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It's a fundamental question whether there is a need for change management (CM) during cloud implementations considering an argument that cloud implementations are simple and easy. This article argues why we need CM during cloud implementations and discusses unique challenges and best practices.

Background

Cloud Computing is the latest in the series of technological innovations that started four decades ago with mainframes/batch transaction processing during the pre-1970s. It later passed through online processing in the 1970s, rise of PCs in the 1980s, Dot.Com revolution in the 1990s and finally a combination of Web 2.0 and outsourcing in 2000.

Per this Morgan Stanley Survey, there is a steady shift in workload moving out of on premises to cloud environments and more than 20 percent of workloads already moved off premises during the last six years, reaching a key inflection point for accelerated adoption. It is expected that by 2014, only 62 percent of workloads will be run on premises.

Cloud computing is a major and important IT innovation considering the consequent need for change it creates in an organization’s business model, impacting IT roles, service delivery and processes. Cloud computing changes the way an IT team works and the kinds of jobs they do. The extent of such changes mainly depends on cloud servicing (e.g. SaaS, PaaS, IaaS) and Deployment models (e.g. Private, Public, Hybrid, Community).

In literature, cloud computing mostly discuss the cloud concepts and the types/pros and cons of cloud service and deployment models. The literature seems to concentrate around new technology by making an assumption that there will be successful and fast adoption of a new IT model and that the three Ps (People, Process and Policy) naturally will fall into track. We hear claims that moving applications and workloads to cloud platforms is simple, quick and straightforward when compared to on premises implementations.

Naturally, a question will arise: is change management (CM) needed during cloud implementations? If so, is the rigor of change activities the same as that required during on premises implementations?

When I use the term change management, I am not referring to a process to manage technical configuration/customization changes. Instead, I am referring to a process to prepare and support people through changes triggered due to cloud computing and to ensure the achievement of desired business objectives put forth in the business case for the cloud implementation. In this article, I am sharing my thoughts on CM need and the related challenges and best practices applicable for cloud computing.

Need for Change Management

As noted above, cloud implementation impacts the way an IT organization is being managed. There will be minor, major and significant impacts depending on an organization’s IT maturity, type and amount of workloads that are moved to a cloud platform.

Typically, by moving applications and workloads to a cloud, IT team’s operation model will change resulting in changed roles, responsibilities and new expectations for the IT organization. Similarly, moving to cloud computing requires service management (SM) process consolidation and integration supported through an effective IT governance structure; the depth of integration and the type of IT governance structure mainly depends on cloud deployment models.

This clearly indicates that there will be changes to the target state when compared with the current environment. Every change needs to be listed along with the consequent impacts of each change and a plan to manage these impacts through change enablers.

I suggest that if organizations moving to cloud platform identify a dedicated change role (not simply limited to stakeholder management, training, communication and organization alignment, but extended to include requirements analysis, identifying suitable cloud models, mapping requirements to cloud environments, value proposition and assessments), there is every guarantee for seamless transition to cloud platform by reaping the full value of cloud computing.

Cloud Computing: Change Management Challenges and Remedies

As noted earlier, the change focus areas, process and intensity of activities during a cloud implementation mainly depend on cloud servicing and deployment models apart from an organization’s IT maturity. The Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) adopted for cloud implementation also determines the extent of tailoring required for change activities.

For any on-premise implementations, there are proven and established change standards. Similarly, for cloud computing, we can derive a change matrix guiding the specific change activities to suit both cloud service and deployment models. The matrix can address the three Ws and one H (i.e. what are the change management activities, when these activities to be planned and by whom and how these activities to be executed). Five potential CM challenges and related change activities are identified below. Apart from these, there are a few more challenges related to loss of internal control, such as reliability and high availability.

  1. Workloads for cloud computing: Start CM far in advance before a cloud project is initiated. During the cloud computing capability phase, help to identify actual business drivers (e.g. cost factors, functionality factors, speed of deployment, etc.) for cloud and then classify workloads for the cloud based on both business criticality and importance.
  2. Apprehension on data ownership and security due to distributed computing: Design and communicate legally compliant and flexible control processes/measures and the role alignment on data ownership.
  3. Potential change in IT organization and new process and job security fear: Design an acceptable IT governance structure in consultation with key stakeholders and communicate new set of expectations from IT and its long-term employment strategy. Support people via training and communications to adapt to new roles, processes and skills.
  4. Integrating IT SM processes: Create business policies and higher maturity processes for SM integration, identify and measure related critical to quality metrics (CTQ).
  5. How to measure cloud computing value: Design a tool with cloud computing outcomes and enablers to assist with ROI and value assessments.

Cloud Computing and Change Management Best Practices

Based on the previous implementation experiences, I call out a few CM best practices that are more than what is expected (like Stakeholder Management, Training, Communication, Adoption, Project Team Effectiveness) by a change lead during any transition.

  1. Identify organization drivers for cloud computing: Being a change lead, review an organization’s business case including specific drivers for moving to cloud platform. This helps in value definition, assessment and focus change activities on key performance indicators (KPIs).
  2. Align change activities with SDLC: The SDLC of cloud computing is tailored considering shorter release times and fewer tasks. The project efforts are divided among smaller project streams. To ensure successful transition, change activities need to be properly aligned and integrated with SDLC stages.
  3. Ensure IT organization clearly understands new governance structure and they consistently follow new processes without creating any shadow practices: The IT team needs to enhance their competencies to work like a delivery unit to improve business and revenue generation.
  4. Setup and manage correct expectations with an organization’s cloud user community to avoid any later dissatisfaction due to unmet expectations. CM must be much more than communications and training.

In conclusion, cloud computing involves changes impacting people, process and policies. These changes do appear across industry verticals without significant differences. It definitely requires CM to address unique implementation challenges.

Title image courtesy of rangizzz (Shutterstock).

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