Why Culture is the key to Cloud Native

More than just containers – how cloud native changes companies

The goal of cloud native as a developmental approach is to build software in a way that allows for the maximum exploitation of the cloud environment – with advantages for both the software providers and the clients. In doing so, software is developed on the cloud for the cloud and based on an architecture of micro-services bundled in containers. However, cloud native is not only an approach to software development but also a culture and mindset: “Cloud-native is a culture for building software.” [I] It is ultimately about delivering good software that taps into the potential of the cloud [2]. But it is precisely in this potential that there is a lot more for a company – because cloud native changes its competitive position. The continuous integration and continuous delivery of micro-services in the cloud lead to faster release cycles, more efficient releases through the outsourcing of the hardware preparation, and a better customer experience [3]. More agility and flexibility make it possible to respond more quickly to the dynamics of competition. Cutting-edge methods no longer represent a threat but rather an opportunity to explore new business models. Cloud native is thus not only a technological decision but also a business goal that focuses on modernizing all technological, organizational, and cultural processes [2]. As a result, the management faces the challenge of realigning the whole company in a cloud native perspective.

Container without culture – efficient or wasteful?

Unfortunately, cultural transformation doesn’t come without costs – loss of acceptance and a significant time investment often play a role. So why isn’t the mere use of technology enough? Try to picture the following scenario: Someone who has cautiously driven a small car for a long time invests in a sports car. This person now has two possibilities: They can either drive full speed without practice, or they can drive carefully and cautiously as they did before. The consequences of both scenarios are quickly become clear. The first one is quite dangerous. In the second, the only two things that have changed are the fuel consumption and the price of the sports car. Now, replace “sports car” with “cloud native”, and the answer is clear. Using the best tools isn’t enough if they are not used in the most appropriate way. This leads to either a high risk or to a considerable untapped potential. The swiftness that cloud native brings to the table is therefore a step forward only if

a) your teams work in a way that is as agile as the applications demand and

b) you provide the right product, which is ultimately the only thing that matters to customers.

Without the proper approaches, the use of cloud native not only fails to provide benefits but also results in a loss. Those who use new technology on old structures risk delivering worse quality across longer lifecycles and having worse team communication [2] – the exact opposite of the original goal of cloud native.

#Cloudflight

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Ambidexterity for the balance between creativity and efficiency.

Creativity as a precondition for innovation plays a key role in cloud native culture. However, it is important to switch to efficiency in the right phase. In order to be able to deliver the faster and higher quality software that cloud native allows, this balancing act must be successful.

Collaboration for an interdisciplinary teamwork.

Cloud native organizations are highly decentralized. This is true in software development, software operation, and even decision making. It is thus all the more important to have good and open collaboration across all levels of the company. Only then can decisions be made effectively and action be taken.

Agility for good responsiveness in the face of dynamic challenges.

An agile mindset with frequent feedback cycles makes it possible to respond to mistakes as well as new challenges and opportunities. Dynamic strategies define a general direction but also leave enough space for short-term, last-minute variations. The flexibility and swiftness that cloud native enables can be tapped only through a corresponding agile mindset. Not only that: in this way, it is possible to achieve a faster ROI.

Constant development for continuous improvement.

Continuous delivery and integration of services aren’t the only paradigms of cloud native – the continuous development of skillsets also plays an important role. The belief that learning and continual improvement are worth pursuing is what distinguishes cloud native culture from others. The keys to this are the desire to experiment and a psychologically safe environment with a strong feedback culture. In this way, the CI/CD paradigm with increasing quality is also made possible.

The cloud-native culture shares many similarities with the agile cultural approach. While agile organizations minimize the risk of an uncertain future through short-term goals and by developing software is small packages, they still work in teams to achieve these defined goals [2]. In a cloud native organization, employees minimize risks by learning from the never-ending changes of the business environment and letting this knowledge flow into the application. Through CI/CD, the software adapts continuously to the customer’s needs. This way, employees of a cloud native organization not only achieve individual short-term goals but also follow a broader vision in which the implementation is constantly influenced by new findings and thus remains unpredictable.

It is important to remember that a cloud-native culture does not replace the technology. Similarly, the cloud native technology cannot compensate for a missing culture. Both aspects are part of a cloud native organization and enable each other in a synergistic relationship.

Your path towards cloud native culture

A cultural transformation is harder than the introduction of new technology – but it is even more meaningful for its life cycle in the company. Corporate culture originates from what has been learned together [4]. In order to attain a cultural transformation in the direction of a cloud-native culture, the cloud native approach first has to prove itself. Employees and clients must be able to recognize that through this approach, it is possible to correct mistakes and implement updates more quickly and to better scale resources. Transparency is therefore quite important for a cloud native transformation. Productive feedback, a safe environment, and a 100% management commitment [5] all create the necessary context to guide employees on the path towards a cloud native organization. Here, the primary goal is to highlight the importance of cloud native culture in relation to cloud native technology as well as to showcase how cloud native goes beyond agility. To do this, the focus must go from agile scrum teams to the creation of a core team that is able to accelerate the transformation and a platform team that is able to develop the cloud-native platform. The “build-run-teams” thus have the capacities to take over the responsibility for the development, the deployment, and the maintenance of micro-services. And SRE teams ensure that the platform is continuously improved [5].

The first step in solving any problem is often recognizing that there is one. First, the driving players of the transformation should ask themselves: Where are we, where do we want to go, and why do we want to get there? Your own culture can be assessed through interviews and observations. Executives must be first in line when it comes to embodying the visions and values developed in workshops and communicating them. The more the values of a cloud native culture pay off, the more likely they are to be recognized, accepted, and practiced by the enablers of cloud native. In the end, that’s precisely what culture is: An enabler for the optimal use of cloud native technology.

[1] Ambassador. (o. D.). Cloud Native | Ambassador. Getambassador. retreived on  June 17th 2021, from https://www.getambassador.io/learn/kubernetes-glossary/cloudnative/#:%7E:text=What%20is%20Cloud%20Native%3F,workflow%2C%20with%20decentralized%20software%20architectures
[2] Reznik, P., Gienow, M. & Dobson, J. (2019). Cloud Native Transformation. Van Duuren Media.
[3]  Rentrop, C. (2020, 12. February). 6 Cloud-Native-Versprechen. Cloud Computing-Insider. https://www.cloudcomputing-insider.de/6-cloud-native-versprechen-a-904420/
[4] Schein, E. H. & Schein, P. (2018). Organisationskultur und Leadership (5. Aufl.). Vahlen.
[5] Organization & Culture Patterns. (o. D.). Cnpatterns. Retreived on July 8th 2021, from https://www.cnpatterns.org/organization-culture

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