Digital transformation: How we built a cloud-based firm from the ground up

As digital transformation continues to intensify, businesses are realizing the importance of migrating to the cloud. According to Right Scale’s annual State of Cloud Report, 94% of enterprises use the cloud in some capacity, either through hybrid or fully cloud-based solutions. A firm’s ability to successfully migrate can be the difference between success and becoming the latest company to fizzle out due to a lack of in-house technical skills.

In the insurance world, it is imperative that our systems (e.g. website, app, IT services, etc.) enable our sales team to effectively sell policies. And after those policies are sold, it is even more critical that customers have a seamless experience when they activate a policy.

In short, the Old Mutual IT team needs to provide a superior customer experience for our advisors who are selling policies as well as for our end customers using those policies.

To help ensure this happens, we made it a goal as a firm in 2019 to be fully migrated to the cloud by the end of 2022 by investing in cloud training for our IT team. What we’ve learned, and how we plan to be prepared when our last on-prem data center closes later this year.

Starting our Cloud Journey

The process of fully migrating legacy on-prem systems to cloud-based models can be overwhelming. This was especially true for us, as we had to migrate over 500 systems – a daunting task to say the least. We identified early on in the process that for the project to be successful, it was critical to ensure that our people would be able to keep pace with the tech.

The first step was identifying key skills gaps. This required us to ensure that employees who would be involved with the migration were prepared before beginning the migration process. We thus set out on an aggressive yet intentional education program across the company.

After identifying 20 systems architecture team members who would be most involved in the process, we got licenses from cloud skills development platform A Cloud Guru, a Pluralsight firm, to help them upskill from a basic understanding of the cloud to mastering its delivery.

Using A Cloud Guru ultimately drove a significant and rapid increase of Amazon Web Services certifications. Before long, our 20 licenses grew to 500, with 1,200 of our global IT professionals using the learning platform. Eventually we were able to expand the program across multiple teams, including our architecture, devops and machine learning personnel.

This approach allowed people to move at their own pace and give the appropriate focus to day-to-day initiatives and responsibilities critical to keeping the business running smoothly.

We wanted to utilize an online learning platform to make it easier on our teams to learn the skills they needed with little to no friction. Our team members didn’t have to ask for permission to use the platform — if they wanted to learn, we gave them a seat. This ultimately gave our team members the ability to start and stop whenever they wanted.

Upskilling isn’t just about certifications

As our teams improved their cloud skills, our project to migrate evolved along with our needs as a business. A Cloud Guru became more than just a certification platform for us. Rather than relying solely on certifications, our teams were able to gain vital cloud skills through additional tools and courses on the platform. The ability to curate a learning pod that creates a certification was of huge value, as were things like Wiki updates and events like Re:Invent.

Our ability to see what Azure and Google are doing became extremely important. Additionally, the Linux Academy content on the platform allowed us to open skill sets that were critical to operate inside of the cloud. What had been one of our biggest concerns when setting out on our cloud journey has become one of our biggest strengths as an IT team.

Developing a culture of learning is essential

Many organizations pay lip service to the importance of learning. However, many fail to create an environment where learning is not only encouraged but also easily accessible. If the tools and time for skill development are not made readily accessible, most workers will not prioritize learning. One of the most important things you can do to transform your talent is to remove barriers to learning, making it easy for your team members to learn and upskill.

Organizations with true cultures of learning walk the walk before they talk the talk. When you talk about the need for your teams to upskill and certify, you need to have done it yourself.

At Old Mutual, we had a core group of leaders who certified themselves first. This allowed us to build around key evangelists in the business that did it themselves, enabling them to champion the process of upskilling within the cloud. It also helps to incentivize learning.

Small things made a big difference when upskilling our teams. For example, our members who get AWS certified receive t-shirts that say “AWS Cloud Guru.” This small act of acknowledgment for learning efforts can go a long way in engendering a love of learning.

Cloud upskilling must be virtual

If we had been in a classroom setting, our entire initiative of cloud upskilling would have failed. The ability to stay the course as the world shut down allowed our teams to keep learning cloud and keep us moving forward to our goal to be fully migrated to the cloud.

Another critical piece to our success was the ability to leverage labs in A Cloud Guru. We didn’t need to spin up an entire sandbox environment for engineers to play. Instead, we used the space for A Cloud Guru and AWS labs. This also allowed us to hold deep dive sessions, on topics such as machine learning, that our team could dive into according to their schedules.

In addition, a traditional classroom setting wouldn’t allow for these things to happen because of the time and technology constraints imposed by in-person learning. By using an online platform, our teams enjoyed a far more immersive and interactive process.

Our Takeaways

In a 2020 Logicworks survey, 86% of IT leaders believed a shortage of talent would slow down cloud projects. That’s why our approach to migrate to the cloud has been aggressive, especially for a financial institution. Those migrations only happen when you have a group of individuals that can talk cloud language. That’s what the A Cloud Guru platform helped us do – it allowed us to keep a far bigger portion of the IT organization continually engaged.

Since beginning our cloud migration journey, Old Mutual has seen a host of benefits from investing in our IT team’s cloud skills. Our teams have become stronger, more efficient, and more agile than ever before. We’ve seen that fully migrating to the cloud does not have to be a daunting process. Additionally, we have helped our  team members become daily learners, growing skills that will help our business and their own careers for years to come.

If there is one thing that you can learn from Old Mutual’s cloud transformation, it’s this – invest in your people and invest in the cloud. The results will have your business soaring.

Duncan MacDonald is the Chief Technology Officer at Old Mutual.