Uncharted Waters

Jun 16 2011   2:57PM GMT

On Cloud Adoption

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

Last time I talked about how to respond when the big boss walks into your office and says something like “What are we doing about the cloud?  We need some of that cloud stuff.”

I tried to make that advice hold true for most teams — but if your organization has data privacy and security concerns, the question becomes a lot more complex.

Or does it?

Think about both of those statements:

“We need some of that cloud stuffs”


“We can’t possibly go to the cloud, because of regulations and data security issues”

In neither case do we have any data; we don’t what kind of uptime or service level agreements we could get.  We don’t know what the applicable regulations are, we don’t know the cost of the conversion or ongoing operations.

In both of these cases, we’ve jumped to conclusions based on some sort of faith.

In other words, what looks like a conclusion is really more of an emotional response.

It turns out that is kind of a big deal.

About Emotions

In “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard“, authors Chip and Dan Heath argue that the brain is constantly fighting between the emotional side and reason — and emotions frequently win.  (Those of us who have vowed to get up in the morning and exercise, or give up fatty foods, and failed, likely know what they mean.)

Likewise, if you’ve ever responded to an challenge like “prove it” by brining all your data to the next meeting — all your pie charts, graphs, and powerpoints, only to be faced with complete apathy and unresponsiveness, well, you’ve seen the power of emotion in the boardroom too.  Again, Chip and Dan Heath suggest that reason might win the meeting, but without an emotional response, the actual action items to make the change will keep being rescheduled, over-looked, and ignored, until they eventually go away.

Another way to put it: You might win intellectual assent for your idea, but without hitting someone’s emotions, it’s unlikely that the project will get to be your priority, or get funding, or get on the corporate projects list.  It’s kind of hard to move to the cloud at night, for free, in your spare time.  If you somehow pulled it off, though, I expect you might get brought into a meeting to talk about “Governance”, don’t you think?

Defeating the Lizard Brain

Seth Godin calls this emotive side the “Lizard Brain“, because it is the kind of brain that chickens and reptiles have — a brain driven by fear, greed, and the desire to continue the species.  Yet we can trick our lizard brain. Chip and Dan Heath use the example of an alarm clock with wheels, that forces you to get up and chase it in order to press the snooze button; once you’ve pressed snooze, you’re up anyway.

We can do this in the IT Department.

Matt’s Hasty, Generally, Possibly Incorrect Guess

I’m going to take a guess here, based entirely on intuition.

If your organization feels some compelling need to go to the cloud right now, then the corporate culture is likely one of innovation, or at least early adoption.

As the saying goes, you can tell the early adopters, because they’ll stand in line four twelve hours to get a new iPad, just to be the first people to have it.  Of course, in a week, everyone else will have one too, but for that week … wow.  They’re ahead of the curve.

Likewise, if the company is fighting tooth and nail to find reasons not to change, you’re likely in the early majority, if not the late majority, on the technology adoption lifecycle.

As my friend Eugene Lee recently said about these two groups:  “If you come to early adopters with an 80% solution, they’ll work with you to figure it out.  If you come to the late majority with that 80% solution, they’ll response ‘call me back when you’ve got it all figured out.’

Right now, today, cloud technologies are in the early adopter phase.

Now if you agree with the big boss — no problem.  If he’s worried about security and so are you, hey, great, you’ve got some time to figure it out.  Likewise, if the company wants to throw time and money at the issue and you’d like to get experience with the news tools — hey, cool.  You might need to put some effort into setting expectations, but for the most part, you’re good.

It’s when things are different that you’ve got a problem.

Encouraging Late Adopters

The lizard brain is motivated by fear, but fear can cut both ways; you can implement buggy systems or be left behind, trying to sell an MS-DOS based application to Windows Users.

Most late adopters do one thing: Follow the Herd.  Or, as I’m sure you’ve heard “No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft.”

The Early Majority needs to know the problem has been solved before, and solved well, by other companies.  You can do this through Lunches, Case Studies, References in Magazines, Interviews, or Articles.  Once someone else has done the work, there is precedence – and that precedence can overcome a host of objections about regulations, audits, and standards.

The Late Majority, on other hand, adopts technologies when it looks like they are about to be left behind.  You might not be able to drag a Late Majority-Culture to the cloud today, but the time is coming.  When cloud adoption approaches that of Social Media, which has an 86% adoption rate in US Global 100 companies, your company will want to have an answer.  Likewise, Late Majority Companies tend to be risk averse, so the time to start the experiment that might be fully implemented later … that time is now, isn’t it?

Counseling Caution

If your company is an early adopter, you might get pressure from the other direction — no, it might not be a great idea to put exchange “in the cloud” next week (whatever that means.)

When you try to deal with unrealistic expectations, yes, you can use reason, but try to do it in a way that can create an emotive response.  For example “Is it okay if our services go down for five business days?  Because that just happened to Amazon’s Cloud in April.”  You might also want to mention the risk of a customer-data breach, yes, but also point out that it happened to Sony’s Datacenter in April, entirely because Sony’s model required it’s systems to be available to general public outside the firewall … just like most public clouds.

By moving from a potential threat to a systems failure, one that happened to a real company, with real security, who’s name we recognize, we transform the problem from the realm of theory to one of practice.

A Final Thought

Now I’m not saying that IT should drive every business decision, nor am suggesting you manipulate your boss to get your way.  Instead I tried to provide a few techniques to align emotions with the intellect, to help people come to the best possible decision, instead of allowing themselves to be driven entirely by fear and greed.

But what do you think?  I look forward to your comments.

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