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Setting and Achieving Realistic Cloud Maturity Goals

As an adult, I generally get offended if someone suggests my maturity level isn’t that of a grown-up in my (late) 40’s.  Yet I also crave the loose living that immaturity of young-adulthood affords.  I clearly cannot have it both ways, no matter how I continue to try.

Truth is, you can’t have it both ways with your organization’s cloud maturity level either.  You may strongly desire, and even set lofty goals of becoming a modern high-adopter of cloud technologies to drive your business forward.  How have you progressed against them?  Have you adapted your program as new tech emerges?

Unfortunately, this is where many on the path to cloud migration fall down.  Just like me with my colourful vintage sneakers and fresh street clothes, I’ll never really fit in with the younger crowd.  I need to accept my level of maturity and run with it.  In order to reach the end-game where technology is pervasive and you’ve crossed the chasm, so do you.

What Is My Cloud Maturity Level?

Typical cloud maturity models align to a low-achiever through high-achiever ranking system based on how much of the cloud you’re using and how well you’ve wrangled its opportunities.  Low achievers are (surprise) not using enough cloud for it to make a real difference, whereas high-achievers use cloud in many different ways, from SAAS to multi-cloud, and have software tools in place to support their adoption. In a future post we will investigate the roadblocks to achieving higher cloud maturity.  This blog, however, will purposefully label your progress in real-world terms and give you some ideas to reach a new level of adoption.

At Arctiq we’ve seen it all, and have written a dance card to help get your adoption to a level where you’re realizing business benefits daily.  Many organizations have high ambitions but still get stuck.  Others are working diligently to fit their new cloud operating model into ancient budgeting practices.  As much as these are “barriers” to adoption, they can also be the results of initial attempts to modernize your business.  In fact, many organizations are large enough in their traditional siloed approach that they will have teams in each of the categories below.  Try and see what you can recognize from the list below:

The Dabblers:
You are all for trying new things, but aren’t able to provide a realistic budget for prototype experimentation.  You have a fair amount of shadow IT, which is ok with you since it doesn’t seem too time consuming, and it’s not impacting your overall business. In fact, there’s likely some solid skepticism that cloud would ever truly impact your business.

This is a dangerous place to be – open cloud dabbling with no true commitment.  In our experience, this leads to a quagmire of tools from both open and closed source vendors, employees who aren’t sure of priorities so they lack the required skills, many open security holes, and a belief that technology is merely along for the ride, rather than the paradigm shift your business actually needs.

The Lift-and-Shifters:
You saw the light early, but took some shortcuts.  Instead of refactoring legacy apps for optimal cloud performance and utilization (think microservices and serverless), your applications were packaged up and overnighted to AWS, Google, or Azure.  There was more transformation planned of course, but business priorities took over and modernization took a back seat.  Some of your apps are running in the cloud, but your monthly bills are skyrocketing, and now you’re facing the same refactoring project you looked at when the decision was first made to lift-and-shift to the cloud.  Many Lift-and-Shifters were early adopters who stopped at Cloud 1.0, but that’s history, and in a world of agile and CI/CD, we have constant change.  There is no versioning of “the cloud”, you’re never really “done”, which is why your internal operating model also needs to shift left.

The Long-Term Roadmappers:
Constantly planning, tied to three year TCO’s, using old budget models that don’t fit, but you’ll get there some day, right?  Are you regularly maintaining your (increasing) legacy application investments, counting on multi-year data centre amortizations for depreciation expenses, and predicting high costs to retrain your workforce for cloud while also maintaining your critical apps in your aging infrastructure?  You’re not alone.

You don’t want to toss these legacy investments in technology – big expensive hardware filled data centres to support your big expensive applications written over many years (HINT: it’s now or never!).  Focus on your actual business model. What is your raison d’etre?  Why do anything other than the specific purpose you are in business for? Cloud should not be a board-mandated check-box, but rather your means to total business domination!  If you don’t get onboard now, you’ll get passed quickly by competitors who are already using technology to develop their go-to-market strategies, preparing to eat your lunch.

The Game Changers:
Somewhere along the line it clicked.  You CAN use cloud and modern software technologies to get far ahead in business.  Solutions of today allow you to develop and release apps quickly, and pivot on a dime when your robust data visualizations show you what you need to know.  Game Changers are truly data driven, collecting and using vast information resources to support their product development, employee growth, go-to-market planning, and even product retirement before costs run long.  Game changers experiment regularly, aren’t afraid to fail-fast, and focus on pervasive adoption of a cloud-first approach.  They employ software driven pipelines, deployment automation, integrated security at every level, and constant analytics to ensure results are in-line with expectations.  Their mature cloud program operates a cloud-first mandate, with multi-cloud options, integrates SaaS services, and Agile-driven DevOps-based build and deployment pipelines.  All this to support their main business go-to-market priorities (which isn’t actually cloud!).

Becoming A Game Changer

You can’t turn on a switch to RAMP pervasive cloud adoption overnight.  It’s a journey requiring dedication beginning with experimentation on a set of end goals and a vision to adapt business processes as required.  Small, thoughtful, consistent steps to increase automation, DevOps, tooling, processes, and experimentation will foster a culture of change.  Security and Data are closely aligned to recognize the full potential, and avoid the pitfalls, of a mature cloud program.  Change is necessary, and must be welcomed regularly if you want to run with the Game Changers.  

The first step to achieve real change requires leadership to recognize that modern cloud technology and DevOps processes can indeed change your business for the better, improve your software quality, streamline operations, and open new revenue opportunities. But don’t get stuck in the analysis paralysis stage – move fast, and accept a leap of faith.  You’re not the first company on this journey, but it is the first time for you, so results will vary.  The variance is a factor of commitment and budget aligned to your long-term cloud vision. Set some cash aside for a prototype – a working model of your eventual vision.  Fail fast, rinse and repeat, use data to monitor your progress. 

Ensuring your team has the skills necessary to succeed in a cloud transformation is one of the top executive priorities for maturity.  Experimentation will help nurture the cloud skills of your existing workforce as you define your end goals.  The cloud paradigm has brought skills challenges, but also new methods of learning to streamline adoption.  Investment in skills starts with a sandbox to lab experiments, and hands-on training for your team.  Sys admins grow into DevOps engineers, developers become Agile, and everyone speaks the same languages and uses the same tools.  These steps help prepare your business, and your employees, for the change needed.  

Data is king.  Harness it for your cloud adoption program, and expand it for your entire operations.  We will spend many more keyboard strokes on the value of a modern data platform and the resulting telemetry in future posts.  For now, just know that data must be considered from the beginning, and if you don’t consider yourself a data-driven business, why not?  Consider what value you can unlock with instant access to data – both internal and external sources.  Tracking your cloud maturity is the most basic of abilities, but it’s a foundational capability that sets the stage for Game Changers.  

Security is often brought up late in the process, when it should be part of the program from the start.  Traditional security bottlenecks can be overcome with a thoughtful approach to integrated security tooling and automated pipelines.  Online threats are literally everywhere, and unless you plan an integrated security approach leveraging your existing team skills plus new cloud-focused security methods, the bad actors will succeed.  People are often the entry point, so your employee security education must be pervasive across the organization, not restricted to those within IT.

You won’t become a Game Changer overnight, but you can take steps today on your journey.  If you’re a Dabbler, Lift-and-Shifter, or Long-Term Roadmapper you have some work cut out to define a vision and execute.  The unpleasant alternative is to stay put, keep dabbling in shadow IT, waiting to be forced into a new model…but why not get ahead now?  

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Mike Morrison

Mike is President and co-founder of Arctiq.