Building a Cloud Center of Excellence

Brett Gillett


A few weeks back, I wrote about how we help organizations find talent with the attributes we feel make excellent members of an AWS team. This week, I’d like to build on the topic and describe to you how we help organizations construct a CCoE.

Think of the Cloud Center of Excellence as a hub of a wheel; it’s the team within the organization which sets the overall direction and empowers other groups within the company to move as fast as they can within a set of guardrails built and maintained by the members of the CCoE.

Building a capable Cloud Center of Excellence is a challenging task with many possible pitfalls; in this article, I’m going to point out a few items I see organizations stumble on the most often.

Starting Small

I often see an interesting scenario play out within companies when they decide to embark on their AWS journey. In the early stages, there is usually a significant amount of resistance to the idea, generally because people feel they will be out of a job - which by the way is entirely false. Add to this the inherent resistance to change, and you have a potent recipe for the status quo.

Eventually, when someone (usually a C-Level executive) decides to go all in, there’s a sudden shift in the landscape; everyone (and I mean everyone) wants to be part of the team.

Managing the sudden spike in interest is the first of many challenges facing an organization just getting started. You must keep the number of employees who make up the initial CCoE small. Using Amazon terminology, you would want to create a two-pizza team - pizza is my kryptonite, and I can eat quite a bit of it, so to give this some context my recommendation is 4-6 people maximum to start. Any more and you’ll be bogged down by far too many opinions which results in paralysis by analysis, the exact opposite effect we’re going after.

Get everyone in the same room

Let’s face it, the technology is the simple part right? As time goes on it’s in AWS’ best interest to make the adoption and implementation of service even more straightforward - after all, it is a consumption-based service.

What’s the hard part? Changing the organization’s culture, which means everyone who is part of the initial CCoE must be in the same room and have access to one (or more) whiteboards. What we’re attempting to do here is to build a team which is agile and learns from each other. Changing the culture of an organization is not possible if the members of the CCoE are spread out across the company.

Get everyone in the same room and watch what will happen - you’ll be amazed at how fast this small team can build the guardrails I mentioned earlier.

No dotted lines

Dotted line reporting is one of the most significant challenges facing organizations who want to build a CCoE. They start small but leave everyone in their existing teams. What’s the problem with that you say? I’ll tell you - goals. We all have them and if we leave the CCoE members in their original teams with their affiliated goals, guess what happens? They focus on the work that affects their bonuses and who can blame them.

To build a successful CCoE, you need to free the team members to work on CCoE tasks which means removing them from their current teams and goals and establishing new goals.

Scaling the CCoE

Finally, you have to decide how (and when) to scale the number of team members of CCoE. How do you do this? The same way we scale resources in AWS. We monitor metrics to help us determine customer experience and then scale out (add) or in (remove) resources when required.

How can you avoid scaling the CCoE but still meet all the growing demands for AWS? By enabling other teams within the company to run their own AWS accounts with support of the CCoE, while still operating independently. How can you do this? Lunch-and-Learns, hackathons, and internal user groups are some of the most effective methods I have seen used by companies - all of these activities should be driven by the members of the CCoE.

There you have it, my list of some of the biggest challenges faced by companies building their own CCoE.