What Can Amazon Teach CIOs About Being Successful In The Cloud?

As CIOs move into the cloud, they should take direction from Amazon
As CIOs move into the cloud, they should take direction from Amazon
Image Credit: Chris Potter

As CIOs are busy creating projects to move more and more of their IT infrastructure into the cloud, they are always looking to other firms in order to get direction on what the best way to go about doing this is. We all know that Amazon offers one of the most popular cloud products and so it can be very easy to assume that it has always been easy going for their move into the cloud. It turns out that this is not the case, Amazon had their own issues as they moved into the cloud. CIOs need to pay close attention to the challenges that Amazon had to deal with and how they went about solving these challenges.

The Early Days Of Moving Into The Cloud At Amazon

Today Amazon’s IT operations run in the cloud. However, back in the early days they had struggles with their IT systems as they tried to expand their company beyond just being just an online seller of books. The Amazon IT staff could not have predicted where they would be today ten or fifteen years ago. The problem that Amazon was dealing with was that their IT operations were being held up by their internal software and database systems that had been designed to allow them to sell books and nothing else.

Back in 2000, the Amazon IT team changed what they were working on. Their new direction was to add new applications to the IT inventory that were designed to serve Amazon’s increasing number of retail customers along with other emerging services. These changes required the IT teams to rewrite a great deal of their existing computer software.

Amazon had a big problem. They basically had one large piece of software and a collection of databases that were related to it. They viewed this collection of software as holding them back from moving faster. They were facing the problem that any changes that they wanted to make to their databases was required to go through 10 levels of internal approvals simply because there would be so many different things that would be impacted by the change.

How Amazon Made Their Move Into The Cloud A Success

When Amazon looked at developing new features such as Amazon Prime they realized that this would have required a multiyear project. The problem is that this slow pace of software development would have left Amazon vulnerable to more nimble competitors. What the person with the CIO job realized was that they needed to give their IT teams more independence. In order to give their teams more independence they decided to break the large monolith software up into smaller projects.

After they made this decision, they began by separating out its three largest sets of data which were customers, goods, and orders into separate items. They then took each of these items and broke it down further into smaller units. These units consisted of things such as login information or security requirements. The result of this change was that the IT teams were then able to make changes to one area of their code without having to rework the whole system.

When the person in the CIO position made the decision to break down its software architecture this change then ended up driving other efficiencies. Amazon was able to move away from having large IT teams working on sections of the same application. The new model allowed them to have much smaller teams work on specific services, products, or features. The goal was to keep these teams small – they called them “two pizza teams” in such that the entire team could be fed by two pizzas. In order to help these teams move quickly, Amazon created their cloud-based shared services platform that allowed their teams to focus on creating code and not configuring computers.

What All Of This Means For You

The cloud has arrived and CIOs everywhere are scrambling to find ways that they can move their IT infrastructure into the cloud. We often look to other firms in order to see if we can learn anything from how their move into the cloud has gone. Amazon, one of the largest suppliers of cloud services, had to go through the same move that we are working on at one point in time. It turns out that it was not always a smooth move.

Where Amazon is today is completely unexpected – they could not have guessed that they would end up here even just a few years ago. When their journey started, they found that they were being held up by the IT systems that were designed to do only one thing: sell books. When the Amazon IT team started to create applications to serve their retail customers, they ended up having to rewrite a great deal of their code. Their software consisted of a single large piece of code and a lot of supporting databases. Changes required many different approvals. Amazon could not afford to take too much time to make changes. They ended up breaking their large projects up into many smaller projects. Amazon broke their data up into three different sets and then further broke these down even further. Their teams could then make changes without affecting other teams. Amazon started using smaller teams and ended up consolidating their systems into cloud-based shared services.

The thinking is that if Amazon could move their operations into the cloud, then the rest of us should be able to do the same thing. We’d all like to be running an operation like Amazon and perhaps if we take direction from them in regards to how they made their move into the cloud, then we can successfully make the same move. If we can use guidance from Amazon on how we can break big IT projects up into smaller, more manageable projects then our move into the cloud can happen quicker and with a lot less stress!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that Amazon made the right decision to go with lots of smaller teams instead of a few larger teams?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just think of all of the things that the person with the CIO job has to stay on top of: the explosive growth of cloud computing, the continued rise in business-managed IT spend, and incredible leaps in data analytics and automation. In this environment, a new generation of CIOs are leading the way by rewriting the culture of IT to better embrace the importance of information technology. They are replacing structure with fluidity, and control is being swapped for influence as business leaders and CIOs are finding new ways to collaborate and deliver business value. All faster, safer, and more cost-effectively than ever before. What areas do CIOs need to focus on in order to make all of this change happen?