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Aligned Incentives – and Cool, Meaningful New Jobs! – In the Cloud Era

By: Paul Chapman, VMware Vice President Global Infrastructure and Cloud Operations

Transforming IT service delivery in the cloud era means getting all your technical ducks in a row. But those ducks won’t ever fly if your employees do not have aligned incentives.

Incentives to transform have to be aligned from top to bottom – including service delivery strategy, operating model, organizational construct, and individual job functions. Otherwise, you’ll have people in your organization wanting to work against changes that are vital for success, and in some cases almost willing for them to fail.

This can be a significant issue with what I call ‘human middleware.’ It’s that realm of work currently done by skilled employees that is both standard and repeatable at the same time: install a database; install an operating system; configure the database; upgrade the operating system; tune the operating system, etc..

These roles are prime for automation and/or digitization – allowing the same functions to be performed more efficiently, more predictably, game-changingly faster, and giving the IT organization the flexibility it needs to deliver IT as a Service.

Of course, automation also offers people in these roles the chance to move to more meaningful and interesting roles – but therein lies the aligned incentive problem. People who have built their expertise in a particular technology area over an extended period of time are less likely to be incentivized to give that up and transition to doing something ‘different.’

Shifting Roles – A VMware Example

Here’s one example from VMware IT – where building out a complete enterprise SDLC instance for a complex application environment once took 20 people 3-6 weeks.

We saw the opportunity to automate the build process in our private cloud and, indeed, with blueprints, scripting, and automation, what took 20 people 3-6 weeks, now takes 3 people less than 36 hours.

But shifting roles and aligning incentives was also very critical to making this happen.

Here was our perspective: the work of building these environments over and over again was not hugely engaging. Much of it involved coordinating efforts and requesting task work via ticketing systems, but people were also entrenched in their area of expertise and years of gained experience, so they were less inclined to automate their own role in the process. The irony was that in leveraging automation to significantly reduce the human effort and speed up service delivery, we could actually free people up to do more meaningful work – work that in turn would be much more challenging and rewarding for them.

In this case, employees went from doing standard repeatable tasks to high order blueprinting, scripting, and managing and tuning the automation process. In many cases, though, these new roles required new but extensible skills. So in order to help them be successful, we made a key decision: we would actively help (in a step-wise, non-threatening, change-management-focused way) the relevant employees grow their skills. And we’d free them up from their current roles to focus on the “future” skills that were going to be required.

Three New Roles

So there’s the bottom line incentive that can shift employees from undermining a transformation to supporting it: you can say, “yes, your role is changing, but we can help you grow into an even more meaningful role.”

And as automation frees people up and a number of formerly central tasks fall away, interesting new roles do emerge – here, for example, are three new jobs that we now have at VMware:

  •  Blueprint Designer – responsible for designing and architecting blueprints for building the next generation of automated or digitized services.
  •  Automation Engineer – responsible for engineering scripts that will automate or digitize business process and or IT services.
  •  Services Operations Manager – responsible for applications and tenant operation services in the new cloud-operating model.

The Cloud Era of Opportunity

The reality is that being an IT professional has always been highly dynamic. Of the dozen or so different IT positions that I’ve held in my career, the majority don’t exist anymore. Constant change is the steady state in IT.

Change can be uncomfortable, of course. But given its inevitability, we shouldn’t – and can’t – fight it. We should get in front of the change and engineer the transformation for success. And yet too frequently we don’t – often because we’re incented to want to keep things as they are. Indeed, misaligned incentives remain one the biggest impediments to accelerating change in IT.

We can, as IT leaders, shift those incentives, and with them an organization’s cultural comfort with regular change. And given the positives that transformation can bring both the organization and its employees, it’s clear that we should do all we can to make that shift happen.

Major Takeaways:

  • Aligning incentives is a key part of any ITaaS transformation
  • Automation will eliminate some roles, but also create more meaningful roles and opportunities for IT professionals
  • Support, coaching, and communication about new opportunities will help accelerate change
  • Defining a change-management strategy for employee freedom and support for their transition are critical for success

Follow @VMwareCloudOps and @PaulChapmanVM on Twitter for future updates, and join the conversation by using the #CloudOps and #SDDC hashtags on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Aligned Incentives – and Cool, Meaningful New Jobs! – In the Cloud Era

  1. Heman Smith

    Not only great insight, but the concrete example shows it can be a reality for all organizations.

    1. CloudOps Team

      We agree, Heman! If you’d like to read more of Paul’s work, check out his blogger page. Thanks for reading!

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