Take your culture to the cloud – not just your data centre

When you think of the cloud, don’t simply think of it as a technology concept. It’s much more than that. The cloud is an innovative business model that has rapidly reshaped our ways of working—and continues to do so. It’s a whole new way of buying and using IT infrastructure, platforms and applications that enables us to become faster, more flexible and efficient than we could be when we needed to own all of our hardware and software.

Although the cloud is no longer new, many organisations have yet to wrap their heads around why it’s such a game-changer. With the move to the cloud and as-a-service models, we are now empowered to purchase technology resources on-demand and pay-as-you-go. This dramatically reduces the time, money and human resources it takes to build and deploy infrastructure and applications.

As an analogy, think of it like prepaid electricity. You don’t need to own the power plant, the substation, or the cables that bring the electricity to your home. You don’t need to own the prepaid meter or the payment portal you use to buy the electricity. You decide how much power you’ll need for the week or the month and buy more as you need it. As quickly as you’ve paid for it, it is immediately accessible and allocated exclusively to you.

You don’t need to commit to buy a minimum or maximum amount of electricity. Eskom and your municipality willing, you can use as much or little as you need, without penalties or limitations. The infrastructure, platform and application are owned by someone else and you are charged a service fee to access it. You get to wash your clothes, watch television, and cook without needing to own a power station.

Focus on ways of working, not infrastructure

In much the same way, the cloud enables us to focus on what we want to do at work without the distraction and heavy capital expenditure of running a massive data center infrastructure. The pay-as-you-go model promises myriad benefits; unlocking the possibility of increased efficiency, greater agility and faster innovation. But the most powerful and fascinating potential lies in how the cloud interacts with organisational culture.

The cloud has revolutionised how we manage computing resources in our workplace. In the process, it’s changing the ways in which people in these workplaces think, work and behave. The cloud forces us to interact with infrastructure and physical devices in new ways that should enable us to be more nimble, effective and efficient — if we seize the opportunity.

Despite the cloud offering ground-breaking ways of sharing and scaling resources, many organisations are still managing their people in archaic ways. Tomorrow’s leading organisations are those that are leveraging the cloud to reimagine and reinvent how their people work. In these times of smart algorithms, maturing artificial intelligence and commoditised tech, it’s how their people do things that can set an organisation apart.

While people are the most valuable resource in any organisation, they are complicated, confusing and no two people are completely alike. People are not binary applications; they are flesh and bone and emotion and passion and talent and magic. Even if we were to trawl libraries of science, psychology and management books to understand humans, we would always find an outlier that breaks the mould.

Where people and tech intersect

The more time I spend in IT, the more fascinated I am by the intersection of people and technology. There are components of the cloud model that significantly shift the way we work with colleagues, clients and collaborators.

Some people want to work remotely as digital nomads. Others thrive in a physical office with fixed hours and routines. It’s not a matter of one being better than another. It’s about the right solution for the right person.

Some people want to work on multiple projects and problems at once. Others want to focus on mastery in a single field or single task. Again, it’s not a matter of one being better than another—it’s a case of finding the right person for the right problem. Some clients want to hire full-time, in-house teammates. Others want an external team to tackle a job until it is complete. It’s about the right problem being solved by the right talent.

This organisational sea-change in culture is why a move to the cloud is often accompanied by new approaches such as Agile and DevOps, which enable businesses to embrace iterative processes and rapid development. We’re seeing leading organisations reorient themselves to become more transparent, innovative, and collaborative as they shift to the cloud. The tech opens new possibilities, but it’s up to leaders and people to take advantage of them.

The beauty of the cloud is that it gives us the tools and ways of working to accommodate different human needs and a range of organisational cultures and styles. This brings me to the question that shapes everything I do: What can Cloud teach us about Culture? Imagine what the world of work could look like if we grasp its capability, not just for infrastructure and applications, but for our culture and our people too.