In a 2011 article in The Atlantic, senior editor Rebecca Rosen makes the case that clouds may be the most useful metaphor of all time, in part because they are constantly changing.
That is certainly the case for cloud computing.
And it is this propensity for constant change, the very nature of cloud, to which IT leaders struggle to adapt, leading to high rates of failure for cloud initiatives. “Most technology leaders have a difficult time thinking in terms of an infrastructure that is fluid and dynamic,” says Kenneth Johnson, a cloud strategist for Blue Sentry Cloud, a company that specializes in complex enterprise cloud initiatives. “The traditional static way of thinking makes it really difficult to effectively align overall business strategy with cloud strategy. That’s part of what makes cloud initiatives highly complex and why so many of them fail. Migrating to the cloud on-time and within budget is difficult in and of itself. Innovating once there, is even harder.”
Johnson is not alone in his observations. Cloud Security Alliance’s 2019 Impact of Cloud on ERP survey found that 90% of CIOs have experienced failed or disrupted cloud efforts. Another study from IHS Markit found that 74% of companies have attempted to move applications to the cloud only to have to move them back on premises.
Failure in the cloud most often results when IT leaders fail to appreciate the extent to which completely different ways of thinking are required in the cloud. Migrating legacy processes, tools, and human skillsets to the cloud is a recipe for failure. This is the case particularly in security, reliability, and cost governance.
Legacy thinking does not apply
When thinking about cost governance, for example, in an on-premises infrastructure world, costs increase in increments when we purchase equipment, sign a vendor contract, or hire staff. These items are relatively easy to control because they require management approval and are usually subject to rigid oversight. In the cloud, however, an enterprise might have 500 virtual machines one minute and 5,000 a few minutes later when autoscaling functions engage to meet demand. Similar differences abound in security management and workload reliability.
Technologies leaders with legacy thinking are faced with harsh trade-offs between control and the benefits of cloud. These benefits can include agility, scalability, lower cost, and innovation and require heavy reliance on automation rather than manual legacy processes. This means that the skillsets of an existing team may be not the same skillsets needed in the new cloud order. When writing a few lines of code supplants plugging in drives and running cable, team members often feel threatened. This can mean that success requires not only a different way of thinking but also a different style of leadership.
Leading in the cloud
Many leaders are aware of the differences outlined above, yet the rate of failure in the cloud remains extremely high. Sebastian Hamers, and his team at Human Insight, think they may understand part of the reason why. They specialize in the leadership dynamics side of organizational transformation. One of the products of their work is a useful framework to explain why even expertly executed cloud migration doesn’t always lead to successful cloud operations and business innovation. Through extensive research and assessment, they’ve observed and articulated two very different profiles of technology leaders: The Technology Marshal and the Technology Maverick.
The Technology Marshal
Technology Marshals are highly effective regulators, skilled at extracting value from tangible products or services. They excel at managing legacy systems. They love to apply their knowledge and past experience to efficiently and decisively handle current problems. They are systematic thinkers, who like to enable progress by excelling at managing systems, following through on precise execution, and keeping things running smoothly. Marshals produce outcomes that serve to preserve by optimizing and safeguarding what was actualized in an earlier stage of the growth process. The Marshal’s optimal contributions are in later stages of growth, innovation, and transformation.
The Technology Maverick
Mavericks are visionary originators, adept at conceiving new possibilities, whether anyone asked them to or not. The excel at navigating from point A to point B. They love to be in experimental discovery mode with regard to ideas, content, concepts, approaches, products, and services. They are structured objective thinkers, who like to enable progress by providing sound advice, and whose concepts and ideas can stimulate people to think beyond their natural boundaries. Mavericks produce outcomes that serve to pioneer by exploring new ideas, ways and means. The Maverick’s optimal contributions are in the early stages of growth, innovation, and transformation.
These two archetypes can be thought of as existing on opposite ends of a continuum, with any given technology leader, likely more like one and less like the other. Human Insight has collected data on over 100,000 leaders and have found that there are significantly more Marshals than there are Mavericks among CIOs and CTOs. That makes good sense. “Who better to put in charge of making sure your data is secure, then a Marshal?” Johnson notes. Yet, those characteristics of the Maverick are more of what’s needed to dream about what’s possible in the cloud.
It’s this need for both kinds of thinking, the Marshals and the Mavericks, that Martha Heller points out in her book The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership.
But if Human Insight’s Hamers is right, a CIO who is both a Marshal and a Maverick is as difficult to find as a unicorn; they just don’t exist in the real world. “The scales have probably tipped too far in the direction of the Marshal-like technology leader,” says Hamers. “We could use more cognitive diversity among our CIOs and CTOs.”