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How to build a cloud fluency program … for everyone

Som Chatterjee
Som Chatterjee

The cloud has created a paradigm shift in how IT applications are developed and delivered to enable businesses. This shift affects every person within an organization, from IT, to business, sales, marketing, finance, and HR. Organizations that recognize this learning need and start building cloud fluency as an intentional effort are the ones who are most successful in the long run. These organizations intentionally create roles for training evangelism to scale their learning efforts.

Three characteristics of successful cloud enablement program

Cloud skilling needs to be a top-down mandate. The most successful re-skilling initiatives begin from the top down. Training should get a seat at the strategy table. The C-suite will need to get behind this and earmark budget, define goals, and assign ownership.

Cloud skilling needs to be backed by bottom-up data. AWS, as an example, employs established mechanisms to identify training needs and is a bottom-up approach to identify skill gaps. This data, when collocated with the top-down mandate, will create a powerful forcing function to pursue a re-skilling program.

Cloud skilling is for everyone. The key word here is everyone. Each persona in an organization is affected by how and what the cloud enables their business to achieve. The degree of learning will of course vary.

Cloud fluency spectrum: shows how different personas within an organization, even non-IT roles, can benefit from cloud learning

Getting started with cloud enablement and fluency

Like any successful business initiative, building a durable and long term cloud fluency program starts with a clearly written, jargon-free objective statement: a 1–2 page document outlining the business reason(s) why a cloud fluency initiative is important for your organization, its benefit(s) to everyone involved, and how you will measure success.


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Answer the big question: “What’s in it for me?”

While building the case for cloud fluency, an organization will have to spend the most time answering the “what’s in it for me” question, especially for the non-tech roles.

Customers of many enterprise organizations are asking to deliver capabilities that line up with the premise of cloud (elasticity, resiliency, security, geo-spread, innovation, and security). Hence a non-technical person, like a salesperson for a retail bank product, will have to be aware of these cloud premises for products she is selling which are built on cloud. Understanding what drives such a conversation for your enterprise will be key in answering the “what’s in it for me” question. Once that is understood, narrating the benefits to everyone will be data-driven, and measuring success will be quantitative.

Identify the personas. Personas like the retail bank sales person are the customers of the cloud fluency initiative. They need to be well represented and correctly defined. In my experience, the personas have spanned from the IT workforce (every imaginable IT role), to product management, business line leaders, sales heads, and more. When the entire organization understands the value proposition of, say, AWS, it helps create a consistent message of the technology strategy and business direction.

Learning stack by area of focus

Identify the coursework. At this stage, you will ideally be working with your cloud provider’s training and certification partner to perform the needs analysis of your constituents. Based on the analysis of your personas’ learning needs (role, geo, tenure), you’ll need to prepare learning paths that meet their needs.

Share the objectives. Starting from the top of the organization, share the objective, including the personas involved — originating from the office of the CEO, or the joint offices of a technology and a business leader.

Prepare

With the objectives shared and the learning analysis completed, you move into the preparation phase.

Establish and report metrics. Some organizations choose to track progress by the number of individuals who earn cloud certifications; others track self-reported instances of using new skills learned. Still others track how many new workloads in the organization moved to cloud in a set period of time, or how many new customers could be reached. Any way you choose to track and share measures of success, ensure you are addressing the business relevance to the organization. Organizations that are most successful in executing cloud fluency programs attach these metrics to their Management By Objectives (MBOs) and business outcomes.

Identify training champions. Depending on the size, geographic spread, persona spread, and cultural skew of your organization, identify a number of training evangelists. These champions help to evangelize the objective of the cloud fluency program and are its owners to help catalyze the organization. Select champions from every stratum of your organization who are well respected, outgoing, and carry influence within the business (this does not mean they have to be senior or tenured). Give your evangelists a sneak peek into the metrics, how training will be delivered, and what will be included, and give them the opportunity to input for future iterations/improvements. To get an idea of how, for example, AWS uses training champions, please visit this page.

Core responsibilities of the evangelists include, but are not limited to:

  • Building advocacy mechanisms within your organization through collaboration channels like community of practices, Confluence pages, and Slack channels.
  • Establishing physical mechanisms for knowledge sharing (e.g., lunch and learns, study groups), Q&A, and office hours. This will be an opportunity to share learnings internally and if allowed, externally.
  • Generating a steady stream of feedback from training participants on how to make training better and improve delivery of the “what’s in it for me”.
  • Connecting with outside experts through industry and cloud provider advocacy or developer channels to further learning, and sharing this within the organization.
  • If allowed, creating external meetups or user groups in order to share repeatable solutions that are relevant for the industry you are in and possibly, outside of it.

Build excitement

With the groundwork completed, now is the time to start communicating the modes of learning and building excitement prior to the cloud fluency program’s launch. The communication needs to reach everyone within the organization and should contain an overview of the programs and the objectives, training modalities, training evangelists’ bios, and the program timeline.

Town halls, broadcast videos, desk drops, flyers, and desktop screensavers are just a few of the many vehicles that can be used to disseminate information. Plan for this broad communication to occur one quarter in advance of the program’s launch.

Execute

Launch the cloud fluency program with a lot of fanfare. Every little achievement should be celebrated and recognized. Establish a leaderboard to share progress. Establish office hours to answer questions. Every leader (business unit leaders, vice presidents, senior directors) should include a learning progress update for their area of remit within the organization. That helps create a culture of healthy competition and positive reinforcement.

Use the community of sharing. By this time, training evangelists will have established the mechanisms and cadence for sharing information as a community within the organization. Encourage everyone to partake in sharing their experiences, questions, and input to the learning.

Implement feedback mechanisms. Establish a channel for employees to provide feedback, and ensure your champions are encouraging its use. Collect and iterate on unfiltered feedback from your constituents. That will help make the coursework better over time and introduce new and fit-for-purpose curriculum.

Som Chatterjee has been working in IT professional services and product organizations for more than 15 years. Though he currently works at AWS, this article represents his personal opinions and not official AWS guidance.

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