Does the uptake of cloud based systems change drive a continuous change culture…

Or do you need to have a culture of continuous change to see the true benefits of cloud based systems?

It’s curious chicken and egg I have been playing with of late owing to working on a global Workday implementation. Workday is my first SaaS implementation and it’s been a hellish amount of fun immersing in agile change methodology and a next practice HR Information Systems (HRIS).


From a change management perspective, SaaS implementations are really interesting. One of the organisational benefits of going to the cloud is that they are often much cheaper than “on premise” implementation of software, hardware and licensing eg SAP, Oracle. You effectively lease a software system, and it is the same version that all of their other customers use. This means you are unable to customise to varying business needs (that would reduce the economic benefit for the vendor and increase the costs to the organisation).

It’s effectively “one-way, same-way” and you put your trust in the vendor to be at the cutting edge of the discipline, so you are not one-way, same-waying into backwards business practice. You can configure for legislative variations, but with every configuration you need to weigh the cost / benefit ratio. More configurations means more maintenance and bigger system admin teams.

So whereas traditionally, good change management means engaging with all of the business stakeholders to understand their wants and needs, and addressing many of these as possible, traditional change consultation with cloud based change can be problematic. You have to manage expectations very carefully, least the stakeholder assumes they will see a solutions design document that reflects their business requirements before you move into production of the system.

It means that for many of the organisations that do this, the change challenge is to “harmonize” processes – so take 30 different processes, and make them one in order to fit with the SaaS process. For stakeholders this raises big conversations of acceptable loss. In order to gain the benefits of real time data, insights, time savings and efficiency, some will have to give up local ways of doing things that they are very attached to. Whether we look at change optimistically as a change slinky or the conventional change lifecycle where we take people through the valley of despair, there is big work to be done.

The other really interesting change opportunity / challenge is what happens after you go-live. Cloud based vendors push major changes to the system on a cyclical basis (eg every 3 months, 6 months etc). And while you will have notice of it, and can test it before it is live in your system you have limited ability to say no to it. Think about everytime Linkedin or Facebook push a change to you? And so this is what I am working on now – what does the continuous change governance model look like after we go live with Workday in the company I am working with (and more optimistically, what does continuous change governance look like more broadly).

It strikes me as a tremendous opportunity to build a culture of continuous change, agility and learning. In organisations where this is not the case – could it be that in working through how you manage future releases of SaaS software, you also design for sustainability? Or is it in organisations that do not have a culture of continuous change, agility and learning, the cloud based releases become a really painful process of scrambling to learn, adapt, communicate and deal with it as you would any system change release.

The key to navigating this chicken and egg seems to me to be in the “trust that the vendor to be at the cutting edge of the discipline”. These releases are meant to be of benefit to you and developed through customer consultation, feedback and innovation systems. They should challenge you to look at your strategy, your operations, your processes and question if you are heading in the right direction. But what happens when your business stakeholders do not recognise it as such – and / or thinks it is a backwards step?

A great example is the new Linkedin Whack-A-Mole strategy of managing groups. This was a cloud-based system, non-opt-out change release last week purportedly about improving the group experience and uniformly rejected by thousands of group managers. You can argue that the difference is if Workday, or Salesforce or any other cloud based software platform had that many ‘customers’ revolting, things would change. Linkedin makes no money from groups so the group managers customer voice is not important. But regardless, it speaks to the existing change culture of the recipients. It is not without ironic self-reflection, I note that I did not initially wear the hat of change adaptability when this change was forced upon me as a group manager.

But what say you? How are you finding the uptake of cloud based systems in your organisation. An enabler of continuous change, agility and innovation or more workload to manage the change releases? While I have worked with organisational leaders on the importance of embracing change and building change capability for a while, it kind of feels like I have a Trojan Horse at my side that can “sneak” it in.

This is new terrain for me and I’d love to hear from you. Giddyup!




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