How to organize your team for cloud success

The most significant challenge in executing a cloud transformation is making the right connections between people, process and technology. Like an ecosystem supporting a living organism, standing up a cloud is a delicate balance of all of these elements, and failure to invest in all three can constrain — or in some cases, reverse — the value you deliver.
In my experience as an advocate for cloud transformations at newScale and Cisco, it’s the thinking around the people part of this equation that is the weakest link in the chain. For all the boxes and arrows we draw on whiteboards, comparatively little thought is given to what cloud means for people and roles.
Clouds are designed around the principle of a standardized service. As a cloud builder, you’ll need to embrace the concept of the service as the center of gravity for your IT delivery model, which will dictate some new roles in your organization. For example:

1. Product manager

Cloud services are well-described, standardized menu items that are pre-integrated with all of their required ingredients. When a service is requested, it’s ready to run. This points to the need for a product manager, who acts as the service designer, lead architect and voice of the customer for these cloud services. As a cross-functional role, the product manager must have a broad understanding of system attributes that span compute, network, storage, security, operating systems, middleware and application technology.
Even more importantly, they need to have a deep appreciation for the consumers of the service and know how to walk the line between specific requirements and the need for standardization.
It’s been four years since I first blogged about the importance of product management as a discipline for enterprise IT, but it’s more relevant than ever before in the age of cloud computing.

2. Automation engineer

Cloud builders need to hire automation engineers responsible for automating and integrating infrastructure and software at scale. These are advanced system administrators deeply skilled in data center automation concepts who treat infrastructure as code. Their magic is applying automation to any activity that’s performed more than once, removing the variability and delay of human intervention to enable the quality and speed that cloud depends upon.

3. Cloud orchestrator

Equally important is the cloud orchestrator who is tasked with defining and managing the automation architecture itself and mapping it to IT processes. Roughly, the orchestrator must:

  • Interrogate existing IT processes to document how they are currently executed
  • Compose processes as a work flow of sequential steps, with detailed pre- and post-conditions
  • Encode processes as a set of policies that govern how the automation is carried out

This last part is particularly important for ensuring that a cloud functions efficiently at scale. Here, policies must also include usage rights, consumption thresholds, capacity allocation rules, financial costs and accounting to make things more efficient and prevent resource hoarding. In this sense, your cloud orchestrator is both a technologist and a social scientist who employs both carrot and stick to guide and enforce behaviors through process design.
Defining and automating your IT processes must be carried out with brutal and rigorous specificity, which is a principle I’ve written about and applied extensively through my travels.

4. Release manager

In the same sense that cloud often calls for converged infrastructure, it also dictates something of a convergence and blurring of roles. The service-based concept we’ve discussed shifts work from a focus on independent silos at a specific layer of the stack to collaborating on vertically integrated offerings.
It’s important to re-think how these siloed groups will converge in practice. At Cisco, one approach is cross-training a team: a server admin is certified in network, a middleware specialist is certified in infrastructure, etc. The silos are then brought together as one team. Now, when a problem occurs, it’s handled within a family with a common vocabulary.
It’s also important to assign a release manager as the conductor of these interdependent roles. Part integration engineer, project manager and cat herder, this role is the catalyst and the glue for getting new services and updates into the hands of internal and external customers.
It’s important to recognize cloud for what it is: a new operating model for IT. Clearly, a new operating model dictates a new organizational structure. That’s why cloud builders who pay particular attention to the people part of the equation will emerge as the true winners in the cloud transformation.
Rodrigo Flores is a cloud enterprise architect in the Cisco Intelligent Automation business unit, leading the technology direction and vision for Cisco’s cloud management stack. He came to Cisco via the acquisition of newScale, Inc. where he was founder and chief technology officer.
Image courtesy of Flickr user radiant guy.