Ellis discusses “Culture and Cloud” at the February InfoForum

Photo of John Ellis

John Ellis, Deputy CIO, Enterprise Applications, Services, & Infrastructure

“I’ve been thinking about our cloud transformation,” says LITS Deputy CIO John Ellis, presenting to a large audience of Emory Library employees during this week’s InfoForum, “and I wanted to have a discussion with you.”

Change is coming

The planned transition of Emory from locally-based storage and infrastructure to a cloud-based approach is a significant change in the way the organization operates.

The catch is that organizations like Emory are resistant to change. Ellis pointed out that according to Gartner Research, 46% of survey respondents say that culture is the biggest barrier to making this digital transformation.

However, it appears this change is inevitable. Industry trends researched by Gartner state that by 2022, cloud services will be essential for 90% of business innovation. By 2025, 80% of enterprises will have shut down their traditional data centers.

As a result of this change, organizations must alter their model for responsibility. By contracting with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon becomes responsible for infrastructure, storage, networking. The organization (Emory) now must focus the entirety of its responsibility on the data itself, especially regarding data security.

States Ellis, “It will take different types of skill sets to manage this data. The skill sets we used to need to maintain our infrastructure are mostly going away.”

New approaches to leadership and employee contributions

The challenge then becomes for leaders to govern differently and individuals to contribute differently.

According to Ellis, leaders must quit trying to suppress under-the-radar IT efforts and instead let the business needs lead the effort. In this way, leaders should have a mindset of partnering and supporting these efforts.

Individual contributors should work harder to eliminate silos and unique practices and instead adopt more common practices, more automation, and team structures that are more agile.

How do we get there? How do we encourage change?

Typically, a project of this magnitude would need to be undertaken after a lengthy planning process. Ellis espouses that it is more important to simply start the process in small increments, always be agile, and take a posture of action over analysis.

“These are iterative hacks to our culture that we can make one small piece at a time.” Ellis encourages his people to take risks and to not let perfection get in the way of progress. In other words, don’t waste time over-analyzing things. Just move forward.

Ellis’ hope is that by preaching this mantra to his managers, this different way of thinking about work will trickle into the teams doing the work.

Amazon leadership principles

Ellis believes Emory should borrow some of the principles that Amazon uses for its own business practices. The two elements that most interest him are Bias for Action and Disagree and Commit.

Bias for Action states that speed matters in business and that decisions and actions that are easily reversible do not need extensive study. Amazon places value on calculated risk taking. Ellis believes that we slow our speed by getting leadership involved in two-way decisions. “Just make the decision and move on,” says Ellis. If the decision doesn’t work out, go in the other direction.

Disagree and Commit suggests that leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree with them. Leaders should have conviction, tenacity, and never compromise for the sake of social cohesion. With that understanding, however, once the decision is made, leaders must commit wholly. They must not undermine the effort behind the scenes.

“It takes time to makes these changes but they are not rocket science. Successful organizations all over are adopting these practices. We just have to start,” says Ellis. “If we stop doing some [of our old practices] and start doing some of these new things, I think it will come to us.”

This entry was posted in Projects and Processes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Kaven Moodley
    Posted February 15, 2019 at 2:31 pm | Permalink


    I like the principles of Bias for Action and Disagree and Commit. Can we use these principles to create a Vision statement for the Cloud project (or all LITS projects)?


  2. John Ellis
    Posted February 24, 2019 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Kaven. I’ll put this to the Cloud Advisory Group. Don’t see why not!