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From CIO to CEO: Shaping Your ITaaS Transformation Approach

Jason StevensonBy Jason A. Stevenson

In this CIO to CEO series we’ve discussed how to run, organize, and finance an ITaaS provider. In this blog, we will discuss how to approach the ITaaS transformation to gain the most value.

Barriers to Success

Transforming a traditional IT organization to be a private cloud provider and/or public cloud broker using ITaaS contradicts many basic human behaviors. To undergo a transformation we must convince ourselves to:

  • Put other people first; specifically customers paying for the service and users receiving the service.
  • Place ourselves in a service role from the very top of the IT organization to the very bottom and allow ourselves to be subservient to others.
  • Give up the notion of self-importance and recognize each and every person plays an equal role in the chain when delivering an end-to-end service and accept a fair amount of automation of what we do on a regular basis.
  • Redistribute control from individuals to processes that leverage group intelligence and center authority within service ownership and lifecycle.
  • Become truly accountable for our role in service delivery and support where all involved can clearly see what we have done or not done.
  • Approach problems and continual service improvement in a blameless environment that shines light on issues rather than covering or avoiding them.

In other words, we must be: humble, honest, relaxed, and trusting. Not the kind of words you often hear in a technology blog but nonetheless accurate. In essence, we must change. That is different from he must change, she must change, or they must change; and that is very different from it must change. In the IT industry, we tend to abstract change by focusing on “it” which is often hardware and software and then deflect change to “they” which is often users or another department.

Are You Ready for Change?

The first two questions an ITaaS CEO (CIO) needs to ask are:

  1. “Do I really want change?”
  2. “Are we really willing to change?”

Initially the answer seems obvious “Of course I do, we have to.” In that subtle nuance of “I” and then “we” lies our challenge. As we wade in we realize the level of resistance that’s out there and the effort it will take to overcome it. We begin to realize the long term commitment needed. For the faint of heart, change dies then and there. But for those who take on challenge the journey is just beginning.

Many IT organizations are focused on service/technology design and operation and therefore do not have the necessary level of in-house expertise to guide their own organization through a complete people, process, and technology transformation. To ensure the greatest return on their investment, many organizations look to a partner that is:

  • Specifically experienced in transformation to instill confidence within their organization.
  • External to their organization and somewhat removed from internal politics to increase effectiveness.

Assuming a partnership is right for your organization for these or other reasons the question becomes “How do I pick the right partner?

Personal Trainer vs. Plastic Surgeon

You’ve heard the saying “Be careful what you ask for you might just get it.” This is very true of an ITaaS CEO looking for a partner to relieve some of the effort and commitment associated with change. Becoming a cloud provider/broker is hard work. The analogy of personal trainer was specifically chosen because of its implication that the hard work cannot be delegated. Though counterintuitive, the more an ITaaS CEO or his/her team attempts to push the “hard work” to a partner the more the partner becomes a plastic surgeon, “delivering” a pretty package with no guarantee that your organization won’t slip into old habits and lose all value gained.

A personal trainer doesn’t exercise or eat for their client, but coaches them along every step of the way. A personal trainer does not usually deliver exercise equipment, assemble the equipment, or even necessarily write a manual on how to use the equipment. What personal trainer does is show up at regular intervals to work side by side with an individual, bringing the knowledge they have honed by going through this themselves and assisting others.

For an IT organization that is looking to become a cloud provider/broker, reduce cost, or just be more consistent or agile, a partner can help more by providing consultation than deliverables. This isn’t to say that a partner shouldn’t develop comprehensive plans or assets, but your organization will get more value out of developing plans and assets as a team, coached by your partner, to ensure a perfect fit. Though the partner may recommend technology and then implement it, this is just one piece of the puzzle. Establishing a trusted relationship between the partner and the IT organization takes regular workouts/interaction.

My Approach to “Personal Training”

We all wish we didn’t have day jobs or family responsibilities when we want to spend time at the gym but reality mandates we spend short but regular amounts of time with our personal trainer. This is also true of the IT department and their partner. Though 100% of the organization must be involved in change at some point these workshops equate to approximately 10% of the time of 10% of the organization. When I am engaged in large-scale transformation with my customers, I find the optimal cadence for hands-on consultation is every two or three weeks, with three days (usually in the middle of the week) that feature half-day workshops consisting of a 2-hour morning session and a 2-hour afternoon session. These workshops are both timed and structured using principles that build goodwill with all stakeholders involved whether they are proponents or opponents to change.

A simplified version of my approach to overcoming resistance and obtaining commitment is to:

  1. Start by sharing a common vision, how the vision has value, and how we all contribute to producing that value.
  2. Raise awareness and understanding through orientation to allow as many people as possible to reach their own conclusion instead of trying to tell them what their conclusion should be.
  3. Establish trust with all involved by involving them in an assessment. Not an assessment of technology or the environment; rather an assessment that draws people out and engages them by asking what is working and shouldn’t be changed, what isn’t working and needs to be changed, and what challenges do we foresee in making a change.
  4. Openly and interactively draft a service model that includes features, benefits, and commitments and a management model that includes roles, responsibilities, policies, processes.
  5. Automate and enforce the service model and the management model through tool requirements.
  6. Review and revise after group workshops and through great finesse. Over time the group will progressively elaborate on these models and tools, going broader and deeper just as a personal trainer would by adding more exercises, more weight, and repetitions.

Avoiding Burnout

At the gym, we may overcome the initial challenge of understanding health and exercise only to discover how painful our aching muscles can be. This stresses the importance of rest and cross training. Much like a personal trainer, our IT partner must not push an organization to gorge on change or focus on one particular component of change for too long. This can sometimes seem sporadic to our team so the approach must be clearly communicated as part of the vision.

You may have noticed the use of the word “team” and wondered who is it? We can consider team in this context as the service’s stakeholders. That is everyone involved in delivery of service and yes that does include customer and user representatives.

An ITaaS CEO that involves his or herself… and not only chooses change and discipline, but also a partner focused on promoting team change and self-discipline over short-cut deliverables, will find their organization in a much better position to transform to a cloud provider/broker using ITaaS.

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Jason Stevenson is a Transformation Consultant with VMware.