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Associate feature: The cloud as an engine for the 21st century

Associate feature: The cloud as an engine for the 21st century

“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin

It is tempting to hope that despite the current public health crisis we can soon return to normal, or whatever the new normal looks like. I’m not sure this is really the right philosophy in a world characterised by increasing economic, political, and social volatility and disruption, and citizens’ demand for more, better, faster.

Would it not be better if you could do more, at less risk and less cost, with better and bigger results? Wouldn’t you be more resilient if you could adapt to whatever the world throws at you? Previous measures of organisational strength such as access to capital, employees, or physical assets, are simply not sufficient in an era where the fast outperform the slow. The insatiable, fickle public demand for access to information and services means agility needs to augment these traditional strengths. “Digital transformation” is the in vogue phrase to describe this bright new future, but what does it really mean?

History teaches us that the most significant changes have not magically happened because of the discovery or replacement of a technology, rather they have happened when work itself has been reconfigured, and then industries reimagined. The industrial revolution saw the replacement of the steam engine with an electric equivalent, but the real revolution was in how work was reconfigured, capitalising on the benefits of this electric wonder. Rather than constructing a factory around the drive shaft of a steam engine, it could be flexibly built around smaller engines and run 24x7 under the glare of electric lamps. The subsequent ubiquity of the electric engine opened up new industries manufacturing electric cars, kitchen appliances, and children’s toys. Digital transformations are no different - rewiring an organisation’s culture from the top down to respond to customers in a more dynamic, relevant way.

These agile organisations combine traditional bureaucracy for efficiency with agility for risk management and experimentation. The fundamental change required is that to organisational culture, which in turn both informs and is supported by changes in skill-sets and in the technology.

Agile organisations have deeply shared purposes that resonates with employees’ hearts and minds, and which guide everyday activities. The purpose is supported by clear, living principles that define the organisation’s culture. These principles inform everything from hiring through to how meetings get conducted and day-to-day work performed. Clear outcome measures help every employee understand what success looks like. At McDonald’s, a critical success factor in transforming the customer experience was the clarity the CEO brought with clear goals on how many restaurants needed delivery and eCommerce capabilities within a year. These goals helped everyone in the company make decisions.

Agile organisations give the autonomy to small, permanent teams to work directly with their customers to understand what they really want through experiments and iterative deliverables. Ideas that don’t work are cost effective learning experiences. Good ideas can be scaled quickly. Leaders communicate what success looks like and the guardrails the teams need to work within, but don’t define how the team should work. Finally, agile organisations liberate the data they have, and train their people to use it to make decisions on new ideas to pursue or scale.

Such organisations require that skillsets evolve too. Aside from ensuring everyone has access to training and certifications, leaders need to match their own leadership style to the new organisation norms. They need to support and coach the teams, rather than dictate and micromanage them.

So is the cloud a necessity in this new world? Yes! It is far more than another data centre. The AWS cloud enables value to be delivered faster by focusing our limited resources on the things that really matter and for these to be scaled quickly. The cloud enables not just a reduction in IT infrastructure costs, but allows you to pay for just what you consume. The cloud optimises expenditure by avoiding many multi-year licences, and by giving you tools to optimise your costs. The cloud enables more reliable and resilient systems to be built, taking advantage of AWS’s investments in robust, redundant and energy efficient data centres, as well as the investments in security. AWS’s continued innovation in rich, contemporary services enables organisations to experiment quickly with everything from blockchain and quantum computing through to Machine Learning and IOT. It allows your developers access to the latest and greatest tools supported by rich training programmes and certifications, unleashing their creativity and passion on developing great products.

It’s an exciting time to be a technologist. Whilst some rewiring of our brains is required, I believe we are at the start of one of the most significant organisational revamps in our lifetimes, freeing up time and investments to increase the value we add to our citizens and customers. The advice as always is, start now and start small.

If you’d like to discuss further please email me - plebrun@amazon.com

Phil Le-Brun is Director of Enterprise Strategy and Evangelism at Amazon Web Services

This piece was sponsored by Amazon Web Services

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