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“You’re kidding me, the server went down? What are we supposed to do about launching the new website? We promised our partners that we would go live this weekend. I’ll admit its forty new pages but its just a website. How long before it all gets fixed?”

I’ll bet you have been to this movie. Seemingly simple stuff in information technology seems suddenly like scaling a mountain. Either solutions are single threaded and dependent on one set of hardware, or you wait months while additional hardware is purchased, delivered, deployed and tested. You just want to bang your head against the wall. What goes on with those IT guys?

The answer lies within a common human tendency – inertia. Newton defined the physical effect in his first law of motion and it applies equally well to peoples’ behavior. Just to paraphrase: “Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.”

The website story proves a good example. Why didn’t the company host the website in the cloud with an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud provider? It’s inexpensive and easy; in fact, many providers provide tools that facilitate deploying websites on their platform. That platform effectively does not go down when features such as automatic backup, fail over and auto-scaling are deployed.

We all experience inertia in our everyday life. Switching to a new way of doing things – say moving from a Windows computer to a Mac is hard. It takes time and effort. You have got to learn the new way and then practice with it to become facile and productive. Only if the benefits are clearly and rapidly felt do we do it.

Let’s dig deeper into some research on organizational inertia and the resistance to adopting new IT solutions like cloud. There are some important lessons we can extract. These apply to both IaaS and Software as a Service (SaaS).

It turns out that there are at least five dimensions that contribute to “inertia”.

  • Cognitive Inertia – We will continue with our existing way even though we know it is not the best, most effective or efficient way of doing things.
  • Behavioral Inertia – We will continue with our existing way simply because it is what we have always done. It’s part of our routine. We have done so regularly in the past.
  • Socio-Cognitive Inertia – We will continue with our existing way because strategic changes are difficult to implement in our organization. We have a culture of strong norms and values making change difficult. The requirements to switch are unexpected and coming too fast.
  • Economic Inertia – We will continue with our existing way because lots of effort has gone into its optimization. We have invested a lot of time to learn it and there is so much financial effort involved in switching.
  • Political Inertia – We will continue with our existing way because our users, customers and/or vendors do not use cloud. They are happy with the old way and our most important business partners insist upon it.

An interesting list, don’t you think? Here are a couple of observations to further your thinking.

Notice how in a number of the above the concept of switching costs emerges. But, wait a minute you say – I thought the big attraction to cloud was that it had low barriers to use. You sat down at your screen and just order it up. You could even use your credit card. No long evaluations, purchasing processes, etc. All true, but there are hidden switching costs. In IaaS, you need to understand the manifold performance and capabilities of the services and features of at least one cloud service provider. If you use more then one the challenge is multiplied. All this takes time and effort and perhaps even expertise that your folks do not have.

In SaaS, you will need to do some integration into your other legacy systems. Despite SaaS providers’ claims, their offerings are not just plug and play unless you want a bunch of siloed systems that don’t talk to each other. Again, this takes time and effort, which inhibits adoption.

Another theme that weaves through these different Inertias is the Innovator’s Dilemma. The very things that have made you successful inhibit you adopting a new path because you cannot see the benefits or consequences. Even your users and customers contribute by signaling that they are quite happy with the status quo – at least, until a competitor brings something better to their table.

Inertia in the IT department is often symptomatic of a more overall “stickiness” of the old ways of doing things across the organization. In today’s market place the pace of change is withering, new entrants often using the latest technology – like cloud – make a mockery of so called competitive advantages. The infamous “creative destruction” of capitalism is moving at a historic pace. The average life expectancy of most firms continue to diminish.

Adopting cloud is only in a small way a technical issue. Do you hear echoes of Newton’s First Law in your organization? What’s your plan? Better think about it and perhaps get some help.

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