20 Nov 2023

Cloud-Forward: Integrating Legacy Perspectives in a Future-Driven Transformation (Guest blog from OBSS)

Author: Yusuf Tok, CTO, OBSS

In the intricate tapestry of large-scale enterprises, the shift towards cloud-native technologies heralds a pivotal transformation, not just in systems but in the very fabric of organizational leadership and expertise. At the heart of this transition are the key figures of legacy systems - the seasoned managers of existing infrastructures and the custodians of years of operational wisdom. These individuals, deeply entrenched in the current state and successes of traditional systems, confront a dual reality: the recognition of the need for digital evolution and a personal apprehension about their place in this new era.

This article navigates the delicate balance of integrating these 'old guards' into the governance of cloud transformation. It explores strategies to leverage their insights constructively, ensuring they contribute positively rather than succumb to skepticism or inadvertently hinder progress. Simultaneously, it underscores the crucial role of cloud-native experts in driving this change, advocating for a nuanced approach where learning, adaptation, and external augmentation harmonize to sculpt a workforce fit for the future. This is a journey of transformation, not just of systems, but of people and mindsets, crucial for a holistic and successful shift to cloud technologies. 

A cloud-forward approach transcends the adoption of cloud services and involves reshaping organizational IT infrastructure, workflows, and culture towards a cloud-centric ethos. It is essential for enterprises to embrace this approach in order to thrive and lead in their respective domains. Integrating legacy perspectives into a cloud-forward strategy requires a delicate balance between respecting the past and embracing the imperatives of a cloud-centric future. Legacy experts provide a grounding influence, helping to identify risks and inform strategies for a seamless transition. By involving these professionals in the planning and governance workstreams, organizations can leverage their experience to craft informed and resilient cloud strategies. This integration builds a bridge between eras, respecting the foundational systems that have shaped the enterprise's journey. 

Entrusting the helm of cloud-native transformation largely to legacy leaders can be fraught with risks, primarily due to their potential lack of requisite skills and vision for the new digital era. While their expertise in traditional systems is invaluable, it may not align seamlessly with the agile, innovative demands of cloud computing. This mismatch can result in a cloud strategy that fails to fully exploit the technology's potential, hindered by a preference for familiar, outdated methodologies. Moreover, legacy leaders are often preoccupied with maintaining existing operations, leading to a divided focus that can detract from the dedicated, forward-thinking effort essential for a successful transformation. 

Additionally, legacy leaders may struggle with the cultural shift towards a cloud-first mindset, crucial for fostering an environment of innovation and adaptability. Their potential inclination towards established practices might unintentionally resist the agile, flexible approaches required in a cloud-centric landscape. This resistance not only slows the transformation process but also risks underutilizing the expansive capabilities of cloud solutions. Thus, while their insights are crucial, the primary driving force behind a cloud transformation should ideally be those with a firm grounding in cloud-native technologies and methodologies. 

Completely sidelining legacy leaders in a cloud transformation journey can lead to significant pitfalls, undermining both the process and its outcomes. Their exclusion risks a lack of foresight regarding the intricacies and risks inherent in transitioning from established systems to new cloud technologies. This oversight can precipitate issues with business continuity and sustainability, as legacy leaders often have a deep understanding of the critical nuances of existing systems and their potential integration challenges. The absence of their input might also lead to severe delays in project timelines, as unforeseen operational complexities emerge. 

Moreover, disregarding the voices of legacy leaders can foster a sense of alienation and resistance within the organization. This could manifest as negative propaganda or a toxic attitude towards the transformation, creating a cultural barrier to change and hindering effective execution. Their insights are not just valuable for operational continuity, but also for maintaining morale and a sense of inclusivity among staff accustomed to traditional systems. Thus, their strategic involvement is essential not only for a technically successful transformation but also for ensuring a cohesive and supportive organizational culture throughout the transition. Assigning leading figures of the legacy system to advisory and auditor roles in the governance board of the transformation program will be a highly beneficial strategy, both for involving them in the process and demonstrating the value placed on them, as well as for minimizing potential risks. 

A holistic approach that incorporates both legacy and new talents is crucial in cloud transformation. Every member of the existing staff should be given opportunities to learn and grow, aligning with the demands of the new era. This upskilling not only addresses technical requirements but also fosters a culture where change is embraced and innovation thrives. Key legacy personnel showing adaptability and drive should be given significant responsibilities in the transformation process. However, it is also essential to bring in external expertise to complement and enhance the internal talent pool. Initially, legacy staff might occupy a smaller percentage of key roles due to gaps in cloud expertise, but over time, their representation could increase as the team adapts to the new mindset and systems. 

OBSS recently spearheaded a transformative cloud journey with a major client employing 1000 plus staff, including around 300 software engineers. This four-year initiative was marked by OBSS taking charge in the transformation, backed by a handful of fully committed internal leaders from the client's team who played a crucial role in synergizing OBSS’s innovative approaches with the client’s established practices. 

To infuse new expertise into the existing workforce, new talents, constituting 12-15% of the existing staff, were onboarded, bringing fresh, cloud-centric skills to the table. Concurrently, the existing staff underwent extensive training and participated in on-the-job workshops, ensuring a smooth transition to the new systems. Notably, about 15-20% of the legacy staff, finding misalignment with the new direction, transitioned to less critical roles or exited the organization. However, the majority adapted commendably to the new environment, with several individuals emerging as standout performers, demonstrating remarkable adaptability and proficiency in the new cloud-based system. This case stands as a testament to OBSS's ability to blend new skills with existing talent, driving successful, comprehensive digital transformations. 

The journey of cloud transformation is intricate, necessitating a harmonious blend of legacy wisdom and cloud-native innovation. It requires a leadership that’s agile and cloud-centric, yet appreciative of the insights from legacy systems. Success hinges on inclusivity - upskilling existing staff, integrating motivated legacy leaders, and augmenting with external expertise. As demonstrated, this balanced approach not only propels technological advancement but also fosters a culture adaptable to the ever-evolving digital landscape. 

Embrace this balanced path in your organization's cloud journey. Leverage the lessons of those who have navigated this transformation successfully. Let these insights guide your strategies, ensuring your transformation is not just technologically sound but also culturally cohesive and forward-thinking. 

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