Guest post originally published on CloudOps’s blog by CloudOps team

Hot air balloon flying across the mountain

Ian Rae, CEO and Founder of CloudOps, interviewed John Weigelt, National Technology Officer at Microsoft Canada, about how cloud has evolved to become a culture. Read the interview or listen to the discussion here.

Ian Rae: When you were asked to define what cloud meant to you, you managed to capture it with three words: cloud is culture. What was your journey towards understanding cloud, and how did you settle on the notion that cloud is not actually a technology but rather a culture?

John Weigelt: These conversations started from a technology perspective, talking to people about technology and the extent to which cloud has impacted their businesses. There are ripple effects that make it far broader than simply the technologies themselves.

The penny really dropped for me after speaking with researchers that were using the cloud to accelerate their processes. Instead of waiting months for grants to be accepted, equipment delivered and configured, and simulations run, researchers could see their results processed in just over a weekend. This acceleration applies to many other sectors, such as financial and energy.

If you embrace the operating model of being in the cloud, you can transform how your organization works. It’s increasingly not technology we’re having conversations about but rather human resources. The idea that cloud is culture comes from the people, the business, and the whole community. You must embrace the culture of cloud to reap its benefits.

The Deloitte Canada 175 papers recently showed how many organizations are more aspirational than self-critical or self-aware. Many say they’re risk-takers or innovators when they’re really not. The same can be said of the cloud. Some organizations say they’re in the cloud when they’ve really only shifted weights. Maybe they’ve plunked a Linux workload in a new environment, but it’s the same Linux workload. They haven’t evolved their mindset, refactored apps, or adopted new skills. That’s not really what the cloud is about.

How do you get organizations to understand that they’re not going to derive the full benefits and prosperity associated with the cloud unless they adjust their culture?

Ian: What’s important here is to know thyself. We realized early on that was a key success factor, and it’s good to hear you say it’s a widespread problem.

John: We’re increasingly seeing organizations move very rapidly to develop capabilities that have some sort of technical debt. They lack the processes and tools needed to sustain themselves over the long-term and can become fragile as a result. Know thyself to understand when to deprecate and let go by the wayside things you have built in a sustainable way.

Ian: It’s often a struggle to know which processes really need to be done yourself, and that might be tied to your identity, mission, or purpose. Other parts that must be completed but aren’t core are often instinctively outsourced in IT. The statement that cloud is culture can take away from that approach. How have you seen organizations navigate to the next stage of knowing what to do yourself, what to outsource, and how that feeds back into the cultural transformation of cloud?

John: Most organizations are tectonic plates of movement. The forces at play can move slowly. Cloud doesn’t have to be location-dependent. You can have it on your own terms and in your own environment, but it gives you the flexibility to have meaningful conversations around your core competencies. We’ve been having these conversations for years in the tech sector. Whenever a new innovation is released, there are questions around whether to bring in the support of outside experts, outsource the solution for a quick win, or evolve your team internally. The decision plays into many factors including your cultural risk tolerance. How far along the bleeding edge can you place yourself? Would you rather be a fast follower?

This process is happening in different trenches, cloud being the first. I’ve started to hear ‘machine learning is culture’ and ‘AI is culture.’ There might next be an IoT culture or a quantum culture. How do you adapt to change and develop the right skills?

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the scarcity of relevant skills while also affecting resource mobility. We will see massive movements of people once the world starts reopening. Some will leave the workforce completely. The hiring market is already very competitive. The dynamic will be interesting as things start settling down, but I’m not certain things will return to ‘normal.’

As a business owner, you’re asking yourself how to bring in and keep for the long term the staff you need. Some services shouldn’t be outsourced, and others are a commodity to allow for others in a trusted way.

Ian: The intersection between cloud as a capability and cloud as an approach seems to be bubbling up for those who have been cloud evangelists for years. I’ve long argued for the benefits of cloud computing and am suddenly finding myself in a world where everybody is pitching its benefits.

Perhaps it’s a lucky accident that the pandemic happened at a time when the maturity, diversity, and capacity of cloud services can accommodate the huge demand created by the shift in work. It’s happening at an incredible scale that is not lost on us who work with people and lead teams of people. Humans can’t always be automated, orchestrated, or upgraded with new firmware the way many systems have. While it seems we technologists have scrambled to get the right demand in the right place, we’ve been able to do so.

The capabilities in these systems don’t exist inherently to serve themselves; they exist to serve the needs of people, and people are not as flexible. Valuable conversations are happening right now about the extent to which we should allow people to be automated by systems at scale. An example would be the controversies surrounding Amazon’s workforce.

If cloud is culture, is there a culture clash between the incredible scalability of possibilities and capabilities and the challenges within the actual workforce of adapting and upgrading the skill sets needed to meet the human side of the demand?

John: Cloud helps us democratize tools. The humble spreadsheet drove the acceptance or adoption of personal computers within the office space. It helped people articulate their ideas and access quick calculations. That capacity has continued. Moving files across multiple monitors used to be a time-consuming process. Today, Microsoft Power Apps lets you create applications easily through a graphical user interface. It’s democratizing programming.

AI is democratizing AI. A physician in BC is creating their own lung disease diagnosis app on their mobile phone. They’re using ML to bring together open source pictures and the National Institute of Health. A user interface can ensure the right people stay in the hospital and those who don’t need to can go. There are complexities and considerations here, but their potential is astronomical.

Technology is empowering human creativity. Instead of taking humans out of the loop, these tools are complementing our skills and abilities so we can rise above mundane tasks to work on more invigorating projects.

A cultural shift is required. We have seen how back-to-back Zoom calls can be more fatiguing than in-person meetings. It’s now becoming familiar for us at Microsoft to walk around your neighbourhood during a conference call or have your dogs and children pop into the background. The learning curve can be daunting for some, but this shift is happening incrementally.

Ian: There’s a trend of allowing those who would like to program in a generic sense to do so with low code and no code systems. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you didn’t have to learn the foundations of computer science and programming to create? Low code and no code have been talked about quite in our industry. It started pumping up around five or six years ago and seems to be at a pivotal point. Even real estate organizations I’m close with are all of a sudden using low code platforms to string together business processes. Is that a random chance? Are we at an inflection point for these trends?

John: I would look to platforms like WordPress or Shopify that allow you to be very creative very quickly. Low code platforms are making their way from the consumer space right to the enterprise.

Ian: That’s a great note to wrap up on. It’s a very positive notion that we are in the process of democratizing the ability to be creative with technology.

Cloud is culture. What do you think? How does embracing the cloud’s operational model transform the way your business works, and how is it a culture or a technology? Let us know your thoughts on social media.