Enterprise Cloud Adoption and the 5 Stages of Grief

I’ll give my standard disclaimer, that these are my views and only my views and any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.

I often speak about cloud computing and I tried to make sense out of the many different audience reactions I was getting. I was (and still am) excited about all the cloud can bring to an enterprise and I was struggling to try and understand why I would come away from one group that was euphoric about the cloud and with the next I felt it might not be a bad idea to pack my bags and get out of town quickly.

Eventually I hit upon the idea that the audience reactions were somewhat like facing the 5 stages of grief. I developed my own internal “grief meter” to figure out what stage of grief the individual, group, or even the entire enterprise was at. If your goal is to drive enterprise cloud adoption, then knowing and understanding what stage of grief your audience is at will be key to moving to the final stage: “Acceptance!”. Let’s take a look at each of these stages.

How do you get started in cloud anyway? It could be a single person or group that latches onto the idea of cloud. It could come from any level of the enterprise inside or outside of traditional IT boundaries. It could come from a group that is hungry for resources beyond the bounds of limited internal resources or the CEO that asks, “Why are we not in the cloud yet?”. It doesn’t matter where it starts, it just matters that it starts.

While some level of cloud adoption can occur without the need for infrastructure or security, it’s not likely to get very far and the consequences of not involving these groups early on can be real trouble down the road. We need to take those two groups head-on. Inevitably, there is data that is on-premises that you need to get to the cloud to process and often that data is some of the most business critical data you own. You may even hit some level of denial from these groups. The mere mention of mission critical data existing in a public cloud could send shivers up the spine of your CISO. The cloud can spin in a world completely outside of their current responsibilities and no one has given them the cloud edict, so I will deny that it exists.

This is probably less the case now than it was 5 years ago, but it is certainly a stage that can derail your efforts. Moving these two groups beyond the denial phase is going to be key to your success. How? Be persistent, listen to their concerns, and try to address them. Your cloud provider has expertise in both infrastructure and security, use them and bring them in! Often they will do this at either no cost or minimal cost. Hold workshops and buy lunch. Pizza and chocolate chip cookies go a long way to mending differences.


“It’s hard to beat person who never gives up” – Babe Ruth 

With at least nominal support from security and infrastructure you can progress. My best advice at this stage is a two pronged approach. Find a group within your enterprise that is hungry for the cloud and take a bottom-up approach and enable them for the cloud. They will quickly become your ally in the cloud journey. They will provide your use cases and success stories for all things that could not have been accomplished without the cloud. Simultaneously, start a top-down approach with the level of management that is going to eventually see the cloud bill and feed them the successes from your bottom-up group. If you cannot find at support at either end within your enterprise, you’re going to have quite the struggle.



“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” – Socrates

Let’s face it, change is difficult, change is hard. Many enterprises have intrenched IT veterans that have been working the same processes in some cases for 5, 10, or 20+ years. What is the cloud thing of which you speak? Anger in the enterprise can come out in many different ways. If you need resources from a particular group that is in this phase of grief, they may simply ignore or even absolutely refuse to give you the help you need. They may have the sense that what you are doing will fundamentally change their job or in some cases believe that you will be eliminating their job altogether.

We must get past this phase quickly! Left to fester, this can be pure poison towards your goal. In addressing this phase, I would often speak about changing job roles and described how individuals could be empowered by the cloud to provide even greater value in the enterprise food chain. As an example, I explained that traditional “rack and stack” general use server administrators would now have the ability to work closely with business partners and tune their workloads to achieve maximum efficiency. Capabilities that they didn’t really have access to before the cloud. It’s an evolution of their role not an end of their role.

Individuals or groups that have accepted this message to heart turned out to be ready to move onto to the next phase. Sadly, there are those that are completely unwilling to make this change and while it was never the goal, they may find themselves on the outside looking in and there can come a time when their role is no longer relevant.


“The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘we’ve always done it this way’ – Admiral Grace Hopper

Once you’ve moved past denial and anger into the bargaining phase, you may be tempted to take a break after all this is hard work! Don’t kid yourself though, this phase can be the “tipping point” for your enterprise and it is in your best interest to take special care with this phase. Bargaining is all about the attempt to regain control after perceived losses. It’s an attempt to rebuild structure to bring about some “normalcy” to what could be a complete change within an enterprise or group.

Some groups may try to “adapt” existing processes to include cloud rather than invest the effort in creating new “cloud first” processes. There is a temptation to yield to that behavior just to keep your goals moving, but you may later regret those decisions. Often these legacy processes don’t address the true agility of the cloud and can become a hindrance to overall cloud adoption in the end.

It’s not all bad news though. You can take advantage of this stage to get in place some of the key groups that you’re going to need for your overall success. Remember the top-down approach I suggested earlier? You’re going to need management support to get some groups in place, like a cloud core team or a cloud governance team that don’t exist in the enterprise today.

Can you really have “depression” in an enterprise? The simple answer is yes, and I’ve seen it firsthand. Enterprises can become overwhelmed with the feeling of nothing is any use at all. At this point in enterprise cloud adoption, there may have been an entire cloud adoption program developed with upper management support. When this occurs (often without any increase in resources) individuals or groups may feel the cloud is just another drop on to their ever growing plate of responsibilities.

While net-new applications may go straight into the cloud without a stop on-premises, there are likely many enterprise applications that still exist within the data center walls. Those applications and systems still need care and feeding. Even more frustrating may be the fact that those systems are aging and need capital funding for a refresh, which may be an underlying reason why the enterprise was looking at the cloud to begin with. Now groups within the enterprise are charged with both keeping aging infrastructure around and supported without any of the resources needed to migrate to the cloud.

What can you do at this stage? For your own self-health stay positive! Positivity and enthusiasm are catchy things. Do what you can to help establish reasonable priorities and attainable goals throughout the enterprise. Be prepared to have some real sit down discussions about the things are needed to be successful in cloud adoption and where those resources will come from. With clarity comes the ability to move to your ultimate goal.

It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration. Those emotions are poison to any living goal.” — Steve Marboli


Ah…the sweet smell of success… You’ve made it to the end – Acceptance! I once had an analyst come to me and say, “you know after we complete this implementation in the cloud, I won’t have to work Saturday night maintenance windows anymore”. I knew at that point, they had reached the stage of acceptance. It’s a great thing, but don’t kid yourself that your journey is over. It is just beginning.

Acceptance is embracing the new reality of how things will work going forward. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you forget how you got to where you are and all the great work that went in long before “the cloud” was even an industry buzzword. I was often asked early on, “Who is on the cloud team, can I be on the cloud team?” to which I would respond, “Everyone is on the cloud team!”. That was more of a goal than the actual truth, but it was where I knew we needed to be. The cloud doesn’t need to exist as some separate thing within the enterprise, it is woven into the very fabric of how the enterprise operates. If that is true, then you truly have reached the goal of enterprise acceptance.

Best of luck in your journey. Cloud On!

“The cloud is an architect’s dream. Prior to the cloud if I screwed something up there was tangible evidence that had to be destroyed. Now it’s just a blip in the bill.” – Michael Spence

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