There\u2019s no other season quite like tax season, the period between January and the mid-April deadline in which millions of Americans file financial documents related to their income. Citizens who are due financial returns tend file early, while those owing money tend to file at the 11th hour.\nThat sharp, seasonal spike in traffic is among the reasons why tax service provider H&R Block is migrating its compute workloads to the public cloud hosted by Microsoft Azure. That platform, along with a DevOps model for building software, will help the company better process millions of tax returns annually while allowing the firm to build financial software products with greater speed, quality and security, says CIO Alan Lowden.\n[ Be sure to learn the secrets of highly effective digital transformations \u2014 and beware the 7 myths of digital transformation. | Get the latest on digital transformation by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletters. ]\nTransforming H&R Block\u2019s \u201coperational machine\u201d thusly will advance the company\u2019s digital strategy for wooing more small business customers. \u201cIt\u2019s what we need to do to enable our strategic vision of putting customers at the center,\u201d Lowden says. \u201cWe have to give them a convenient experience of serving them anyway they want to be served.\u201d\nH&R Block\u2019s IT department must strike the right balance between supporting business operations and accommodating the needs of various departments, ostensibly to achieve the desired business outcomes for customers \u2014 all during a global pandemic. Thirty-six percent of 373 IT decision makers surveyed say their CEOs are prioritizing digital business and transformation initiatives amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a CIO Pandemic Business Impact Survey conducted in July. Thirty-six percent cited improving remote work experiences among their CEOs top priorities.\u00a0\nMigrating during a pandemic\nOn that score, H&R Block\u2019s challenge is modernizing its tech stack remotely, with most employees working from home amid the disruption triggered by the pandemic. Whether customers file their returns themselves or with the assistance of a tax professional, the tax man cometh for everyone, eventually. It\u2019s incumbent on H&R Block to ensure that consumers can file seamlessly how and when they prefer to do so.\nExisting client-server technology served the company well for years but would not hold up as H&R Block\u2019s client base grew and began clamoring for additional financial services. The company is phasing out monolithic AS\/400 systems and client-server technologies running back-office tax systems used by 100,000 tax professionals spanning 10,000 offices around the country.\nMany of Lowden\u2019s 1,800 IT staffers are currently migrating the company\u2019s three custom-built tax engines, which serve as the heart pumping lifeblood throughout the business, to Azure. But for many companies relatively new to the cloud, the journey has been fraught with challenges.\nWhen the company began working in earnest with Microsoft on the move to Azure in 2018, Lowden initially battled resistance to the migration from individuals accustomed to implementing infrastructure on premises. \u201cThis is where the train is going,\u201d Lowden recalls his mindset. \u201cGet on board or get run over it.\u201d\nHe explained why H&R Block needed to move \u2014 agility and automation to support DevOps \u2014 and the majority of staff leapt onboard. \u201cThey\u2019ve really embraced a culture of learning and adapting to new ways,\u201d Lowden says. He also reconciled initial \u201ccompeting views,\u201d with some engineers partial to Azure and others to Amazon Web Services.\u00a0\nLowden then faced the issue of getting up to speed quickly. How would H&R Block, which had little experience standing up cloud systems, get where it needs to go? Lowden hired new staff, upskilled existing engineers and hired consultants to help. Microsoft stepped up, embedding Azure architects and cloud engineers with H&R Block engineers to assist with the migration and provide coaching.\nAssisted by these experts, H&R Block engineers learned about cloud architecture and data taxonomy, as well as the required tooling to execute the strategy in Azure. For instance, the team has embraced Azure\u2019s DevOps Pipelines service, which enables engineers to build software within continuous integration\/continuous delivery (CI\/CD) guardrails, including security code scans and automated testing prior to deployment. \u201cThe tools Microsoft offered are making it easier for us to transition to the cloud,\u201d Lowden says.\nThe go-live date for the company\u2019s do-it-yourself online tax service on Azure is late 2020, while retail tax platforms will launch in Azure in 2021.\nMeanwhile Lowden\u2019s team has migrated 80,000 H&R Block tax professionals to Azure remotely in recent months, a feat that would have been impossible to complete while racking and stacking, testing and tuning on-premises systems during a pandemic, Lowden says.\nTips for replatforming on cloud\nLowden offers the following tips for IT leaders looking to transform their businesses by migrating to the cloud.\nCloud procurement requires a mindset shift. CIOs accustomed to shopping around for tools with which to equip their data center must now embrace a \u201cplatform mentality,\u201d Lowden says. Picking that long-term strategic partner may require buy-in across a number of stakeholders. Microsoft\u2019s willingness to partner rather than dictate terms is indicative of a culture change under CEO Satya Nadella in recent years, Lowden says. \u201cThey went from being a company that no one wanted to work with but had to, to becoming a key strategic partner,\u201d Lowden says.\u00a0\nDon\u2019t try to do it all yourself. Lean on those who have come before and learned from those journeys in making your cloud decisions. \u201cThere\u2019s no playbook that works for everybody,\u201d Lowden says.\nCloud is a means, but not an end itself. As with many organizations, cloud underpins H&R Block\u2019s CI\/CD and DevOps processes, which are core to the organization\u2019s new operating model. But every organization\u2019s needs are different; it\u2019s about \u201cbuilding the right roadmap to get there,\u201d Lowden says.\nThe culture change is broader than the tech. The culture change also requires organizations to shift to a \u201clearning culture,\u201d including reskilling existing staff or hiring fresh talent. \u201cIt truly is digital transformation,\u201d Lowden says.