On the journey to cloud, scaling through COE can align your organisation and strategy.

In my previous post in this ongoing series of blogs on the journey to cloud, I looked at how your organisation can start off on the right foot with cloud architecture. With the architecture defined and in place, one of the key next steps is to set up a cloud centre of excellence (COE) to scale cloud adoption across your enterprise. In this latest post I’ll discuss what a COE is, the different types and the critical success factors for a COE implementation.

What is a cloud COE?

The first thing to say is we often like to call it a centre of enablement rather than a centre of excellence. This reflects the need to avoid the COE being an “ivory tower”, and instead to create a structure that actively provides support and assurance for cloud transformation as well as driving execution and thought leadership.

But whatever you choose to call it, the COE is fundamentally an organisational construct that has the remit of setting and building the foundations to enable cloud at scale within your enterprise – while also ensuring, firstly, alignment with your broader business and technology strategy; and, secondly, that all activities fall within the boundaries of external and internal controls, policies and regulations.

We believe the early stages of cloud adoption require a centralised organisation to establish a clear strategy and adoption approach and to identify and drive the necessary organisational changes. However, it’s important to structure it in the right way, to align with your organisation’s ambitions while also considering any organisational parameters or constraints, such as available investment.

Different types of COE can be implemented, depending on your organisation and cloud strategy

We like to think of the different “types” of COE as falling into three broad archetypes. However, in practice they sit along a continuum, on which their chosen position will reflect the scale, speed and complexity of your organisation’s cloud transformation.

Our three types of COE, with their respective attributes, are:

COE Archetype Transformation Approach Organisational Impact
Organisational Extension Utilises existing team structures and resources, existing processes, largely similar toolsets and existing governance forums. Slowest rate of cloud adoption, least disruptive to the organisation.
Virtual COE Partially ring-fenced resources extracted from “home” functions; usually significant process re-design; additional tooling procured to support the existing tooling capability; a balance between existing and new governance forums. Moderate rate of cloud adoption, moderately disruptive to the organisation. A sensible option for controlled cloud transformation.
Independent Organisation Builds a brand-new organisation from the ground up, comprising new resources, new processes and a new set of tooling. Fastest rate of adoption and highly effective, but disruptive and costly.

There is no one-size-fits all – but all successful COEs have a set of common success factors

As underlined by the differences between the various types of COE and their respective transformation approaches, there’s no “silver bullet” for cloud adoption. But there are a number of critical success factors common to all – of which six are especially important:

  1. A clear cloud strategy needs to be in place to outline the way in which your organisation will operate in the cloud. The strategy needs to take account of the priorities for both the business and technology functions, and define the approach to be taken in areas where the two sides converge or overlap.
  2. Executive sponsorship is crucial to the success of any cloud adoption programme. The bottom-up approach to cloud adoption is susceptible to influences based on the preferences, needs and priorities of individual functions and teams, and can lead to a disjointed adoption landscape. Executive sponsorship and the delegation of authority to the COE ensures decisions are based on the real needs and priorities of your organisation.
  3. Clear definition of the interfaces and touchpoints between your cloud COE and other parts of your organisation and vendor ecosystem is critical. Take care to map the processes clearly and define the capabilities provided in-house versus those to be provided externally.
  4. Right-sized investment is required and should align with the type of COE your organisation opts to establish. We often see clients underinvest in their COE – but given the importance of cloud and its potential efficiency gains, we firmly believe this is a false economy.
  5. The right tooling is required to drive your cloud adoption and transformation agenda. Having a clear tooling strategy will increase the pace of adoption. Examples include development tooling (CI/CD); cloud management tooling including RunOps, FinOps and SecOps.
  6. A clearly-defined organisational-change approach that puts culture, people and capability-building at the core. This will facilitate employee education, re-skilling, upskilling and – if required – the hiring of additional resources.

As your organisation matures, its dependence on the COE should decline

Your cloud COE should not be permanent. Its role is to support the organisation in building and establishing the foundations for cloud, and to facilitate “controlled” scaling once the capability is sufficiently mature. As your organisation’s cloud maturity advances, your dependence on the COE should taper off, ultimately reaching the point where it’s no longer required.

Once you have transitioned fully to a cloud-enabled organisation, and cloud has simply become the “new normal” across your enterprise, the COE should be fully dissolved – and all the expertise within the original COE embedded within the permanent organisational structures of your enterprise.

What’s next?

In my next blog in the series, I’ll discuss what we at Accenture have learned in terms of cloud management from the experience of managing US$300 million of spend in the cloud per year. Stay tuned!

I also would like to thank my colleagues Samuel Gunn, Orla Baker and Martin Lam who have contributed to this blog.

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