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Cloud Center of Excellence – do you need one?

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Picture of cloud center of excellence crest

Two things come to mind when you hear the phrase Cloud Center of Excellence:

1) Cloud financial management – lots of money has been invested but are they getting value and cost optimization?

2) How good are those people at cloud adoption and cloud management anyway? Excellence is a big goal.

You only get to answer those questions when you work with the COE and that is if you are allowed to interact! Too often, a COE becomes a central governing body which dictates and controls a one-way interaction, which limits its effectiveness, its cloud maturity and gets everyone else’s backs up.

CCOE’s need to be a central body of knowledge to drive cloud and product in the right way. And the CCOE’s effectiveness is really how well it disseminates that knowledge across to the rest of the company. If this is done to a high level then suddenly your organisation is competing with cloud computing on a level playing pitch with Amazon, Google, Open-Source, the internet and other successful cloud organisations.  

When a Cloud Center of Excellence is established badly, it will provoke a lot of negative reactions. Your dev teams will rarely react well when “the experts come to show them how it is done”.

Why is Serverless adoption different for a Cloud Center of Excellence?

Many companies have already started out on their cloud services journey and will have gone through information gathering as well as some deployment. So you don’t need to move backwards and ring fence a whole department to “figure this cloud transformation thing out”. Hopefully, at this stage, you are beyond the skunkworks.

The cloud journey moves too fast for development teams to disconnect, pause and restart the process. You need to get comfortable with engineering teams solving their problems in the moment. Serverless is incremental. Knowledge and developer experience is acquired and built upon, on the job. 

You need pioneers

Simon Wardley, describes how different talent is required depending on what stage of innovation you are at and defines them as Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners. For Serverless, you are going to need pioneers.

As Simon describes: “Pioneers are brilliant people. They are able to explore never before discovered concepts, the uncharted land. They show you wonder but they fail a lot. Half the time the thing doesn’t work properly. You wouldn’t trust what they build. They create ‘crazy’ ideas. Their type of innovation is what we call core research. They make future success possible. Most of the time we look at them and go “what?”, “I don’t understand?” and “is that magic?”. In the past, we often burnt them at the stake. They built the first ever electric source (the Parthian Battery, 400AD) and the first ever digital computer”.

Diagram of Simon Wardley's Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners as an alternative to a Cloud center of excellence

The Cloud Center of Excellence experts need to be on your team, but what do you need to do to treat them differently? They are learning, exploring and experimenting. Do you need to lead them differently? What guardrails do you need to give them? This depends on your organization. Maybe you treat every team as a team of experimentation innovators? If so, good for you – but I’d be surprised if you are not Serverless already.

How do we share knowledge over time?

The problem comes back to knowledge – as it often does in technology. The correct advice at the right time will save millions of dollars for your business and business strategy. For any company larger than 100 people, knowledge management becomes a problem. Team A figures out a load of good practice based on their project, Team B is doing something completely different, but there are shared patterns. Teams will talk and spend time sharing ideas, but you can’t share everything, all the time. You will start to hear the phrase “I didn’t know you did that” more often. Reams of documentation doesn’t help either if that was your next thought. One critical part of the six principles below is the enablement team. This is an idea from Team Topologies.

What are the six principles?

I would advise you to watch the talk; it explains what I have laid out here in detail. The six principles are as follows.

Team of Expert Enablers which are typically teams of experts in a specific area that will collaborate with stream-aligned teams to help them gain the capabilities that they are missing. It can be anything from test automation to build engineering architecture what-have-you, but they have an enabling role – they are they’re helping bridge the gaps that the stream-aligned team might have in the way that they build and deliver software.

Early wins are the best way to convince stakeholders, partners and peers in your organisation as well as your customers. It’s very hard to describe this approach with principles, statements and diagrams. You need to actually do something and the results will be much easier to talk about. Plus, you will get unexpected benefits.

The Ambassador role is critical as you need to link the executive narrative to the engineering practices. The teams will start moving really fast, so you need someone to ensure the rest of the organisation is comfortable. A key group here is security, as the old methods will not work…

Reusable patterns are a game-changer. Sometimes a Cloud Center of Excellence will advise on reference architectures, but Serverless moves too fast. Something like www.cdkpatterns.com has to be the starting place here. Once you give your engineers a bunch of accelerators or lego blocks – they will go fast.

Once you have the structures in place, next you must Engage and evangelise. At this point, you have lowered the bar to entry, so you must help other teams make the leap. Hands-on sessions and “show and tell” are very effective.

Finally, the ability to Scale the approach is crucial. As many teams start to use Serverless, you need to think about how you can help and support teams without creating a bottleneck. One approach worth looking at is AWS Well-Architected – Serverless Lens.

In short, you can create a serverless Cloud Center of Excellence – but don’t imagine it as a swanky office, in the new part of town, full of scooters and bean bags. Some of your teams will lead by example and start to push ahead. Encourage and support them. Then bring everyone else along and invest in making this happen. The critical part is the investment, don’t cross your fingers and hope it happens by accident. And don’t hire it in. You already have the people – support them.

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