AWS Cloud Enterprise Strategy Blog

What Does Cloud-First Look Like?

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” -Ronald Reagan

Change is hard. The larger and more complex an organization grows, and the more it gets used to doing things a certain way, the harder change becomes. Still, change always arrives, and I believe this tension of change being hard but inevitable is one of the reasons twenty to fifty companies fall out of the Fortune 500 every year.

Over the last several months, I’ve written about seven best practices I’ve seen employed by organizations that aren’t afraid to reinvent themselves using the cloud. These practices help organizations of all shapes and sizes transform the way technology is used to support the business and remain competitive. I’ve also seen these practices turn countless technology executives into heroes capable of devoting their company’s resources to the things that matter most to the business — the products and services that make their organizations unique — and do so faster and more securely.

Many of the executives looking to accelerate this change within their organizations are instituting a cloud-first policy to reverse the burden of proof from “why should we use the cloud” to “why shouldn’t we use the cloud” for all of the organization’s technology projects.

Declaring a cloud-first policy is the last best practice I’ll cover in this series, and I’ll use this post to cover some of the common questions I get around what cloud-first looks like.

Where are organizations declaring cloud-first policies?

Some executives apply this policy to individual business units, some across their entire organization. The scope often depends on the experience of each business unit, their goals, and their constraints. GE, for example, is a highly distributed organization with many different businesses that operate largely independent of one another, with some business units much further along their cloud Journey than others. GE Oil & Gas is well along their Journey and is living in a cloud-first operating model; other business units are close behind. Capital One, on the other hand, is cloud-first across their entire business.

Who administers a cloud-first policy?

When applied across the entire organization, the cloud-first policy tends to impact many departments outside of central IT/technology. Procurement, legal, finance, business development, and product functions can all contribute to making cloud-first a reality. The more these departments know how to make cloud technology vendors work for them, and know why the organization is looking to leverage the cloud — to focus more on what matters to their business — the more active a role they can play in driving the organization to make cloud-first decisions.

My team and I implemented a cloud-first policy whilst I was the CIO of Dow Jones, and one of the first things we did was to create an escalation path with our finance department to highlight any request for a hardware-related capital expense. Any department that felt it needed to procure hardware instead of leverage our cloud capabilities had to explain why they couldn’t accomplish what they were trying to do in the cloud before their purchase order would be approved. It didn’t take many escalations for everyone to understand how serious our intentions were. Over time, our legal, procurement, and product teams started asking similar questions.

When should you declare a cloud-first organization?

When I first started this blog series, in September of 2015, I planned on the series culminating with the point that a cloud-first policy comes after an organization has a lot of experience using the cloud in their business. This was my experience at Dow Jones, and one that I’ll detail in my next post. But, over the last year, I’ve met with hundreds of additional executives, all at different stages of the Journey, and learned that many organizations institute a cloud-first policy much earlier in their Journey — in some cases before they have any experience at all.

Some organizations have business cases so compelling they don’t feel they need years of experience to be confident cloud-first is for them. I’m currently working with a Fortune 100 enterprise that believes their developers will be at least 50 percent more productive when fully trained on and working in an AWS environment. This organization has more than 2,000 developers, and, as a result, will benefit from 1,000-plus man-days of additional development time per year as a result of their migration and cloud-first efforts. The idea of this is so attractive they started their Journey with a cloud-first mentality.

Administer sensibly

Anyone who’s worked with me (hopefully) knows that I’m not a big fan of top-down policy unless it’s absolutely necessary. When used sparingly, however, I’ve found it can be an effective way for leaders to create a change in behavior, accelerate that change, and help everyone understand what the organization’s priorities are. Well-implemented policies come with a thorough communications plan that helps the organization understand the policy, the rationale behind it, and how it will impact their role. Communication, in my view, is one of a few characteristics that makes good leaders great.

In my next post, I’ll detail more of my own experiences on going cloud-first.

What does your cloud-first policy look like? I’d love to hear about it!

Keep building,


Note: Cloud-first policy is the last of seven best practices I’m writing about in my new Enterprise Cloud Journey series. The remaining six are: provide executive supporteducate staff, create a culture of experimentation, engage partners, and implement a hybrid architecture. Stay tuned for more on each of these.

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.