While many companies have begun the journey, few would claim to have “completed” their digital transformation. It is not something you finish, it is something you do; it is an ongoing effort to continuously improve your organization’s effectiveness through technology. Currently, a critical piece of this ongoing effort is adopting and mastering cloud native systems.

The rise of containers and Kubernetes, the heart of a cloud native solution, has triggered the need for a new set of transformations within the digital transformation mindset. In the most recent Forrester Wave™: Multicloud Container Development Platforms, Q3 2020, analysts Dave Bartoletti and Charlie Dai observe that “[a]s cloud-native technologies like containers and Kubernetes mature rapidly, they are becoming the preferred way to build new software experiences and modernize existing apps at scale and across clouds.”

From Many Platforms to One

In years past vendors supplied practical solutions around technology concepts and trends, offering enterprises complete systems in exchange for lock-in. One of the most glaring differences between the IT platforms of several years ago and today is the current ubiquity and shared nature of the base platform. In the past we had commercial operating systems like HPUX, OS/400 and Windows; today we simply have Linux. In the past, Microsoft, RedHat and IBM all had their own packaging systems for deploying and distributing software; today we simply have OCI containers. In the past, systems for managing physical and virtual hardware varied from VMware to AWS to Hewlett Packard; today we simply have Kubernetes.

While plenty of room remains for vendors to add value and provide complete solutions, the heart of a cloud native system is free and open source, representing the combined knowledge, insight and effort of a massive global community. The latest trend is no longer a concept with widely different implementations; it is real, usable, free, open source software. The open nature of the core platform makes the possible solution permutations almost limitless, and consequently untethered from the traditional vendor safety net. This unlimited ability to customize brings long term benefits with steep short-term knowledge hurdles, representing a structural shift in technology dynamics that industries and government agencies have yet to fully digest.

Technology Transformation Starts with Cultural Transformation

People do what they know. Ask an engineer to solve a problem and they will use tools they are familiar with. Organizations do what they know. Ask an organization to solve a problem and they will use the divisions, management, processes and approaches they are familiar with. This phenomenon is what Dr. Elliott Jaques identified in 1951 as “culture,” and it is the hardest attribute of a large business to change. Adopting a piece of technology orthogonal to a company’s culture will generally impair a business rather than helping it.

Transforming an organization and its culture is an all-consuming endeavor. It requires aligning values and visions within the organization, and then enabling the players on the field. Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann noted that “[y]our digital transformation journey will be a dead end unless your employees are on the road with you.”

You cannot expect managers to embrace a DevOps or SRE mentality if they don’t know what that actually is. You cannot expect engineers to build and utilize secure software supply chains if they don’t know what is involved. You cannot expect software developers to design and package applications for efficient operation in the cloud if they don’t understand the challenges and solutions. When under pressure to deliver, people will use the processes and techniques they know rather than risking change.

Strong leadership is without doubt essential to any transformation process. Effective leaders can marshal the efforts of entire organizations to achieve a goal. That said, each layer of an organization must understand their role and be empowered to lay out their specific path in the process. A key friction point is that people, especially technology people, are skeptical by nature. Change involves risk, causing organizations to reflexively resist it. Edicts from on high will result in few differences on the ground.

Training Changes Minds

Training is one of the most effective ways to open peoples’ minds to new approaches and tools, while simultaneously reducing risk. As Moritz Onken, an IT Manager with Siemens Healthcare once said, “Training kick-starts the organisation into using new technology.” Seeing a new tool or process work and gaining essential experience with it has a powerful effect on people, opening their eyes to new possibilities and sparking creativity. Individual software engineers make tens of small decisions every day that affect the trajectory of their organization. These decisions will not be in harmony with the mother ship if they do not know where the mother ship wants to go.

Most training programs cover best practices and discuss anti-patterns, which can minimize risk as new paths are traveled. Group training is also a team building experience, bringing people together to share experiences, both successes and failures. Any transformative strategy should involve a linked training plan.

All companies must become technology companies if they want to survive in the modern era. Mastering your businesses data and using it to gain insights in a rapidly changing competitive environment, creating secure and efficient software supply chains as well as utilizing platforms that enable mobility and elasticity are all hallmarks of cloud native systems. Most businesses are not there yet and those that are can always improve. The most effective leaders marshal everyone to the cause, and training is one of the best ways to get things moving in the right direction.

Hallmarks of an Effective Training Strategy

While there is no “one size fits all” approach to training on the road to cloud native, there are several key attributes of an effective strategy:

  • Do not underestimate the importance and inertia of culture. Identify the key factors in your transformation and bolster these with training that lights the way, empowering your change agents with the knowledge and tools that they need to become supporters and enablers of the vision.
  • Consider the distance from where you are to where you are going. Plot a progression from your current situation to your goal, use training as a driver in each stage of the process. Incremental moves are best.
  • Harmonize and focus your organization around the company’s vision through training. Create a plan and execute on it with a flexible mindset, learning, adjusting and steering the organization as you go.

Done right, training can be one of the most powerful change management tools available to leaders on the road to cloud native.

***To learn more about containerized infrastructure and cloud native technologies, consider joining us at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon NA Virtual, November 17-20.

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