The Secret to Successful Cloud and Digital Transformation Initiatives: Get Your People Onboard

When it comes to digital transformation and its enabling technologies like cloud, disruption is the name of the game. That’s the purpose, after all: reimagining user experiences. Rethinking how workers collaborate. Mining new insights to transform business outcomes.

To implement any or all of these changes, organizations need to operate very differently than they have in the past. And, while it’s easy to get caught up in the technologies that help them do it, that would be a mistake. At least, that’s what our partners on the front lines working with customers tell us. Ask them to name the most important factor in the success or failure of cloud and digital transformation initiatives, and they echo a common refrain: it’s the people.

Human beings are not pieces of software you can swap out with the latest version to get the output you want. If your people aren’t invested in the changes you’re contemplating, your cloud or digital transformation project won’t get much traction. Alternatively, if employees can envision how they fit in the new world you’re imagining, you’re much more likely to succeed.

“The biggest challenge we see with cloud has nothing to do with technology,” says Al Solorzano, Vice President of End User Computing for Entisys360. “It’s which of my people are going to be able to transform themselves to think differently?”

Getting Buy-in at the Top

There are two sides to the “people problem”: those leading the charge and the ones they’re hoping will follow. Our partners say that both are essential to successful transformation projects.

“In many enterprises, people have little pet projects and digital experience centers, and other cool things to show to their board and the press around cloud and the digitalization of the enterprise,” says Tobias Regenfuss, Managing Director, Intelligent Cloud & Infrastructure at Accenture. “But it is much more difficult to scale these projects out of the experimentation stage and create true impact to the business. One key lesson I’ve learned is that you need to first have someone at the top providing clear sponsorship, saying ‘We need to go digital and we need to make it big, and we need to make it happen now.’ Without that top-level sponsorship, the initiative will continue to just be a pet project for a few people in the enterprise.”

Bringing Along Employees

Just as important as executive buy-in—if not even more so—is getting employees invested in change. Start by putting yourself in their shoes. For people whose jobs and skill sets are tied to legacy ways of doing things, cloud and digital transformation can be terrifying. Before people can become advocates for transformation, they have to be able to see themselves as part of that change, rather than a casualty of it.

“It’s about inspiring people inside organizations to shift the way they think,” says Ronnie Altit, CEO of Insentra. “You have to think less about what you have control over and more around the business outcome you’re looking to achieve. And then, of course, ensuring your crew are comfortable with the changes. Some people love change while others don’t and it’s important to create certainty that even when things move into the cloud, their roles won’t disappear, they’ll just morph into something else.”

Getting buy-in on that journey is not always easy. You have to ask people to step outside their comfort zones and learn new ways of doing things that can be very different from what they’ve done in the past.

“When you look at the large public cloud providers, the speed at which they develop and add new features and capabilities is so fast, it can be hard to keep up,” says Solorzano. “People do sometimes get frustrated. How far do I need to go? How much new information do I need to understand? I tell everyone, you’re going to need to challenge yourself, but it will get easier.”

For successful cloud and digital transformation initiatives, be prepared to explain—and keep explaining—what the journey looks like. Make sure the people you’re asking to come along understand that there is a clear vision for their roles in the future. And, be willing to back up that vision with action.

“In many cases, the standard messages around digital transformation aren’t working,” says Regenfuss. “One CIO told us, ‘If we tell our people we’re transforming to two-speed IT, half the team will get the message that they’re not relevant anymore.’ You have to invest in training your employees and helping them get certifications and skills in new technologies. You have to show the path and empower the people with the relevant skills to come with you on this journey.”

Extending Digital Assessments to People

Some of our partners have found that taking employees through a “digital assessment” can help with this process. One, MSG Services AG, conducted such assessments on its own services organization to prepare for the company’s major cloud and digitalization initiative. 

“We took our employees through a process of reading articles, listening to parts of speeches by influential people, and then asking them questions,” says Oliver Busch, division manager consulting, infrastructure solutions for MSG Services AG.  “We asked questions like, where do you store all your pictures? Where do you back up your calendar and address book? Just going through that process, they were able to realize, ‘Hey, I’m using all this new cloud technology already, and maybe it’s not that strange and scary.’”

MSG Services’ assessments also asked employees to share their own ideas about what they would like to see change in the company and the future roles that were most interesting to them.

Transformation in Action

Of course, there is no better way to evaluate cloud and digitalization strategies than seeing how they play out in real-world companies. Our partners shared several examples of organizations where prioritizing people made all the difference in successful initiatives.

Accenture shared one story of a leading European energy company looking to modernize its IT infrastructure and shift hundreds of enterprise systems to public cloud. The project was hugely successful, allowing the company to respond much faster to changing business conditions and bring turnaround times for key business processes from months down to minutes.

Regenfuss credits that success to getting buy-in from people at every level of the organization. That started with strong leadership from the CEO, who clearly articulated the company’s ambition to attain digital leadership in its market, how the company would execute, and how employees would come along for the journey.

“There was quite a bit of pushback in the beginning,” says Regenfuss. “Moving to cloud made some people very uncomfortable, because it meant some current roles would go away. Company leaders explained to people what the plan was, what their job would look like in the future, and how the company would help them get qualified for their new responsibilities. That was critical to the project’s success, that people realized they would not be left behind and that there was a plan for their future.”

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