Change is good, right? At least that is what people tend to say when making a change of their own choosing. For example: “I’m really looking forward to joining the new company – new responsibilities, new boss…” Or, “Yep, I’ll miss the old neighborhood. But the new house and school district will be great for the kids.”

However, when change is imposed by outside forces, things can get a little more complicated. If the boss walks up and hands out an unexpected pay raise, the response is likely to be positive. If instead the boss walks up and announces a pay reduction, perhaps due to the economic downturn, the response is likely to be negative. But what happens when the impact of the change is unclear or unknown? In that case, it sure seems like there is a negative bias toward change. How excited is the typical employee when their company proclaims it will be announcing a major reorganization later in the day? “Hmmm, this doesn’t sound good.”

For many IT professionals, “cloud computing” translates simply to change. More specifically, it means change with unknown impact and therefore it is viewed negatively. In order for an IT organization to succeed with cloud computing – whether internal private clouds, external private clouds, or other aspects of cloud computing – IT staff members ultimately need to buy into and support this new approach to delivering IT.

If you are an IT leader tasked with adopting some form of cloud computing, you need to address any and all significant obstacles, including resistance to change. Unfortunately, the cultural and interpersonal issues involved with change can be more challenging obstacles than the technology itself. The good news is when your team of IT professionals willingly agrees to engage with cloud computing, your chances of success will increase dramatically.

What exactly should an IT leader do to help individuals and teams embrace cloud computing? According to Goodwin Watson and Edward M Glaser, thought leaders in the discipline of management and human relations, there are seven keys to implementing change. Each of these can be applied to cloud computing as follows:

Need.

In order to make the need for change clear, IT leaders should have a solid understanding of current business challenges and how cloud computing can help address them. Does the business need more IT capacity while at the same time facing budget constraints? Does the business encounter peaks and valleys of IT demand? Does the business depend on leading IT capabilities for competitive advantage in the market? These challenges and many others can be addressed, at least in part, by cloud computing. It is important to understand the types of available solutions and services as well as the benefits they each provide.

Objectives.

With the business challenges understood and the need for cloud computing clarified, the objectives of the given cloud computing initiative should be articulated to all those involved. When facing change, people tend to do best with clear objectives. When possible, it helps to quantify the objectives with specific metrics. For example, one objective could be to improve capital efficiency for applications that move to the cloud by 50%. IT leaders need to drive the high level objectives at this point, not the specific steps for meeting the objectives.

Participation.

IT leaders must have sufficient knowledge, expertise and even respect to convey the needs and objectives which have been introduced. This is important in order to ensure the team has at least an intellectual understanding of the need for change and the associated objectives. However, the gears must also begin to shift at some point to involve team members and encourage participation. For instance, team members should be called upon to help clarify the objectives. Which applications are the best candidates for a trial run on an internal cloud platform or an external cloud service? Through participation and contribution, individuals gain a sense of ownership.

Broad Guidelines.

Ultimately the team members will need to be engaged with both minds and hearts to achieve the desired objectives. For instance, they will likely be involved with proposing applications to migrate to a cloud infrastructure. It is important that applications are chosen such that some initial successes can be achieved, rather than picking the most challenging application so staff members can “prove cloud computing does not work.” By establishing broad guidelines to achieve the objectives, IT leadership can maintain a bit of control and also let the team utilize its own creativity and energy. For example, one broad guideline may be to use only existing hardware and require strong justification for any exceptions, which will be kept to a minimum.

Details by Group.

IT leaders need to step back further at some point and leave the details to those with the right knowledge. It is helpful to involve those that will be most affected by the change. Most IT organizations are organized around technology silos including applications, network, servers, desktops and others. With cloud computing, the silos can be somewhat disrupted by the need for higher levels of collaboration with cross-functional teams. Try to include representatives from each technology area in the group working to deliver the first cloud hosted applications. Some tuning will be possible after that, based on a better understanding of where each member adds value. Be careful of course to prevent turf wars during this stage and help ensure meaningful participation from each technology area.

Benefits of Change.

There will of course be some individuals and possibly entire teams that are reluctant to engage in the change. It helps to convey the benefits these people will gain through participation. Recall that the benefits to the organization have already been discussed as part of the need for change and the high level objectives. The benefits discussed here should be those that directly related to the individuals involved in the cloud computing project. Think about what is in it for them. Learning about the latest technologies is often a meaningful benefit for technical staff. Cloud computing has some exceptional opportunities for learning and typically takes the use of virtualization to much higher levels.

Rewards.

There may be specific rewards for successfully meeting project objectives, but don’t forget about intrinsic rewards. If cloud computing is expected to be strategic for the company, this is an opportunity for some individuals to become experts before some of their peers. IT leaders should not go overboard and inadvertently create an environment of bitter competition between staff members. At the same time, it seems fair to assign projects at least in part based on individual motivation and readiness to embrace change. When considering specific rewards, be sure to reward only those who actually helped with the change.

When your company or IT organization is ready to move ahead with cloud computing, be sure to understand and prepare for the obstacles. One significant obstacle is change itself. To overcome issues with change, address each of the seven keys to implementing change: Need, Objectives, Participation, Broad Guidelines, Details by Group, Benefits of Change, and Rewards.

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