduce cloud applications and then get people to adopt them fully.
What we've found is when implementing cloud technology executives, managers and front-line staff all struggle to understand what has changed, who now does what, and how best to handle all the unforeseen questions that emerge after the system is live. Literally and figuratively, they ask, “Who knows?” Unless these questions can be explicitly answered, clearly communicated, and fully integrated into everyone’s daily work habits, your organization will not get full value from your cloud IT investment.
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Recently we helped a client address these kinds of lingering issues and emerging questions by conducting a 'lessons learned' exercise. The approach we took involved conducting several small focus groups -- including one with just the management team -- reviewing system use reports, and then facilitating a large group session. Several interesting things emerged:
- Roughly 90-95% of the questions, challenges and uncertainty had nothing to do with the technology! People had very few questions about system functionality and how to navigate the application. Rather, the vast majority of the issues were around the organizational changes.
- Everyone was confused about internal policies and roles & responsibilities. We heard things like, “We didn't know if we were allowed to do X” or “I didn't know who to ask about Y”. Also, there was a lot of “I do it differently each time” or “I just take a guess” when it comes to how they use the system for any given transaction.
- There was a tremendous need for ongoing communication and an easy-to-access repository for where people could find the latest – and correct – information...an electronic Program Management Office, if you will. While management would respond to questions as they emerged, people would miss the latest decisions if they “ weren't in the meeting”, or if the answer was long since buried somewhere deep in their already overflowing email inbox.
Cloud vendors need to learn from clients
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the process we lead the client through was the “ah ha” moment from the software vendor implementation team that observed the large group session.
They were shocked to learn how many organizational issues were kicked off by introducing and implementing their system. They’d had no idea!
This was the first time the vendor’s team had the opportunity to witness such a discussion and said, “Now we get it” and they turned to us as said they could “see how important what you do is” to the success of the implementation team.
Learning happens in the reflection, not in the action
If you are making a turn to the cloud, keep in mind that it is still an emerging area.
As with many new things -- like the cloud -- the old ways of approaching, learning and dealing with them no longer work.
Time and again, we’ve seen many of the tools and methods from traditional change management just not working anymore since they haven’t evolved with the rest of the world.
The client in this particular example was especially happy to see how we’d evolved our tools and methodologies to encompass the radical change brought about by their cloud investment.
We urged them to schedule and conduct ongoing, multi-level structured 'lessons learned' sessions throughout the organization in order to find out what is working and what else has emerged (good or bad).
After all, learning only happens once you’ve paused to reflect on what happened – not while you’re focused on making it happen.
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