Cloud Transformation
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Cloud transformation FAQs: Culture, teams, and cloud fluency at scale

Eric Pulsifer
Eric Pulsifer

To get business value from the cloud, you have to change technologies. But more than that, you have to change culture, organization, people, and processes. It’s a challenge. 

To help make sense of it all, we tapped some experts to share some battle-tested strategies for leading a cloud transformation, including the ins and outs of how to build a Cloud Center of Excellence and all the organizational transformation aspects of a cloud transformation.


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Jonathan Allen, Director of Enterprise Strategy at AWS, and Thomas Blood, AWS Digital Innovation Leader for EMEA, basically (and literally) wrote the book on cloud philosophy at scale. They’re the authors of Reaching Cloud Velocity: A Leader’s Guide to Success in the AWS Cloud

Here are a few of their winning insights around cloud transformation. (Some content has been edited for clarity and brevity.) For a deeper dive, watch the free, on-demand webinar How to Build a Cloud Center of Excellence.


Table of Contents


How to establish cloud culture

How do you establish cloud culture in an organization with existing culture?

“In enterprise organizations, how you act is largely about how you’ve been programmed. And that is largely the culture you’ve been absorbed into and have implicitly and explicitly adopted over time,” Jonathan said. “Typically, I find culture is set from the top down.”

As culture evolves, you have a choice to create and cultivate the culture you want.

“When you do a cloud transformation, it’s not the technology that creates the problems. It’s the people and culture,” Thomas said. “One of the things to be mindful of is that culture evolves whether we want it to or not. We have a choice to create the culture we want.”

Culture is about the ways of working and how we interact with each other. See Amazon’s 14 leadership principles to see how Amazon thinks about culture.

Tenets for establishing cloud culture

To cultivate a cloud first culture with people and technology in mind, you should define the principles with which you operate and create tenets that are agreed upon upfront. Examples of tenets could include:

  • All of your assumed constraints are debatable.
  • Keep the customer, company, and employees safe on the journey.
  • Don’t fight gravity.

When working toward the unknown (even if we assume there’s something worth it on the other side), human nature is to put blockers or constraints in the way. That’s why a key tenet is to remember that all assumed constraints are debatable. Beyond that, it’s about figuring out how you’re going to bring everyone along for the transformative journey.

Creating a responsive culture

From the bronze age to today, we’ve seen countless general-purpose technologies. In post-internet times, we’ve seen things like public ISPs, APIs, public cloud, IoT, and machine learning.

“We’ve always seen these inflection points, and they’re happening faster now,” Jonathan said. “Your culture has got to be responsive — and it’s responsible for how your organization is going to adapt, survive, and thrive with the absorption of new general-purpose technologies. I’m a firm believer that everyone has a part to play in this journey.”

How to architect cloud teams

It’s one thing to talk about culture at a high level, but to do things it takes people. How do you bring culture down to your people and organize them, and set them up in a way to ensure success?

  • Find your first champion
    “It starts with someone becoming the first champion,” Thomas said. “It’s about creating that vision and articulating where you’re going and why.” This first champion could be almost anyone — an architect or developer — but you need an executive leader to take sponsorship. This “executive sponsor” needs to step up to create the vision and rally support. 
  • Recruit your most passionate, skilled people
    After establishing leadership, create a team that is passionate and skilled to deliver quick results. Building your first team is crucial as it sets the tone for the future. You need people who are both passionate and skilled to deliver results as quickly as possible. “You have to win hearts and minds, and to do that, you need to get that first win quickly,” Thomas said. “That’s why you need an amazing team.”
  • Get explicit permission to build your team
    You need to tag in people who can dig in and get things done, and that requires getting leadership on board with letting you borrow the company’s best and brightest get that first cloud win. If leadership isn’t bought into the journey, it can be difficult to get the people you need. These proficient people are typically (and rightfully) on the critical parts of the business. You need explicit permission to bring that team together.

Read: Cloud transformation challenges in 9 cartoons


Principles for your cloud journey

When it comes to the cloud, the number one thing for businesses is agility. “Businesses are looking for time to value,” Jonathan said. “When you peel everything back, agility is the most frequently asked for thing from leadership teams.”

