Why Cloud Native Demands a New Culture

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Legacy technology isn’t the only barrier stopping IT leaders from fostering an agile cloud-native strategy.

Culture, or rather the resistance to a change of culture, is as much a hurdle as any lingering software contract or technical mismatch. Agile, secure and profitable: cloud-native app development is, on paper, a CIO’s dream strategy. But if this dream is to become a reality, a new organizational culture must be nurtured to ensure a smooth and prosperous transition.

Why is culture a barrier?

The benefits of moving to cloud-native software development should be an easy sell, but among IT teams used to waterfall development, many remain sceptical. In enterprise IT, it’s not uncommon to find a deeply ingrained culture built around monolithic concepts and legacy software. As with any working environment, ripping up the fundamentals and starting again is never going to be a comfortable ride. In our recent research, Cloud Native Comes of Age, 65% of respondents said shifting to cloud native is a “significant” or “very significant” cultural challenge.

This is a sentiment shared by Altria’s senior information services manager, Mike Houston: “It’s a difficult transition. This is especially the case with people who’ve worked lower in the stack, the hardware guys and network guys.”

But it’s not just the technical culture CIOs will need to change. For decades, IT has been seen by the wider C-suite as a cost center rather than an enabler of innovation. Cloud-native development can cut time to market for new services, but realigning the organization to exploit that potential isn’t straightforward.

Paving the way for a new culture

At Royal Mail, IT was looking for ways to accelerate processes to be increasingly competitive with rising digital natives. While their existing practices remain effective to protect the organization’s core systems, they didn’t accommodate cloud-native innovation.

In 2015, this led Royal Mail’s CIO Catherine Doran to approve the creation of autonomous digital labs designed to spearhead a cloud-native migration.

Making the move to a collaborative DevOps environment proved a cultural challenge, but both Doran and IT portfolio director Alex Lorke were able to comfortably show both senior management and IT why the project was worthwhile.

To keep the project on track and manage risks and concerns, Lorke had to actively go “against the preferred way of working in the organization”. This ultimately required Doran and Lorke to be the organizational digital enablers, “putting the capability, knowledge, and trust into the people who are using the tool” while demonstrating that the technology wasn’t putting the company at risk.

Driving home the benefits

After reducing IT costs, 27% and 9% of business respondents in our survey said their next IT priorities are “improving the customer experience” and “improving business scalability” respectively.

These are the kinds of goals that everyone in the C-suite, in theory, should have no trouble getting behind. And aligning these goals as benefits in your DevOps strategy can go a long way in successfully driving a smooth cultural transition.

In the past, an infrastructure change of this scale would mean inevitable downtime for IT, making developers reluctant to support the new technology. With a cloud-native DevOps model, changes and updates are constant and iterative, promoting a culture of seamless and continuous improvement.

Matt Stine, Principal Product Manager at Pivotal, agrees with this sentiment: “Software is constantly changing and we don’t even really notice the subtle changes that are taking place, which is a big departure from how we did things in the past, where you would get one or two major releases in a year, and the entire face of the software would change in an instant, and everybody would get very, very frustrated and have to relearn how to do their jobs.”

A shift to DevOps also eliminates much of this frustration through close collaboration between business and IT. Ops and Dev teams share discussions, share system access on-demand, and work together to automate the release of new applications. It’s an altogether more agile, collaborative and entrepreneurial model which can go a long way to drive innovation and positive change.

Foster the right mindset

There are clear similarities in driving cloud-native adoption to that of wider digital transformation, and both require the CIO to demonstrate the value new technology can offer across the business. Creating a new mindset out of legacy culture is never going to be easy, but it is essential if you want to achieve your cloud strategy.

To learn more about cloud native, and how driving a new culture is helping others achieve their cloud strategy, download the full cloud-native research report.

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