Cloud applications: Preparing for the perpetual state of change

There are a lot of articles that define “the cloud” and discuss how to transition to it, but few that illustrate what to expect when you get there and how to make it sustainable for your organization. Like atmospheric clouds, one certainty is that the cloud is ever- changing. In similar fashion, and almost by definition, cloud applications are enhanced very frequently.

The days of “set it and forget it” enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human capital management (HCM) applications are becoming a thing of the past. You are likely familiar with the large system upgrades that occur every 4–6 years — after which nothing changes for another 4–6 years — whereby day-to- day operations run in a business-as-usual state. With cloud applications, you should expect upgrades every 4–6 months, albeit less intrusive. Even on-premise applications are moving toward a model where features can be applied at will.

So you need to ask yourself, is your organization and, more importantly, are your resources, prepared for a constant state of change?
Consider these techniques to prepare your organization for the “perpetual state of change” that comes with cloud application ownership:

Create awareness — Simple education and awareness that the world of traditional systems has changed is a key preparation tenet. Setting expectations early with users will pay dividends down the road (e.g., in six months) when you ask them to do another system test because the application vendor just released a new cloud application version. Creating awareness early does two things: It obviously lets the users know that they will be called on again in the near future for another non-business-as-usual event. It also gives the users the opportunity to focus more on the implementation so that project artifacts and knowledge transfer are recognized as ongoing activities versus one-time events.

Change management and training — Most humans do not like change and try to avoid it when possible. It would be unfair to expect your users to suddenly change how they are wired without giving them techniques to adapt to change. Most organizations focus on technical change skills: This screen will look different, this workflow will now look like this, etc.
Most change management programs do a terrible job of training the human brain and human nature on how to embrace change. Start by recognizing that if you want to change human nature (or corporate culture) and improve results, you need to change behavior. And in order to change behavior, you need to change thinking. To change thinking, you need to give your team techniques to think differently.

In cloud deployments, the focus on change management should be increased, not decreased, if you want to maximize your company’s long-term investment. There are many change management resources available that can guide you through this transition.1

Cloud applications: Preparing for the perpetual state of changeLeverage  your  implementation — Bad implementations create little to no project artifacts. Good implementations produce what’s needed to ensure a successful go live. Great implementations create artifacts that have a useful life beyond go live. Understanding that cloud applications place implementation-type activities into a frequent occurrence, now more than ever, proper project artifacts, if done right, will pay dividends for many years. Here is a breakdown of key artifacts by project phase that are especially useful to maintaining cloud applications. The project documents mentioned here are not all-encompassing for an implementation project, but are called out as being especially useful to the perpetual state of change that cloud applications demand.

Make project management a priority — There is a misconception about the need for project management when it comes to cloud application deployment. There is a market view that the applications can be deployed quickly and cost-effectively. While that can be true, it also means that solid project management and governance are essential to ensuring all the tasks are completed in a timely manner and project artifacts are being produced with quality.

In summary
Competitive advantage will not be about which organizations can move their applications to the cloud the fastest and in the most cost-effective way, but rather which organizations understand that maximizing the cloud investment requires being effective at managing a constant state of change.

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1 See “3 success factors for transformational change” for more information.