  • Establish a time goal and business objective
    Though it may seem antithetical to agile principles, Jonathan recommends sticking a time goal on your first workload. As for business objectives, Thomas suggests that you tie your cloud migration to a business outcome that everyone specifically understands from the beginning. This allows you to . . . 
  • Continuously measure progress and outcomes
    Measure time to value and track to see if you’ve achieved your business outcomes. After you’ve proven your point, you can go back to leadership and ask to get the next set of resources unlocked to move forward.
  • Appoint a leader to identify and remove blockers
    A leader who can remove blockers is the magic ingredient for your first cloud team. Ideally, that’s a first-line leader, like a CIO, CTO, or at least a direct report to that individual.

    “In my experience — and this is one of the reasons why measuring time to value is important first — you will get things coming sideways at you,” Jonathan said. “You need someone creating a parking lot for all the questions that the leadership team and CCoE (Cloud Center of Excellence) are going to get — and then telling them that we’re going to answer questions in priority order but maintain our trajectory to momentum.”

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How to create a Cloud Leadership Team

You need buy-in. You need someone who cares more about doing the thing than anyone cares about stopping them. How do you go about creating a team that gives engineers aircover for success?

Your Cloud Leadership Team can remove obstacles, simplify things, create guardrails and guidelines, and serve as a point of escalation. But before they can do that, you need your executive sponsor.

Find your executive sponsor

The role of the executive sponsor is to:

  • Identify pain points (opportunities)
  • Device a plan
  • Define the solution

Pain points are opportunities. Find the problem you can solve in a better, different way.

The executive sponsor can identify problems or pain points and show that, with a small investment, the business can realize value around this opportunity. These are the business catalysts that can drive cloud transformation — if presented properly.

Since you can manage and minimize your risk with agile and cloud, you can go to the leadership team with this use case as a business hypothesis. And your first efforts will be the experiments that either prove or disprove that business hypothesis. (Either way, you win. If you disprove your hypothesis, you don’t have to invest any more money and you’ve learned something. And if it works, you pivot and scale it up.)

“It’s about finding that first use case — together with a product owner or business leader who’s on board,” Thomas said. “Getting that leader on board is critical. Don’t do it as an IT project, because you won’t be very successful.”

Cloud Center of Excellence FAQs

There is an innate human desire to resist change; that’s why building a Cloud Center of Excellence (CCoE) is critical to cloud transformation. This first team will lead the charge as you work toward your first wins.

Recruiting the right team for your CCoE is crucial. They need to be able to fully commit to it. This isn’t a side project. This is a focused team coming together that has a good sense of intelligence and emotional intelligence.

How do you create a successful Cloud Center of Excellence? 

First, ask yourself: what do I need for the Cloud Center of Excellence team to be successful on its own? The moment you need another team, you have latency. You have “I need this before I can move forward.” Then you have a problem.

Jonathan says a Cloud Center of Excellence should be a team (or teams) of 6–12. Here are some of the roles you might include on your CCoE team.

  • Product Manager — This “Swiss Army Knife” starts out by taking on all functions of the Cloud Business Office (CBO). They work with the business and/or dev teams to create and prioritize a list of what cloud services need to be delivered to support those first-moved applications.
  • Lead Architect — This person is accountable for the overall cloud technical architecture. They partner with the Product Manager to translate customer requirements into deliverables and establish technical direction.
  • Infrastructure Engineers — When dealing with incumbent technology, it’s essential to bring in the people who understand how things work. Much of this information will still be important going forward. These people work on engineering and continuous improvement of infrastructure stacks, templates, images, and other artifacts. (As a bonus, they often think about all the bad things that might happen to keep things realistic if your team is too stacked with overly optimistic folks.) 
  • Security Engineers — Embedding a security engineer in the CCoE team is essential in the first team. These people provide standardized offerings for ongoing security and compliance.
  • Operations Engineers — These people know how to monitor and administer. They provide outcomes to facilitate the successful deployment of applications and are responsible for operational health.
  • Application Engineers — These are people like developers, software development engineers, testers, and SQEs. They’re representatives of the first-mover application teams. 

