From Cloud Center of Excellence to Digital Agility Plan
In a cloud first world, everything is done in self organising teams. New roles like Scrum Masters, Product Managers or Product Owners take over from traditional IT roles. Developers deploy and operate their own code in the new DevOps way. Infrastructure is more and more blurred with developer skills. So why would we need some type of framework, why would we need a Cloud Center of Excellence in the first place?
What is a Cloud Center of Excellence and why would you need one?
Agility is a change in mindset. Agile is not about doing things without structure. Agile does not take less discipline. It needs more engineering and management discipline. You can not expect a big bang mindset change. You need to start with some initial practices that pay off and reinforce. You need to have plan and a structure behind this mindset change. That plan is offering “freedom within the frame”. Since we are talking about Digital Agility, the change is linked to a change in the supporting technology platform. This change is most likely towards a cloud first environment. The structure to manage this is what is often referred to a cloud center of excellence.
Imagine a world where you have 50 independent teams, all doing their own thing. Would this work? Maybe. But would it be efficient? Most likely not. One example in a Microsoft Azure world. If everybody is on their own, one team could be consuming Azure services using a credit card and a monthly payment. Another one might have a CSP contract and a third one could even have an EA. It’s an extreme example just to make the point. For a lot of aspects of the journey, a framework is absolutely needed. That is what a Cloud Center of Excellence approach is offering.
Some companies already have a Cloud Center of Excellence in place or under construction. How do they adapt their Cloud Center of Excellence to the new world where digital agility is the new normal? This Digital Agility might have a slightly different meaning from what it meant a couple of weeks before March 2020.
“Freedom within the frame”, but what framework to use?
The big cloud provides all have a Cloud Adoption Framework and/or a Cloud Deployment Framework. When you study them carefully, they are comparable. They all have one thing in common: the goal is to accelerate consumption of their cloud services. Which makes total sense of course. How extended some of them might be, they are missing some crucial, non-technology related capabilities. To have one comprehensive framework, not linked to one cloud vendor specifically, at 45 Degrees we drafted our own approach for a cloud center of excellence.
The foundation is based on a “culture of experimentation”, which supports a structured and ongoing stream of inspiration and ideation. Those result in proof of concepts. These are what makes “the cloud world” very different from the on-premise world. The default way of working in a cloud world is by executing proof of concepts.
On top of this foundation layer we see 2 different sets of main capabilities. One set is non-technology based. It covers Strategy, People and Governance. The other set is technology based and covers the Platform, Security and Operations.
In normal times before March 2020 the starting point was often the strategy, flowing all the way to the right-hand side towards operations. Which made sense of course.
What has changed since the Corona Lockdown situation?
Since March 2020 we are seeing a couple of changes:
- The focus on Operations, Security and the Platform comes first. Staying in business, make sure people can work remotely. The non-technology capabilities (strategy, people and governance) are put at a lower priority level. It’s not that they are gone. But exceptional circumstances take exceptional decisions. Some IT Managers are telling us some decisions have been taken and executed which would normally not pass the compliance test … Just to give one example.
- Nurturing a culture of experimentation and doing ideation and inspiration is not there anymore. This time is about survival and staying in business. It’s not completely gone. One recent example: in 2 weeks time Ridley rolled out an online shop to buy their bikes with a full logistics chain behind it. However, this type of experimenting is not the same as what we did before the crisis. This is experimenting based on survival. It’s great to see, a lot of disruptive companies are born in times of crisis. In reality, we see the first things that got cancelled in the period of March 2020 were these “softer” initiatives.
- Proof of concepts are something very specific to a cloud first world. They are the default way to dealing with technology decisions. They are still on going, but at a lower scale and only where they have a direct impact on “staying in business”.
It’s interesting to see that the same structure of a Cloud Center of Excellence can be used to stay in control during this crisis. The structure remains while the content of each capability and the focus on a specific capability are changing. Having a Cloud Center of Excellence in place reduces the level of disruption during a crisis.
What happens when the Corona lockdown is over?
Companies will not go back quickly to experimenting, ideation and inspiration. But all other capabilities will need to have some level of coverage. For the technology ones it’s a matter of re-grouping and finding out what has changed and should need to be revisited after the crisis. For the non-technology ones, some will need urgent attention while other will be put at a lower priority level. An example: license management is during the crisis not a major concern. The question was to stay in business. Often this was done at a high cost because there was no time for optimising the licensing agreements. Once the dust settles, this is a key activity linked to cost efficiency.
The structure of a Cloud Center of Excellence can be re-used. The content and priority setting changes, which makes it a Digital Agility Plan rather than a full Cloud Center of Excellence. It helps IT managers and CIOs to present a plan for the future in a short timeframe. Having a framework like this in place is supporting and driving the agility of the IT organisation.
What is next?
It doesn’t really matter what framework is being used. The March 2020 crisis forces IT managers to scrutinize their strategic plan. We expect that going back to “business as usual” is not what will be happening. But the framework itself is very valuable. It offers a structured approach to get control back. Making sure no stone is left unturned. And understanding what stones you are looking at in the first place. At the same time, it’s offering a fast way to judge what need to get a higher priority. Time will tell if and when we will ever go back to a full Cloud Center of Excellence approach.
But what happens when you have nothing like this in place? Some companies had decided before March 2020 they were not going to adopt cloud technology. And then, one day to the other, people had to work remotely. Which often resulted in the usage of some sort of cloud technology … And all of this without any framework …
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