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When Technology isn’t the Problem: The Psychology of IT Transformation


This post was originally published on LinkedIn on September 16, 2020 

Enterprises transform network architectures to become more agile and better able to meet business goals. But transitioning your network from a traditional hub-and-spoke network to a cloud services model can be a daunting task. Transformation leaders (like you) must address connectivity, management, performance, cost, and ROI concerns. But more-difficult enterprise network transformation obstacles are often overlooked.

The most important question you should ask before embarking on a cloud transformation journey isn’t about security. It’s about people, and how open they are to change. Many C-level leaders neglect to ask, “Is the IT team adequately prepared for our transformation journey?” Digital transformations are more likely to succeed when champions recognize at the outset that the biggest challenge to transformation strategy isn’t technical.


What if you build it and they don’t come?

The new way of work dictates a new model of connectivity: The internet is the new network, and the cloud is the new data center. Change is rarely easy, and for IT organizations accustomed to (and certified in) the old way of doing things—e.g., perimeter hardware-based security encircling a hub-and-spoke network—the shift to the cloud can be difficult (and disorienting).

IT teams beholden to legacy architectures build complex moats to protect the corporate assets within the metaphorical castle. But their legacy architectures can’t support your enterprise’s need for agility, performance, scalability, and most importantly, growth. It doesn’t matter how good the drawbridge may be if no one (except maybe threat actors) wants to enter the castle.

Your crucial company assets, applications, and services have already moved to the cloud. Users perform the bulk of their work on the open internet, outside the corporate network perimeter and the purview of IT oversight. Meanwhile,  IT teams worry about losing control of network access or security, and inviting a breach. They seek to reconcile differences between cloud provider and enterprise security posture.

The problem here isn’t the technology. It’s that IT culture is averse to change. IT teams (particularly those with skill sets and certifications linked to legacy hardware) can be reluctant to embrace digital transformation:

  • Will cloud deployment impact their job security?
  • Will current skill sets lose value?
  • Will team priorities change?

And these concerns are understandable. As a transformation leader, you have a dual responsibility to lead digital transformation and ensure no one gets left behind.


How to win friends and influence IT teams

IT leaders must ensure everyone is excited about (and committed to) advancing company transformation and security. That requires giving them a reason to embrace change. Yes, it can mean IT roles evolve—but this evolution means IT gets to advance core business competencies and goals instead of hindering them with legacy architecture. This makes your IT department an enterprise value accelerator, instead of a brake pedal.

Ensuring digital transformation success requires more than evangelism to IT stakeholders. It requires engagement. Here are four places to begin with your team:

Solve a business challenge with transformation technology. Let your team get a transformation win, because nothing breeds success like...success:

  • Find an ongoing business issue that technical innovation can solve. Create an IT team task force to address that issue.
  • Ensure the mandate is clear: Solve this problem without regard to what the company currently uses in the network architecture. Use what best makes sense from a simplicity and agility point of view.
  • Assess any new technologies or solutions that can solve that business problem. Don’t pigeonhole team creativity by tying success to a budget or TCO.
  • When they find a solution that addresses the business problem, assure that it is acknowledged and promote their solution at the executive level.

Demonstrate how IT can become the department of  “yes.” Make the “to do” list work for you (and knock a few items off it for a change):

  • Clearly outline a list of projects sitting on the back burner due to a lack of resources or legacy technology incompatibility.
  • Assess and communicate the business value of the projects to your IT team.
  • Challenge them to be a catalyst for change so that they focus on future objectives instead of “keeping the lights on.”

Make continuing education easy. IT team members often worry, “What will I do if I’m not needed to build on-premises solutions?” Education is a constant catalyst and should be part of each staff member’s growth plan: If there is no growth, there’s no advancement.

  • Outline the expectations for every team member, including how they fit into the transformation planning and provide access to the training they need to accomplish those goals.
  • Offer multiple options: onsite lectures, online training, in-class lessons, and cross-departmental training (including a buddy/mentor environment).

Build individual brands. Remind IT team members that the world is moving forward and that to remain valuable in their careers, they’ll need to roll with it. The experience they get shepherding transformation will build their resume and their brand, making them more valuable in the enterprise.


Transformation: a technological and human issue

For cloud-enabled enterprises, the present and future is perimeter-less cloud security. IT can’t cling to legacy architectures but must instead enable business goals. This means creating an agile, resilient network that can adapt to change.

Digital transformation needs executive leadership. To do that successfully, you must get IT colleagues excited about embracing a new vision and being an enabler of the new future of the business. Assure that they have an active place in network transformation if they are willing to think differently about their role and how they contribute to achieving the business’ goals. Regardless of what they do, everyone should understand the organization’s goals and their role in its future and success.

Pamela Kubiatowski is Sr. Director of Transformation Strategy at Zscaler

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