Five Change Management Imperatives for Moving to Cloud Applications

John Lutz, Vice Chancellor for IT & CIO, Vanderbilt University
John Lutz, Vice Chancellor for IT & CIO, Vanderbilt University

John Lutz, Vice Chancellor for IT & CIO, Vanderbilt University

Cloud-based components are playing a prominent role in the configuration of business productivity suites across a wide range of firms and institutions in all industries. Higher education, which thrives on innovation, is no exception. Nearly 80 percent of higher education institutions, including Vanderbilt University, have made key investments in cloud services.

At Vanderbilt, our move to the cloud was driven by the need to maintain the level of excellence that our faculty, students, and staff bring every day to our campus. As our systems had aged over time, we found our university succeeding despite our infrastructure, not because of it. We needed our tech platforms to became innovation accelerators.

In 2016,we decided to begin moving our on-premises core business applications to the cloud with Oracle ERP Cloud and Oracle HCM Cloud. In the eleven months since launch, we’ve modernized our application experience and sharpened our business agility. And, because we can rely on steady improvements to the base functions we share across our campus and with many other institutions, we have been able to redirect energy toward initiatives which help us deliver the best possible education experience.

While we are certainly proud of the technical work undergirding these outcomes, our people were the real key to success. We recognized from the start that getting the human elements of the project right would be the biggest predictor of success or failure.

  If you’re the CIO in higher education (or any other industry) that has yet to migrate to the cloud, don’t wait 

You can draw pictures and charts about how great the cloud will be and how it supports the strategic plan, but you won’t succeed unless you focus on how it will impact the people using the technology. Without this focus, we wouldn’t have had as much success with our implementation of Oracle Cloud Applications. 

Below are some key lessons we learned in our successful move to cloud applications:

1. Prioritize your mission.

Don’t let cloud migration become just another IT project. Moving to the cloud should be driven by senior leadership, not technicians doing a technical project.

It is imperative that our technology accelerates, rather than hinders, our ability to teach, discover and serve. Moving to the cloud allowed us to leapfrog over outdated, piecemeal solutions to a comprehensive system. Our infrastructure now matches the scope and scale of our strategic vision and our technical teams are partners in implementing strategic plans, not just technicians doing obscure work.

2. Educate and brand.

Moving to the cloud is a change to business processes that requires adjustment at all levels. Many of the customizations for our on-premises legacy systems were going away, so we had to educate people on the benefits of doing things in a common, standardized way.

We preconditioned people with fun events and gatherings, as well as merchandising. Early in the process, we created a brand around the project – SkyVU – which enabled us to create simple and consistent messaging. We planned a series of meetings and sessions to get people to take a closer look at the benefits of standardization, and we worked hard to make it easy for people to attend.

Our mission is not yet complete, so the steady march of sessions with different groups continues today. You have to have stamina and prepare for a long journey with your end users. Starting conversations early helped us to educate our employees and persuade them of the long-term benefits.

3. Listen carefully to your stakeholders.

Higher education is a collaborative industry, so it was important for all levels of the organization to develop a feeling of ownership in the process. We worked from the top down and the bottom up, to identify concerns and build solutions.

We also listened to business officers in every school and department to understand the implications of our efforts and to preview any possible process changes that might be required by our new methodology. These leaders were empowered to carry this information to their areas.

We used a similar approach with grassroots end users, so they could engage their peers and serve as positive focal points within their department. This “sandwich” model was paramount in our change management philosophy. The real key to its success was listening to the specific needs of stakeholder groups, and then sharing how the cloud transition would help them complete their work more efficiently and allow them to apply their creativity and energy toward more strategic efforts that support the Uuniversity’s mission.

We were aware that this was going to feel like a heart and lung transplant for our organization, and we needed every department to be involved, engaged and aware of our goals in moving our systems to the cloud.

4. Draw the scope carefully and guard the line fiercely.

We were tough-nosed about what was in scope. Many of our processes had evolved over decades and had either outlived their usefulness or were predicated on outdated technology solutions. We had to examine which “must haves” were relevant to today’s mission and technology.

Crucial to our success was close collaboration with Vanderbilt’s CFO, who took a very rigorous stance on what would and wouldn’t be integrated. After throwing two-thirds of the integrations and their attendant complexities overboard, we found that we didn’t need as many functions as we thought we would. Rather than accommodating every user’s preference, we’re now focused on embracing the cloud philosophy of taking an application as delivered and adopting the best practices the product can support.

5. Over communicate and remember the human touch…then over communicate.

Our transition hasn’t been perfect. People are uncomfortable with change, which has caused bumps in the road. We had to reassure people that, after a brief adjustment period, the new system could help them get their jobs done more effectively and enable them to contribute in more meaningful ways to our teaching and research mission. This continues to be an active frontier for us. As mentioned earlier, stamina matters. 

Departments and schools operate on relationships. Recognizing the importance of local leadership and knowledge, we empowered staff at multiple levels throughout the organization to serve as champions for the effort. We provided them with special training, incentives, branding materials and more to ensure they were fully equipped to succeed and build buy-in among their peers.

Since adopting Oracle Cloud Applications, our auditability, control posture, planning, budgeting, reporting, and sense and response capability have all radically improved, both at the top and at the departmental level. We have a diverse set of departments and schools, so managing business data in a common set of cloud applications has enabled us to standardize what we measure, how we measure, and what we report.

If you’re the CIO in higher education (or any other industry) that has yet to migrate to the cloud, don’t wait. It will improve your organization’s productivity, remove cost and complexity, and ensure your team can benefit from the next generation of highly automated, intelligent applications.

It’s also a great career opportunity and experience for all IT staff. The wide range of cloud-based business applications streamline organizations in ways that balance standardization and customization to help strategically differentiate an institution.

Just remember, success requires more than just nailing the technical transition: you need to get people enthusiastic about the new system and willing to take the leap with you. As always, it’s all about the people.

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