By Michael Jolton, NIMBL
As cloud software takes hold, business users no longer have to wait on overtaxed and understaffed IT departments to deliver needed features and functions at the pace of business. Now, however, with cloud software, new releases are being delivered three to four times a year and this dream come true for the business has potential and legitimate drawbacks if not managed correctly. This article addresses a new model of application maintenance – a model no longer focused on enhancements to meet business requirements, but on a proactive, disciplined approach to change enablement that drives business adoption of the rapid innovation of cloud applications, like Success Factors and S/4 Hana Cloud.
Cloud technology has removed development impediments like hardware costs and maintenance and limited development teams. The removal of such impediments has led to a prevailing feeling of informed optimism and the belief that, “With Cloud technology, our IT systems will be able to keep pace with the business at a reasonable cost.” In other words, business has finally gotten what it has been waiting for from IT.
Or has it? While cloud solutions do eliminate IT speed bumps, they also employ certain, necessary approaches that IT managers need to take note of and adapt to, lest they lose user confidence. For example, cloud solutions must have broad appeal to create a large enough user base to make the solution economically viable. To generate that appeal, the cloud applications must be designed for a cross-functional/cross-industry user base. The good news about this extensive user base is that it can generate new ways of looking at how business can be done – challenging industrial or long standing corporate paradigms. On the other hand, not every function point or change will be desired or requested by every company – potentially creating displeasure with the solution or concern that the cloud vendor is not paying attention to the needs of a particular company or industry. Another example is the use of extensive development teams. Such teams provide the benefit of an increased pace of innovation with rapid (e.g. quarterly) releases. The end result is more change in less time – the pace of innovation asked for by the business. Change, however, whether desired or not, is difficult. With discrete change comes discrete change cycles. Each change cycle presents risk of the change not being fully accepted. With proper training and communication as part of change initiatives (e.g., new functional releases), the change cycle can be managed to achieve acceptance and, thus, increased productivity. As change increases at an increasing rate, as is happening with IT innovation through cloud technology, the volume of change can overwhelm the company’s ability to process through the change cycle and, thus, ultimately stifle change (with the business wanting the IT improvements to stop). Furthermore, when combined with cross-functional requirements, not all of which are asked for by a specific company, the business may completely flip its attitude and say IT is moving too fast or not in the right direction. This seemingly unfair emotional state of the business users is the Cloud Paradox – a state where the informed optimism of the business is now at risk of reverting to a feeling of “Be Careful What You Ask For” or worse (a return to pessimism about IT).
Of course, all is not lost. Understanding and accepting this risk will help IT departments manage it, keeping business users engaged and enthused about their new cloud applications. The key to managing the cloud paradox is communication. The business wants IT improvements (i.e., change). To overcome this challenge, the CIO for a company using cloud applications needs to become the “Chief Transformation Officer” – a champion for improving the change process.
Change Enablement has become a staple within IT development projects, leading to improvements in communication planning, user involvement and training. With Cloud functional releases, there is no project for IT to manage – just change, creating the potential gap of not associating change enablement with new cloud releases. The business still needs communication to relevant stakeholders of what will be changing. And, while users can provide input through user groups and vendor feedback loops, they are not directly involved in changes – so they need surrogate communications to at least feel informed of what is changing and why. And lastly, training will still be required as cloud applications add and adjust new features.
Successful cloud software companies, like SAP, understand this need for communication and training, and provide change release documentation, release plans and dates, user portals for feedback and more. Maintaining change enablement as a discipline employed for cloud releases, and employing vendor provided communication and training tools, will help companies manage through the cloud paradox, keeping business users productive and engaged.
If you would more information on your Cloud solutions, please contact Michael at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org.