How To Inspire, Encourage Change In IT

I was at Cloud Connect in Santa Clara a few weeks ago watching fellow Racker Lisa Larson give a well-received presentation about how IT departments would be wise to consider adopting a service provider mentality. Afterward, I joined Lisa at Rackspace’s booth to engage in some Q&A with conference attendees. There were plenty of great questions from other IT professionals, but interestingly, the question that garnered the most interest wasn’t about technology, but was about managing change:

How can you get IT employees to do something they don’t want to do (i.e., use cloud computing technologies)?

That sparked a good dialogue. And on the flight back to San Antonio, I put pen to paper and expanded on the topic a bit, offering a few thoughts IT leaders might find useful to help their teams navigate their entry into the cloud.

Leading Change Is A Chance To Inspire

When JFK spoke to the country about landing a man on the moon 50 years ago, he wasn’t looking at a plan (there wasn’t one yet). He was issuing a bold call to action to inspire our country’s best and brightest. While moving systems to the cloud isn’t nearly as daunting, a bold call to action may be needed for IT shops that have operated under a traditional model for many years. Break the inertia by offering an inspiring, compelling vision that makes sense for your organization (see my earlier blog entry if you need some ideas), and partner with your own best and brightest to make the vision a reality.

You Do Need A Plan

You don’t need a plan before issuing a call to action, but be ready to produce one shortly thereafter. Crafting one is a great first task for your best and brightest, will help maintain the momentum your call to action generated and will show the naysayers (yes, every organization has them) that you’re serious. Credibility is key: a plan that suggests you’re going to re-platform all of your organization’s mainframe applications on the cloud in six months is likely to land with a thud. A plan to test the waters by implementing a new, horizontally scalable website in the cloud or a new development environment will be seen as reasonable first steps.

Change At The Right Pace

Move at a pace that makes sense for your business, the technologies you’re supporting and your IT employees. The right pace depends on your organization’s specific circumstances, but in general:

  • Avoid impacting your business operations. In fact, this is your chance to finally have a dramatic and positive impact on the business, as cloud computing will allow you to deliver faster, and to focus your team on business problems versus provisioning and maintaining complex infrastructure.
  • Be realistic about the technology challenge. Some systems can be migrated to the cloud very easily, while others will require redesigns or may not be candidates for migration at all (e.g., see mainframe reference above). Understand the details, and plan accordingly.
  • Don’t underestimate the people change management challenge. Change is just plain hard for many people. I won’t go into the details here, but there’s plenty of information available about how to effectively lead teams through change. Take advantage of it, and take this aspect of the transition very seriously.

Involve Your Customers

There are few things as compelling as a customer testimonial. After you’ve leveraged the cloud to deliver better and faster business outcomes for customers, have them share their stories. It’s easy for IT employees to lose sight of the people they serve, and hearing how the cloud helped reshaped their perception of IT can be powerful.

Focus On The Outcomes For IT, Too

Finally, help your team understand the value cloud computing delivers not just for their customers, but for them, too. Cloud computing gives IT professionals the opportunity to throw off the yoke associated with managing the maddeningly complex IT infrastructures associated with distributed computing, and to focus their skills and energy on more rewarding tasks.

At Rackspace, our internal IT department decided to practice what we preach, and in 2012 launched a program called Rack on Rack. Our call to action? Become Rackspace customers, leverage Rackspace’s product portfolio to its fullest extent and offer keen insights to our colleagues in Product, Sales and Support about our experience, and how they might improve what they’re offering other enterprise IT customers. Talk about IT being a strategic partner! I’ll share more about our Rack on Rack journey, and how IT is benefiting from its move to cloud computing, in future blogs.

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