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How to manage cultural impact when moving to the cloud

Thinking about moving your business to the cloud? Everyone is talking about it, everyone is doing it, and why not?

The flexibility, productivity and cost benefits on offer can be game changing, making your business leaner, more competitive and more agile. There is a lot to be said about these advantages, and information around them can be found repeated again and again across the web.

These are an ideal end result however, and assume a perfect transition and implementation – something we all know will never really be the case. Even though a perfect move to the cloud is most likely all but a dream, except in the rarest of cases, it's still possible to get pretty close with the right preparation, mind-set and support.

The technical transition is usually the easiest part – yes it can bring up its fair share of hurdles sometimes, but with the right expertise on hand, these can be overcome or worked around. A good process will ensure a smooth cross-over.

All of this is very technology focused however and doesn't factor in a vital part of the success (or failure) of cloud migration – people. Cloud doesn't just introduce new technology to an organisation, it also brings with it a whole new way of working, new skills, new responsibilities and new fears. The people in an organisation can be the most unpredictable part and depending on how well they are thought about in the overall process will either make your journey to the cloud the best you could have hoped for, or doomed before you even start browsing that Office 365 product brochure.

Here are the most common concerns you are likely to hear when moving to the cloud along with tried and tested ways of dealing with them:

The cloud will solve all our problems, right?

Any change to a business first starts with the key stakeholders at the top, and making sure that they are all on the same page from the beginning is vital. Everyone needs to be aware of the main goals of the transition, why it's happening and what the transition (as well as the end result) will realistically look like. A cultural migration framework should be put in place that covers important topics such as standards for governance and security, resources needed before, during and after migration, what data will need to be transferred and expectations around speed of working and productivity following the change. It's also important to have an understanding across the board as to what the transition won't change. Yes, there will be a lot of positives coming out of the move, but it is not a cure-all pill.

When a migration project has clear goals and a strong, united leadership pushing it forward across the business, a successful transition will be much easier to carry out. 

OK, so John in Accounts told me we're probably moving to the cloud. What?

What's the worst way to hear about a change to everything that you're used to? Hearsay and the gentle art of Chinese whispers where the detail is unconfirmed or lost in translation. The more unknowns there are about any change, the more fear you will come up against; and with fear comes resistance, a lack of productivity and an irrational aversion to anything  that is subsequently introduced. This can happen at all levels of an organisation and throughout all departments, not just those directly involved with the ins-and-outs of your IT systems.

The best way to deal with this issue is to make sure you maintain constant, clear and transparent updates of the change across your business. If people are involved from the very beginning and kept updated about what is happening, why and when the changes can be expected, the more likely they will back the transition. Make sure you address the real issues within YOUR business and respond to all concerns that may crop up. Do this through a range of methods also – some people respond better to emails, others to videos or face-to-face Q&A sessions. 

I'm fine with the way I work now thanks, move along.

Habits are a funny thing, we blindly follow them because we are used to a certain way of doing things – this doesn't necessarily mean they are the best way. As habits are ingrained, they are usually very hard to change and can provide a steadfast resistance to change.

The trick to altering behaviour to a better way of working is by communicating and re-enforcing the benefits of the change, specific to departments and individual roles. Make people realise they will save time and effort with the move to the cloud – they will be able to work much more productively without losing ownership of their information and processes. Again, it's about being honest and open with people from the beginning and getting them on board early. Make sure you know how your employees are working now and what tools they use so you can be sure you are providing a solution that caters for them. When people use bits of your cloud service for some things and non-approved tools for others, it can lead to a whole host of problems. 

Great. I can't do that, I don't know how...

Once the fear of the unknown has been tackled and people are aware of what's coming, they start to turn towards the detail and their ability to work in this new way. Uncertainty around their ability to adapt can lead to lack of confidence in themselves and your cloud strategy. In general, cloud working is an easy-to-understand, intuitive process, but not everyone will be able to pick up on this straight away.

New technology and processes need new knowledge and skills – this is where training, specialists and outsourcing come in. Some people within your business will already have the skills to work in the cloud, others will need to learn them. Set up a comprehensive training package for your users focusing on the need-to-know basics for everyone and specialist skills for any new roles that need to be created. For areas that are either not a main focus for your business or you simply don't have the resources for, outsource to dedicated experts to make sure you have all the skills at your disposal.

So I won't be needed anymore...?

With the introduction of new skills, roles or outsourced operations, there may be a feeling of jobs being at risk – this could lead to certain sections of the business rebelling against a cloud strategy. There is a common false perception that the move to the cloud will remove the need for internal IT for example. IT staff will be used to building and supporting hardware etc. and may feel uneasy at the thought of losing access to physical servers, affecting their confidence and ability. The truth is however, that these roles do not disappear, but merely adapt to incorporate the rollout and maintenance of the new cloud architecture.   

Reassure and empower people within your business so they understand how their roles will adapt with the introduction of your cloud strategy. Training and new skill development will help this and make sure everyone knows they have a part to play as your business progresses.

The future is cloud? Not at the moment it isn't!

Technical issues. Two words that can be very harmful to your newly rolled out cloud operation. If business-critical systems are taken offline leaving your employees unable to perform essential tasks, all your carefully crafted preparation work can be very quickly undone. People will lose trust in your cloud strategy, affecting morale and overall business performance. The last thing you want is people reverting back to old habits from lost confidence.

By adopting a carefully planned and measured approach to your cloud migration, you will have a much higher chance of a smooth transition and ensure that your day-to-day operations aren't disrupted. Start with your low risk systems and processes moving up to medium and finally high risk data servers. By splitting the migration into smaller, more manageable sections by risk level, employees will have a much better migration experience, seeing the immediate benefits of change rather than everything at the end of the entire process.

That's it! Now our data's going to be everywhere and anywhere.

Security is probably the main worry when moving your business critical data to the cloud. Although there are technical measures you can put in place to mitigate this, you will also need to address the human element. The way people use, transfer and store data will change completely and the main risk to the security of your data will become the actions of your employees.

With this in mind, employees will need to play a bigger role in safeguarding your company information. Educate your staff about data protection and provide easy-to-use tools and data security policies that make sense for your business and the way you work. There is no point in trying to force policies into your business that go against your processes and will end up being forgotten. Think about how your data will be used and where it will be stored – create policies for storage on laptops, mobiles and other devices, and instances where employees use external cloud services such as Google Drive or Dropbox. 

What do you mean we don't have control over our service features anymore?

Moving to cloud services means that your business operations will be much more in the hands of cloud service providers. This loss of control can cause a huge worry for CIOs, again creating fear and a reluctance to migrate. IT departments and business owners will need to adapt to the growing influence of CSPs and will find that their workloads and strategies are no longer solely based on their precise needs, but rather driven by the latest developments in cloud technology and services.

Make sure that you choose your CSP wisely and understand exactly what they can offer you now and in the future. Be aware of any changes in your service well in advance so you can decide how they will suit your business. Will you just need to provide some new training? Will you need to completely adapt your business strategy? Will you need to find a new provider that can better support your business needs? Flexibility doesn't just relate to the way the cloud allows you to work, it also must dictate the way you think.

The broad strategy and technical aspects of cloud migration are usually all-consuming, but don't forget your people. They will ultimately decide the success or failure of your move to the cloud as they will either use it or they won't. Involve them from the start and take them on the journey with you – you'll be much happier they came along for the ride.