One of my favorite quotes is from the noted author, William Gibson:

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

This seems to be true of the take up of cloud computing. We see companies who absolutely will not use cloud – although since it has such an aura of cutting edginess to it that they may in engage in some cloud washing and call what they are doing “cloud”.

On the other hand, we see others racing ahead to embrace the cloud in a bear hug of full out moving everything they can to the cloud. What accounts for this disparity? Could it be that just some industries are early adopters? Why is your firm where it is in using the cloud?

There is some truth that the more regulated and/or conservative an industry is, the slower they will adopt a new technology or process – think banking or utilities. The trouble is you have some major firms like Capital One and General Electric doing the cloud bear hug thing! So what is going on here?

I think the answer lays in a great insight from Mike Mavis: “The Four Stages of Cloud Competence”. In it he picks up on the work of psychologist named, Noel Burch, who built a model in the 1970’s to describe how individuals go through four stages of learning when introduced to a new skill.

It suggests that individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence. As they recognize their incompetence, they consciously acquire a skill, then consciously use it. Eventually, the skill can be utilized without it being consciously thought through: the individual is said to have then acquired unconscious competence (Wikipedia).

Mike Mavis’ insight is to map the learning process to four stages of cloud adoption. The analogy is the institution, like your company, needs to learn the skill of cloud. That process eventually results in a transformation of how IT has been traditionally performed in the firm.

Steps in Learning

Steps in Cloud Adoption

1. Unconscious incompetence

The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

Stage 1 – Cloud Denial

At the unconscious incompetence stage, the lack of knowledge of the underlying technology, organizational impact, and potential business value causes organizations to deny the usefulness of cloud computing. Some call it resistance to change, but it is really a lack of understanding of the core value proposition.

2. Conscious incompetence

Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage

Stage 2 – Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Cloud

At the conscious incompetence stage, many either see tangible value in the cloud or have a mandate from the C-suite to go cloud. However, these organizations don’t necessarily trust cloud providers, especially public cloud vendors, and they continue to apply their legacy data center thinking to the cloud architectures that they build. They also still want to be in control because they think that the cloud is only safe if they build it themselves.

3. Conscious competence

The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

Stage 3 – Cloud Transformation

Those at the conscious competence stage have a year or two of hands-on experience with the cloud and a solid understanding of IaaS. At this point, most organizations realize the do-it-yourself model is complex and time-consuming. Now that those driving the change understand the underlying technologies, the organizational impacts, and the potential business value, they often start looking for ways to accelerate their cloud adoption programs. This is where companies who previously said “we will never go to the public cloud” change their mindset to “tell me what I can’t run in the public cloud.”

4. Unconscious competence

The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

Stage 4 – “All in” the Cloud

At the unconscious competence stage, building solutions in the cloud becomes natural. These companies transformed the way software is built and delivered and have created great value for their business. In some cases they may have even enabled new business models and are now looking for ways to accelerate bringing value to the business. At this point, these organizations are “all in” the cloud.

Try applying this framework to your organization. Remember the stages do not have hard boundaries but the framework can act as a guide to where your company’s institutional knowledge stands. Knowing where you stand will give you insights into why the company is acting as it does and can guide you to what are the right actions to take.

Image Source: “Competence Hierarchy adapted from Noel Burch by Igor Kokcharov” by Kokcharov – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

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