Cloud Whispering: Beyond Force-Feeding IT Staff - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IT Leadership // IT Strategy
08:05 AM
Connect Directly

Cloud Whispering: Beyond Force-Feeding IT Staff

Are there still doubters in your IT organization when it comes to cloud computing? It's not unusual. Here are more tips to help overcome that doubt.

8 Reasons IT Pros Hate The Cloud
8 Reasons IT Pros Hate The Cloud
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

My column IT Staff Fearful Of Cloud? Try Cloud Whispering a few weeks ago gave advice from my experience in dispelling IT staff's fear of cloud. Dispelling, rather than demanding, is really important, because you simply cannot force innovation. Prisoners, as it turns out, aren't people you want to trust with substantially transforming your business. Yet, successful cloud whispering is about more than simply not force-feeding.

First, a little bit of housekeeping. I mentioned in my last column that there were two types of dysfunctional ways that employees deal with their own fear: cloudwashing and sabotage. I promised some future advice about sabotage, and here it is. Sabotage is dishonest; sabotage is harmful to your business goals. Deal with sabotage in exactly the same way that you would deal with someone who is behaving in a dishonest way that is harming any of your business goals.

In my last column, I discussed three cloud whispering techniques: peer validation, finding the "easy" button, and real-world comparisons of security postures. Here are three more that you should include in your cloud whispering strategy to deal with honest, non-prisoners who simply have some valid, functional fears.

1. Propose A Useful And Supportable Implementation

Most IT practitioners who are any good stay pretty busy. Nobody has time for projects that are speculative or that don't solve a specific problem. In other words: Nobody's interested in your fanboy toys.

[Looking for a bigger paycheck? See 5 Salary Enhancing Moves For Tech Workers.]

Good staff members are interested in solving useful business problems. Give them a useful problem to solve, not a "cloud project."

For example, our efforts with platform-as-a-service and software-as-a-service were far ahead of our efforts with infrastructure, mostly because we didn't see any use-case where infrastructure would make sense for us: Other than some customized portal apps, which happily lived on PaaS, our enterprise apps were largely ancient apps that simply couldn't take advantage of IaaS. There were legit concerns about supportability from our enterprise vendors.

(Image: Andrey Prokhorov/iStockphoto)

(Image: Andrey Prokhorov/iStockphoto)

Good staff members don't want to get into an unsupportable situation -- and good for them.

I still remember at one job in the ancient past when SANs were still new, when one enterprise vendor accused our SAN, which we had installed without their concurrence, of causing an indexing error in their software. Anything new is always suspect, no matter how ludicrous the attribution is. So, of course my staff was reluctant to pursue a use-case where it was important for our enterprise vendors to support IaaS. They didn't, they wouldn't, and they won't for the foreseeable future.

That's where our need for better disaster recovery came in. We had struggled with budget to do this better for almost 10 years, and cloud DR was the perfect and useful use case. Daily supportability didn't matter as much for this edge case, since we would only be testing a few times a year.

2. Play With Interested Players

As a community organizer, I remember what a fellow organizer once told me: You can only play soccer with the folks who show up to the field. Meaning, you can wish that other people had showed up, but that's not very useful. You have to work with the people who are interested.

In one of our cloud use-cases, I had the "aha" moment that infrastructure staff didn't actually care about disaster recovery. Sure, they cared, but only in the sense of "install servers, boot up, watch login screen appear with no errors, and say, 'My stuff works!'"

That's when I gave app staff the authority to run the project and to manage infrastructure staff's work on the project. After all, I pointed out to the app staff, they were the ones who would be up until 3 a.m. in the disaster recovery site if the app itself didn't work and the infrastructure did. Instant interest!

3. Make The Path Clear

Nobody wants to build their own gallows. That is, you're not getting people to build a system that will put them out of a job.


Unless you make it clear that although job XYZ is going away, job PDQ is not going away, and that's the transition plan. Your best employees don't necessarily want to do the same exact job for the next 10 years.

But they do want a job.

Show them the path forward.

In our case, it meant some conversations about "moving up the stack." If you're not racking-and-stacking, maybe you're a system admin. Maybe the person who used to be a system admin is now working as an app developer, all due to cloud computing's efficiencies.

Your best staff will be excited about a path forward.

And that is probably the most important job of the cloud whisperer. Unless the cloud whisperer shows a path forward to staff, when it is very clear to anyone intelligent that their current job will eventually go away in the new cloud world, it's awfully difficult for employees to get super excited and motivated about working on your cloud project.

Excitement and motivation make for successful projects. Prisoners dreading the gallows do not.

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Ninja
6/29/2015 | 8:25:20 PM
Fanboi toys not just for the IT Dept.


[...] in other words: Nobody's interested in your fanboy toys.


I'm assuming this bit also applies to the C-Suite as well because it is rarely the IT Department that makes decisions in a vacuum.  IT does what's it is told and usually by someone whose name appears in the corporate letterhead. 

User Rank: Ninja
6/16/2015 | 12:42:48 AM
Re: Cloud Whispering: Beyond Force-Feeding IT Staff
Different organizations certainly move at different paces. Just because your neighbor moved this or that to the cloud,  that doesn't mean it's the right time for you to - and just because a certain method worked for getting their staff on board, that doesn't mean it will work for your staff. You've spoken and written before, Jonathan, about how important it is to build a strong culture of teamwork, and to understand how the moving parts of your team's machine work together. That seems very relevant here. At organizations where compliance or security are king (financial, government), valid staff concerns may be based around these topics - but, these may also open some new opportunities for specific problems that the cloud can help solve. Your DR example is spot-on.

There's also the ever-present topic of new skills to be learned. If we're not talking about cloud, maybe we're talking about SDN, or the other "next big thing". Many organizations report problems attracting cloud and other specialists. Showing existing staff that they can take the reigns on these topics instead of a new hire can be part of 'showing them the path'. Paying for training or certs on the company dime, showing them the potential for advancement within the organization, and breeding a culture that allows experimentation and accepts the hit-or-miss nature of learning new skills 'on the fly' all play a role here. Then, you only need to worry about filling the lower-level roles they moved up from (for which there are no shortage of willing candidates). Everyone wins.
User Rank: Ninja
6/15/2015 | 11:18:07 PM
Re: Show them the path forward
Good points. But if it was me, I'd still have a hard time watching large pieces of hardware being retired, and not imagining myself meeting the same fate.
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/15/2015 | 4:41:58 PM
Show them the path forward
"Show them the path forwad," is the best advice. I remember when the Internet started becoming popular, everyone in IT wanted to learn something that would give them a role to play as it moved closer and closer to their business. Very few staffers would have been surprised to learn disruption was coming, and they'd better learn something new to be ready for it. That accounted for the instant popularity of Sun's Java language in 1995, and later, the early Web services. No one had to be driven to learn them. There were eager takers.
User Rank: Ninja
6/15/2015 | 10:33:43 AM
interesting to know, as technology changing rapidly....
Rethinking Technology Road Maps for the Second Half of 2020
Andrew Froehlich, President & Lead Network Architect, West Gate Networks,  7/2/2020
The Best Way to Get Started with Data Analytics
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author,  7/8/2020
IT Trade Shows Go Virtual: Your 2020 List of Events
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  5/29/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Key to Cloud Success: The Right Management
This IT Trend highlights some of the steps IT teams can take to keep their cloud environments running in a safe, efficient manner.
Flash Poll