Mark Schwartz, AWS Enterprise Strategist, and Paul Hannan, UK Enterprise Technology Lead, share their top tips for navigating a successful cloud transformation. Based on their experience coaching enterprises through diverse cloud adoption and transformation journeys, Mark and Paul discuss the importance of trusting your people and adapting your culture.
When Mark Schwartz became CIO of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the Department of Homeland Security in 2010 – taking charge of 2,000 people and a $600 million annual budget – he wondered how on earth he was going to make such a vast organization move.
“The IT department was releasing to production on an 18-month cycle, the transformation program had spent about $1 billion on a software effort that had so far yielded no results and there was another project where, for the previous four years, 21 people had done nothing but assemble a bunch of documents. It would be fair to say it was a low-frequency organization – one where change happens very slowly,” Schwartz told an audience of executives at the AWS Summit in London in May.
That just wasn’t good enough for an organization which is often required to respond at breakneck speed to hastily-announced policy changes by its political masters.
But move it did. By the time of his departure in 2017 to become Enterprise Strategist at AWS and an acclaimed business strategy author, Schwartz and his team had overseen a remarkable transformation at USCIS. “Some of our systems were deploying to production three or four times a day rather than once every year and a half. We’d created rapid response teams we could field around the country and we were running hackathons that produced new applications every time. And if we can do it at Homeland Security, you can too,” he said.
Even those teams with the most laborious processes could be transformed from blockers to enablers of agility.
According to Schwartz, deploying cloud technology is the easy part – but beware of ‘analysis paralysis’. “It’s simple to take out your credit card and spin up some virtual machines in the cloud,” said Schwartz. But when you’re selecting development technologies, passionate people advocating different – but essentially similar – software development platforms can bog you down with ‘analysis paralysis’. That’s a huge drain on time and resources. The answer? “Don’t allow it. Flip a coin and move on. You have more important things to do.
”It’s on the process side where things start to get really tricky. USCIS, for example, had long-winded, overly bureaucratic processes in almost every area - seemingly endless gates, checks and demands for documentation. But Schwartz found even those teams with the most laborious processes could be transformed from blockers to enablers of agility. The trick is to by set the right goals, and then give teams the creative freedom to suggest how to reach them. “For example, we had a quality assurance (QA) organization that saw themselves as upholding quality by preventing systems going into production. The head of QA even called himself the Grinch.”
Clearly, this was going to be a problem. The QA team was passionate about quality, but to them that meant requiring reams of documentation filled in with as much detail as possible, followed by extensive testing. This meant it would be impossible to achieve ever faster times to delivery. So Schwartz changed QA’s goals and parameters. First, he said documentation should now be as short as possible to convey the necessary information. “Then I told them their job was not to stop systems of low-quality going into production, but to ensure everything was built to a high level of quality to start with,” he said.