Cultivating a Cloud Culture

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By James Monek, Lehigh University

Cultivating a cloud culture at your institution is no easy task and at times it seems monumental. It doesn’t happen overnight. Declaring we are cloud first and throwing training at your staff simply does not work. Lift and shift cloud strategies don’t work because they don’t take advantage of cloud services and you might run into resistance with server huggers or on-premise bias that will question your motive. So, how do we get there? Is it through successful training programs, organizational structures, roles, committees, common terminology and high-level governance, or will it all just magically happen? Unfortunately, there are no simple answers as all organizations are different and respond to change differently. 

Let’s face it, change is difficult, but changing your culture can be daunting. In many cases, it’s about people, processes, and technology. Yes, it always must start with people. No matter how good the technology is or the processes you design, if your staff are not onboard, given the right training, and provided the right resources, your effort to transform your culture will be doomed from the beginning. 

From a people perspective, involve your staff in defining your cloud strategy. Consider building a community of practice to develop your plan. Don’t just throw training at them. Be thoughtful of the type of training they require and the timing. Providing training too early without any strategic direction can lead teams in getting training but have no actions to put their training to immediate use. Other words, their skills get stale quickly. Perhaps develop a cloud steering committee, after all, we are higher education, and with that comes committees. The committee can foster collaboration and learning between colleagues.

For processes, you’ll want to consider incorporating your current processes such as change, backup, and incident management as the cloud should seem as an extension of your infrastructure. Security tends to be the major impediment for moving to the cloud but many of your existing security processes can be applied in the cloud. Cloud comes with new services that can enhance your security posture. If you haven’t implemented zero trust models, consider it for the cloud. In many cases, cloud offers you an opportunity to rethink or transform your processes. For example, you can create repeatable solutions using Infrastructure as Code (IaC). With IaC, comes new practices such as well-architected solutions and peer reviews.

Cloud provides an enormous amount of technology and services to quickly design and build secure solutions in ways you could never imagine on-premise. A good way to start building your culture is to look for new opportunities to leverage cloud technology for solutions that you have struggled to deploy in the past or ones that you have on your roadmap. Pick one, form your cloud team, execute a training plan, develop a well-architected solution, utilize IaC, and securely deploy the solution with monitoring and your operations processes. Before you know it, you will be on your way to developing a cloud culture. For us, starting our cloud journey in building a data lake made sense because of the technologies and scaling capabilities of the cloud was something we could not accomplish on-premise. Afterwards, this opened up opportunities to expand our cloud usage by running VDI for student applications and building a secure health data warehouse. While we are still early in cultivating our cloud culture, we learned from our failures of the past when we were told to just move, “lift and shift”, a system to the cloud.

For those attending the Cultivating a Cloud Culture workshop at the I2 Cloud Forum, the workshop has been designed to be interactive so we can all learn from our experiences and goals. I challenge you to think about what it will take to successfully build a cloud culture. Think about what that will look like in your organization or institution. Be honest and willing to share not only your successes but your failures as well. Your moderator will call on the audience to ask about experiences in changing culture, failures along the way, and what a successful cloud culture looks like and behaves. This won’t be the last time we discuss this topic, look for continuing discussions at our monthing Cloud Computing Community Group Meetings.