Do you need to hire new talent for a Cloud Center of Excellence?

“You don’t have to bring in a new team to do this. Sometimes leaders think they need to recruit new people. No,”  Jonathan said. “The team you have is the team you need, but they need to learn a different and better way. But they bring a huge amount of relevance.”

When does a CCoE become necessary based upon org size?

As enterprises approach a certain size — it could be more than 150, 500, or 1,000 — they often silo themselves into specialist teams. These deep siloes of expertise mean you need a Cloud Center of Excellence to bring a subset of these individuals together.

How do you avoid building horizontally skilled teams?

When you start to employ new ways of thinking and working, you can work faster. When you do that and get the first wins in, the business begins to take notice. You build momentum in the organization as change is noticed. Skilling and enterprise continuous learning is important here. 

“I’ve been guilty in my past career of staunchly defending the status quo. I was largely sometimes wary of the other side. And that’s where the reskilling becomes so crucial,” Jonathan said. “Having mechanisms for everyone, including those horizontal leaders, to be able to reskill themselves and understand what’s possible, that’s how you stop that.”

What is the difference between a Cloud Center of Excellence vs a Cloud Center of Enablement?

CCoE can stand for Cloud Center of Excellence or Cloud Center of Enablement. Is there a difference between them? That’s a distinction without a difference.

The “center of excellence” terminology can make some people uncomfortable. Is this the only team that can do cloud? Are they the only team that can be excellent in cloud? No! But this team is best used as a fulcrum of change.

There is a role of enablement in the CCoE, whether you call it the Cloud Center of Excellence and a Cloud Center of Enablement:

  • Helping to upskill the organization
  • Educating the organization on what’s possible
  • Listening to the requirements out there (spoken and unspoken)
  • Providing tooling and solutions that remove obstacles for everyone else

It’s about enabling the rest of the organization to go quickly through automation, processes, and templates.

What comes after the Cloud Center of Excellence?

The CCoE team should be working to make itself redundant so that all teams can consume cloud. After those first wins, the focus shifts from first workloads to ensuring that teams can self-service. 

“The CCoE should be ephemeral. It’s not a permanent construct. What we actually see, beyond CCoE, teams almost go through a process like cellular mitosis. If this was 12 people, now we split, and each team brings in more people and reskills others and now we’re going to build something new,” Jonathan said.

After the CCoE, you’ll probably still end up with a cloud ops team. This is a smaller team using tooling to ensure everyone else is building right. Your cloud ops team does things like ensuring standards around:

  • Amazon Machine Images (AMI) creation
  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC)
  • Conformity of account scaling structure and multi-account design
  • Continued well-architected reviews

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Creating the Cloud Business Office

When we talk about transforming a business, IT is a core component of that, but it really is about expanding transformation throughout the whole company.

For technical-minded people, the technical part of cloud migration can feel relatively easy. But getting finance and governance bought in for a successful, sustainable cloud adoption is one of the most challenging parts. 

What can organizations looking to build out cloud competency do? They need a Cloud Business Office. The Cloud Business Office is there to scale.

  • Onboarding
  • Reskilling
  • Project management
  • Organizational change management
  • Financial management and cost optimization

The role of your HR leader is not to be underestimated.

“They’re interested in instilling a culture of innovation in the business, ensuring career paths are aligned, and that people are happy with the work they’re doing — there’s an element of retention there,” Thomas said. “ So I would highly encourage you to bring your HR person into this cloud business office.”

Becoming cloud fluent at scale

It’s important to implement reskilling for everyone — not just engineers and developers. How do you make fluency decentralized and distributed across the organization as it grows and matures in the cloud?

