AWS Cloud Enterprise Strategy Blog

Empower Your Cloud Team

Every successful business transformation program I’ve been a part of has had a group of people dedicated to driving it. I’ve written a number of pieces in my e-book of cloud best practices around the role a cloud center of excellence can play in modern day transformation, and today I’m delighted to add a perspective from one of AWS’ solution architects, Peter Buonora. Without further ado…


Like many other things in life, true understanding comes from determining what you don’t know versus what you do, which typically requires you to dive into the details and compare different approaches. This is when we find people saying: “Okay, the cloud today is not what I thought it was and capabilities have come a long way over the last 10 years.”

Making the right choices means choosing your approach based on your goals. Do you want to enable builders in your organization the freedom to build and experiment? Are you moving mission-critical applications in the cloud? Are you looking to close datacenters? Are you looking to reduce TCO? Thinking bigger? Which groups within your company looking to adopt cloud more quickly than others?

One approach I’ve seen companies use to make these determinations is through the creation of a cloud center of excellence team, or cloud “ninja team”. What is it? A group that is focused on the strategy, reference architectures, governance, frameworks and management around cloud that is driving towards answering some key questions on an ongoing basis. For example:

  • Are we really taking advantage of the new options in the cloud, or are we just continuing to do what do what we have always done in a new environment?
  • Can we use the cloud to be agile, experiment and quickly re-invent in our industry similar to what AirBnB, Uber and others have done?
  • What new perspectives do we need to adopt across areas such as our business, security, people, process and platform to really enable the builders in our organization to use cloud to our advantage?

As you do evolve into the cloud, I recommend focusing on frameworks and architectures that be reused throughout the organization as new applications are developed. Getting your first couple of applications migrated establishes a baseline of quick success that you can build on. Focus on being structured for agility, and try to keep your teams small and nimble. Consider how they can take ownership over their services and be held accountable for delivering results. This principle holds true however you organize your IT and your business operations.

Here are some tips for empowering a cloud team to be effective:

1.Walk the Walk — Throughout their journey this team is going to feel tremendous pressure from other teams within the organization to allow for conformity to “the way we do things now”. Don’t forget that Great Leaders Make New Rules and this team is going to need to be empowered from the top down and will need unwavering and continued support. This is where both business and IT leadership within the organization need to walk the walk and make a commitment to the long term benefits of migrating to this new way of doing things in the cloud. It will at times require adding resources or committing to training to enable taking the path of greater resistance. Doing this will send the right signal to the rest of the organization and is needed to avoid further setbacks, so do it early and often.

2.Full-Time vs. Part-Time Team? — You can usually tell the level of success an organization will have by how dedicated their cloud center of excellences are to the mission. If that team is putting out fires or working their day job during the meeting this is a sign they don’t have the commitment needed from leadership to make a cloud migration happen. When people are part of a cloud team “on the side”, you should expect much slower results. At the very least it will greatly extend any migration efforts. You need to establish a core team that lives and breathes cloud adoption that can then plant the seeds throughout the organization so they have that extended team of champions that have seen the success of moving to the cloud first-hand. Hopefully these extended teams are also still responsible for running what they have built on AWS.

3.Builders or Definers? — General Electric did a great job talking about accelerating cloud adoption at AWS Re:Invent last year. Their team was a highly technical group of individuals that could quickly work through migration issues and use this as a force multiplier for future migrations. While the cloud team does need to define approved reference architectures, toolsets, governance and tagging strategies the problem can arise when there are more definers than builders on this team. When the rubber hits the road, the transmission just gets stuck without any engagement to move forward since nobody has the skills to build anything. Assign some key builder resources that can take on migration strategies a part of this cloud team from the start.

4.Small Teams, Not One Man Shows — Some organizations will try to put the entire cloud migration on the back of one individual who is typically a very talented engineer, but can’t be expected to do everything himself. It reminds me of the character “Brett” from the Phoenix Project who is the only one who holds all of the tribal knowledge of the applications and how to fix them. While having this individual is certainly a huge asset to the team, you need others that can work in parallel and escalate to get through any political hurdles that may come up. Also consider a cross-functional talent in areas such as business, application development, information security, release management, infrastructure to bring all of the right perspectives.

-Peter Buonora
Enterprise Solutions Architect
Amazon Web Services
Twitter: @pbuonora

Stephen Orban

Stephen Orban

Stephen is the GM (General Manager) of a new AWS service under development, and author of the book “Ahead in the Cloud: Best Practices for Navigating the Future of Enterprise IT” Stephen spent his first three-and-a-half years with Amazon as the Global Head of Enterprise Strategy, where he oversaw AWS’s enterprise go-to-market strategy, invented and built AWS’s Migration Acceleration Program (MAP), and helped executives from hundreds of the world’s largest companies envision, develop, and mature their IT operating model using the cloud. Stephen authored Ahead in the Cloud so customers might benefit from many of the best practices Stephen observed working with customers in this role. Prior to joining AWS, Stephen was the CIO of Dow Jones, where he introduced modern software development methodologies and reduced costs while implementing a cloud-first strategy. These transformational changes accelerated product development cycles and increased productivity across all lines of business, including The Wall Street Journal,, Dow Jones Newswires, and Factiva. Stephen also spent 11 years at Bloomberg LP, holding a variety of leadership positions across their equity and messaging platforms, before founding Bloomberg Sports in 2008, where he served as CTO. Stephen earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from State University of New York College at Fredonia.