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Why CIOs need to build cloud culture to drive digital transformation

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Peter Richards, CTO, Cloudreach

If you're a technology leader at a global enterprise, chances are you're thinking about digital transformation in 2019, or you are already transforming. It's no secret that there are many components to this process, from which cloud giant you go with to how you keep your data secure throughout the transition.

While these decisions are all important, one thing matters more. According to a 2019 report published in the Harvard Business Review, digital transformation is no longer just a question of technology; it's about people. And if a leader is not thinking about transforming culture too, everything else will get stuck.

After all, people have to implement the technology. If they're not ready, then your digital transformation process will fail, regardless of how well you've aligned your technology. In other words, leaders must learn to create a cloud culture.

The ingredients of a successful cloud culture include openness, positivity, and an awareness of the new horizons the cloud offers. Since cloud transformation has been underway for more than a decade, there is a whole generation of digital leaders who have been through the process—and a younger generation has come up through the ranks.

Encouraging collaboration between these groups will ensure that institutional knowledge is shared. That, in turn, can help streamline the process and lead to greater innovation than if either group were to approach digital transformation independently.

Ultimately, the technology stack of any company is there to serve the business. The ability to keep up with required business change is the combination of technology, organizational, and process change that allows the adoption of agile practices.

Here's how building cloud culture pays off.

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The difference a cloud makes

On the surface, the promise of the cloud is one of greater efficiencies. You no longer need to own your own servers or data center and you can scale your use to meet your needs on any given day. There's a clear dollars-and-cents incentive to make a cloud transition. But the opportunity in the cloud is much bigger.

Ultimately, cloud technology will have a ripple effect that touches every aspect of business operations. It's obvious that a cloud transition will change how an IT department manages its processes—for instance, security will become a shared responsibility. But you should also expect the cloud to have a significant impact on every facet of how technology supports the business.

That means the team driving the cloud transformation must invest in early work to spread the understanding of the cloud opportunity throughout the entire business, and why it should be a priority for every unit. The team also must help the whole organization, from the C-level to the business-line owners to front-line staff, understand what to expect over what time frame, and how they should be adapting. But who's in charge of leading this initiative?

CIOs must take the lead

As questions like these begin to swirl, the need for an experienced CIO to nurture cloud culture becomes more important. I have spoken with dozens of former enterprise CIOs, and time and again they tell me the biggest impact that they can have is through their personal behavior and leadership, not their technical expertise.

This presents an opportunity for CIOs who want to cultivate a cloud culture to talk about the opportunities presented by the infinite resource of public clouds, the complete software control of the application and application environment, and how that will ultimately serve business outcomes.

Once the opportunity has been established, it's on the CIO to manage the process in a collaborative way, to help foster a cloud culture. For example, a CIO can make a point of framing the progress of a cloud transition as one of "learnings," rather than one of "success vs. failure."

In this model, the business is more likely to engage and work toward the shared goal of transformation, rather than view the cloud transition as a test to be passed. Even more mundane tactics, such as hosting meetings where everyone stands up rather than sitting around a table or a computer, can help create a more engaged work environment.

All of these advance the goal of digital transformation and its subsequent impact on the business.

[ Learn how to transform your IT with AIOps in TechBeacon's guide. Plus: Download the analyst paper on how AI is changing the role of IT. ]

Digital transformation starts with the customer in mind

A decade ago, the cloud transition was seen through the lens of the business making a request to the IT department, usually involving a cost reduction. IT teams labored to deliver on goals they had not created.

Today, the world requires that technology teams ask themselves the question: "What is the purpose of this organization once it is a digital organization?" The best way to answer that is to start with the customer. Engage with customers to gather their feedback on the digital capabilities that matter most to them, and go from there.

To be sure, there will be many frustrating moments along the way, particularly for team members who have been charged with building and delivering the technology you'll need to drive the day-to-day business. But the opportunity, when done right, is colossal.

Netflix showed what could be done when it moved beyond physical DVDs to focus on cloud-hosted entertainment, with a growing library and delivery base. The result was a market capitalization that's now north of $150 billion.

Not every company can shoot for that scale or make such a dynamic transition. But you can work to facilitate a move to the cloud, and the various business opportunities it unlocks. Actively working on culture is the first and biggest step.

[ Learn how robotic process automation (RPA) can pay off—if you first tackle underlying problems. See TechBeacon's guide. Plus: Get the white paper on enterprise requirements. ]