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enterprise cultural impact

The cultural impact of cloud migration

by ​Bill Mullins
Migrating to the cloud is a profound transformation of your company’s technology.

The cloud promises to change the way your devices and information systems interact with one another. But a cloud migration brings another type of transformation as well — one that’s just as critical to success. I’m talking about a cultural transformation, one which changes how people interact with devices, information and systems.

There are many components to a well-designed and executed transformation initiative — from the initial discovery assessment, to clear communication and effective training, as well as ongoing metrics for documenting success and driving continuous improvement. In order to approach change in a way that enables you to thrive in this new, cloud-enabled culture, you’ll need to have a well-defined plan that addresses these four areas:

  1. Understand how moving to the cloud will impact your organizational culture
  2. Get leadership on board to act as change ambassadors
  3. Articulate the benefits of this change through frequent employee communications and inclusion
  4. Recognize legitimate concerns and address them upfront

​A common stumbling block during organizational change initiatives is when employees suddenly aren’t able to perform essential tasks because business-critical systems are taken offline. This can affect morale and trust.

Creating a new culture

Last year, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced it was working on a new cloud computing policy. According to the DoD’s acting CIO, Terry Halvorsen1, individuals, agencies and commands will have to let go of siloed information and share it via the cloud with every other individual, agency and command in the U.S. military. Halvorsen knew, thanks to his years of military experience, what a massive cultural change that would be. The DoD’s culture supported segmenting and protecting information rather than sharing it freely, due to security concerns.


A shift to cloud-based communication and collaboration introduces a major and immediate change in how information is stored and shared within as well as between agencies. An old, closed corporate culture with barriers to information sharing will, driven by changes in technology, give way to a new operational paradigm of openness and decentralization.


Leadership first

I have managed a number of change management initiatives in businesses of all sizes from across the globe. And the one constant that I’ve seen in every successful business transformation is strong leadership with executive sponsorship. This includes involvement in high-level decisions, providing adequate resources to the initiative, and making adoption a company-wide priority. It is critical to the success of any change management initiative to have someone with the authority to insist upon or enforce a change actually driving the process. This is important to sustain the momentum of any initiative, and to ensure that this process works across all departments. It is also important to have this leadership when trying to sell the change to the entire organization.

Selling the benefits

Often, one of the first signs of a cultural shift is resistance to the new way of doing things. These are natural responses from people who feel as if they are losing ownership of information and processes they previously controlled. For example, if the emerging cloud culture at your business is rooted in fear and negativity, it will hamper the adoption of the technology and can ultimately cause the transformation to fail. GigaOM cloud analyst and former CTO David Linthicum2 hit the nail on the head when he said “Technology issues don’t typically stop cloud implementations. More often than not, it’s the people.”

But people will accept change if you can effectively communicate what’s in it for them, and involve them in this process early on. You need your employees to be on board with the changes taking place, so you need to invite them aboard with transparency, frequent communication and inclusion. In fact, according to Aon Hewitt,3 the top driver of employee engagement during times of change is the employee’s involvement in decision making. This is especially true for subject matter experts and LoB managers, who oftentimes have a unique insight into the organization and how it operates.

Responding to concerns

Of course, staying focused on the benefits also includes addressing employee concerns.

For example, few things are as critical to the military as operational security, so when the DoD’s cloud strategy promised to greatly expand access to data, it raised a lot of eyebrows throughout the department.

Leadership demonstrated that cloud technology would be implemented with utmost attention to security. But the key breakthrough was leadership’s willingness to take the concern seriously enough that it looked beyond the surface issues—wider access to data—to the real concern, which was the potential for irresponsible or improper use of data. This insight let them shift the issue of responsibility from the technology to the users themselves: Training, regulation and enforcement would ensure that, even though everyone had access to data, taking action based on certain data would require going through the proper channels.

Ensuring business isn’t disrupted

A common stumbling block I’ve seen during organizational change initiatives is when employees suddenly aren’t able to perform their essential tasks because business-critical systems are taken offline. This can affect morale and trust, and business performance can take a worrisome (and significant) hit. When it comes to avoiding that kind of damage, especially during a major cloud migration, I have always been impressed by the cloud transition of Revlon,4 the cosmetics company.

The company’s leadership was driving the change initiative, and they not only understood just how radical moving to the cloud would be for its employees, it had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish — utilizing technology to help the business do its job better, rather than seeing IT as a source of revenue. They adopted a carefully planned and measured approach to the rollout, starting teams off with low-risk projects; then medium-risk projects, such as moving departmental apps into the corporate cloud; and finally, high-risk projects, such as moving over ERP systems.

By breaking the work up into chunks, employees saw the immediate benefits of the change rather than just subsisting on promises of future benefits. This measured approach allowed Revlon’s employees to ease into change, having their concerns addressed immediately rather than at the end of the process. As a result, systems were up and operational 99.9999 percent of the time, while IT project throughput increased 425 percent.

Nurture your journey to the cloud 

Expect the migration to affect how your people work together. 

Final thoughts

Whether your own move to the cloud leverages an on premise solution or the infrastructure of a vendor, you can expect the migration to affect how your people work together, in powerful and lasting ways. But with smart, strategic guidance — including a robust change management plan — you can fundamentally shape what your new cloud-enabled culture looks like, and ensure a smooth transformation. 
Bill Mullins
Bill Mullins began his career with Ricoh as a Managed Services Site Manager in 1997. He was responsible for one of the largest Managed Services locations in the US. Mullins has over 30 years of management, 10 years of training and 5 years of change management experience in multiple industries. 
1 Kenyon, Henry. InformationWeek Government. 17 November 2014 
2 Linthicum, David. InfoWorld. 11 April 2014 
3 Aon Hewitt. Managing Employee Engagement During Times of Change. June 2013 
4 Laskowski, Nicole. SearchCIO. January 2014