  • Allow time for acceptance
    Understand you’ll likely get some resistance at first. There’s a natural progression of emotions around acceptance, starting with denial, into frustration, then depression, then experimentation, and finally to acceptance. 
  • Train your people
    Bring teams together to learn and develop the cloud fluency that will be the foundation of your organization going forward.
  • Provide safe hands-on time
    Let people get their hands dirty. Don’t lock it down. Make sure it’s controllable, but give them time to put knowledge into practice.
  • Make it real
    Forget proof of concept. Ship something that will solve a problem — that will matter for your business.
  • Scale by splitting the teams up
    And 90 days after that, maybe split the team up again. New teams combine experts and novices. Splitting can be hard as people get comfortable, but this is one of the few ways to scale for an enterprise.
  • Train to suit your learning style
    Offer flexible learning that works for the way your people learn and is scalable for your business. (No surprise, we recommend A Cloud Guru for this.)
  • Get to 10% certified
    This is the real magic. When 10% have a passionate belief, the majority will adopt. It’s science.

Read: Not just for IT: These 5 non-technical roles need to speak cloud


How to implement Enterprise DevOps

From the first idea all the way into production, empower your team by automating everything you can.

“If you ask your engineers, they already have a list in their head of things they wish were automated,” Thomas said. “Empower those teams and tell them, ‘Go automate that thing.’” 

While they may feel they don’t have time to do that, they’re going to earn time. Every time you automate something manual or repetitive, you recover time that you can invest in other things. It’s a constantly improving process.

“Businesses don’t have an infinite pot of transformation money. So you want to focus on things where you need to make multiple changes every day,” Jonathan said. “Work backward from your business goal. If you’re only changing something once or twice a month, that shouldn’t be your first DevOps target.”

Look at it backward and ask these questions:

  • What’s the goal of the business?
  • What needs to be changed daily?
  • How do I build my team around that?
  • What are the practices that need to be put in place?

And then you look at the technology. Remember: DevOps is a never-ending process, not a one-time solution.

Evolving your target operating model

Here are some key points to keep in mind for sustained success:

  • Evolve your way there as fast and as safely as you can
  • Remove the most painful obstacles one at a time
  • Starting thinking about organizing around business outcome
  • Keep in mind that things are always evolving
  • Remember that the choices you make around migrating systems can have consequences for your target operating model

Want to learn even more about cloud transformation and building your Cloud Center of Excellence? Watch the free, on-demand webinar How to Build a Cloud Center of Excellence.


How to establish a cloud culture within an organization?

To cultivate a cloud first culture with people and technology in mind, you should define the principles with which you operate and create tenets that are agreed upon upfront. Additionally, create a responsive culture and architect the right cloud teams for your business.

How to build efficient cloud teams?

It all starts with identifying your leaders, or champions; as well as, recruiting not only skilled talent but passionate talent as well. Read more!

How to create a successful Cloud Center of Excellence?

Cloud Center of Excellence should be a team (or teams) of 6–12. Roles include, but are not limited to, is product managers, lead architect, infrastructure engineers, security engineers, operation engineers and application engineers.

When should an organization adopt Cloud Center of Excellence?

As enterprises approach a certain size — it could be more than 150, 500, or 1,000 — they often silo themselves into specialist teams. These deep siloes of expertise mean you need a Cloud Center of Excellence to bring a subset of these individuals together.

Cloud Center of Excellence vs Cloud Enablement

The two are the same in nature and the goal is the same: helping to upskill the organization, educating innovative possibilities, understanding cloud requirements and providing the right tools and services to create a successful cloud team.

What comes after the Cloud Center of Excellence?

Innovation! The CCoE is not a permanent construct. Beyond CCoE, teams almost go through a process like cellular mitosis. If this was 12 people, now we split, and each team brings in more people and reskills others and now we’re going to build something new

How to build cloud fluency at scale?

It’s important to implement reskilling for everyone, not just engineers and developers. It is important to allow time for acceptance, train your team and provide efficient hands on time to adapt. Additionally, scaling by splitting teams up for productivity, create paths for certifications and develop the right learning style that is right for your team.

How to implement enterprise DevOps?

From the first idea all the way into production, empower your team by automating everything you can! Every time you automate something manual or repetitive, you recover time that you can invest in other things. It’s a constantly improving process.


Cloud transformation = talent transformation

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