Don’t Focus on Digital Transformation; Focus on Quick, Strategic Wins


Here’s a modern-day retelling of Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare.

A $6 billion movie-rental business at the peak of its power abruptly dismisses a two-year-old startup’s offer to merge. Like the hare, the movie-rental business keeps running—in its case, growing for another four years. But six years after that, the business declares bankruptcy, eclipsed by the startup, which launched streaming video.

In his new book, co-authored with Erin Meyer, No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings describes in a handful of words the decade it took his company to overcome Blockbuster: “little by little, the world changed and our business stayed on its feet and grew.”

The world changed, but that’s because Netflix helped change it. A less self-effacing account of Netflix’s ascent might be: Slow and steady wins the race.

Around the same time that Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy, Netflix embarked on a seven-year migration to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud platform. Industry disruption doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does cloud transformation.

Thankfully, businesses don’t need to wait seven years to start reaping the benefits of either endeavor. That’s because what makes meaningful digital transformation different from Aesop’s fable is that transformation isn’t really a race. In a race, there’s no winning until someone reaches the finish line. In a multi-year digital transformation, you need a steady stream of smaller strategic wins—or you’ll get stuck.

Think Big, Start Small

How many organizations are stuck in their cloud transformations? A little more than 34%, according to an Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) study on organizations that have migrated at least one production workload to a public cloud infrastructure. Fully one-third of survey respondents were “laggards,” ESG’s unsentimental designation for organizations in alignment with fewer than three cloud migration best practices.

ESG’s Cloud Migration Maturity framework comprises five best practices:

  1. Develop a sound financial business case
  2. Analyze the environment and workload requirements
  3. Walk before you run
  4. Use each migration to enhance your cloud playbook
  5. Skill up your team to fill gaps

Who says laggards are stuck? They say so themselves. Laggards were 2.6 times less likely than ESG’s “leaders,” organizations aligned with all five best practices, to report that cloud migrations had definitively met expectations.

All five are equally important, but the story of the tortoise and the hare aligns mainly with #3: Walk before you run. At Slalom, 20 years of consulting and 10 years of cloud-first engineering experience have shown us that incremental success—through “quick-build” engagements facilitated by the iterative sprints of agile methodology—is the most effective way to start, restart, or accelerate cloud transformation.

Migrating or modernizing one application does more than make it easier to imagine transforming your entire business. If the application is aligned with your business objectives (best practice #1), then you actually will transform your business, a little at a time.

That’s how Netflix did it. Pushed to transform by Hastings himself, the company moved its systems out of its data centers and then rebuilt them in AWS, one satisfying step at a time.

  • In 2009, Netflix migrated its streaming player system to AWS and started to experience a steady increase in overall availability, edging closer to its desired goal of 99.99% uptime, or just 52 minutes and 35 seconds of service unavailability per year.
  • In 2011, it started migrating its account and membership systems to AWS while moving to load-based auto scaling.
  • By 2012, it had cut its weekly “cloud cost per streaming start” by more than half.
  • In 2013, it improved its AWS architecture to better handle regionwide outages, in part by deploying its “Simian Army” of tools that put cloud infrastructure to the test.
  • By 2016, it had achieved multi-regional resiliency for members in the Americas and in Europe, largely thanks to the architectural improvements initiated in 2013.
  • By the end of 2016, Netflix completed its journey to the AWS cloud with the migration of its billing and payments systems, then shut down the last remaining data center used by its streaming service.

What this steady stream of wins doesn’t show is the knowledge Netflix gained along the way. When you start small, you learn a lot (best practice #4), and your teams get savvier as they move forward (#5). Notably, two-thirds of ESG’s leaders reported that cloud usage had led to a significantly more favorable view of the IT team, 3.5 times the rate reported by laggards.

The Quest for a Frictionless Cloud Journey

Slalom is the first AWS Consulting Partner to work shoulder to shoulder with AWS to create a collaborative approach to cloud transformation. In a joint delivery model, experts from AWS and Slalom help customers propel their organizations forward into the futures they’re envisioning—for themselves and for their customers. The teams behind AWS | Slalom Launch Centers are vocal proponents of the idea that people power the cloud—that is, that true digital transformation depends as much on skills acquired as it does on technologies adopted. We talk a lot about “guided mastery” and “learn-see-do,” but the most common concept in our community? “Build with, not for.”

If we had to say we have a mascot, it would be a tortoise … with a rocket strapped to its back.

To learn more about AWS | Slalom Launch Centers, visit

Read more from Slalom:

Read More

You might also like

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More