Cloud Center of Excellence: What It Is and How to Form One

by | Mar 24, 2023 | Ideas

So you’ve decided to move to the cloud. Marketing communication around cloud migrations can make them sound easy, but in truth, cloud migrations are big undertakings. Even at smaller organizations, they require input and assistance from multiple different stakeholders, not to mention specialized technical expertise.

For this reason and others, it’s best practice to form a cloud center of excellence (CCoE) to help steer the migration process. In this article, we’ll explain what a cloud center of excellence is, the benefits they provide, who is involved in them, and more. Let’s dive in.

What is a cloud center of excellence?

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According to AWS, a cloud center of excellence is a “…cross-functional team of people responsible for developing and managing the cloud strategy, governance, and best practices that the rest of the organization can leverage to transform the business using the cloud.”

While you might bring on a cloud migration consultant to help with more of the technical aspects of a cloud migration, a CCoE is an internal business function that oversees the whole process. Rather than a committee, it’s more of an additional, temporary team within the organization that has decision making power.

> What is AWS MAP (Migration Acceleration Program)?

A CCoE has many functions, but in general, they advise the rest of the organization on which applications to migrate, when to migrate them, and how best to do so. Team members should have a good understanding of the cloud and cloud best practices—not just what they are, but why they exist and how they can be tailored to the organization.

You tend to see cloud centers of excellence at enterprise organizations, but organizations of almost any size can benefit from them, especially those in highly-regulated industries or those with complex IT infrastructures. This is true no matter what application migration strategy you choose, whether it be lift and shift, replatform, or refactor.

CCoE team members

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In most cases, a cloud center of excellence consists of five types of roles:

  • Leadership. This is usually a chief data officer (CDO) or chief information officer (CIO), but it can also be a chief architect or a project or program manager.
  • Security. Typically someone who works in a higher-level security position, or someone from your policy and compliance department.
  • Infrastructure. As the name implies, this is usually someone from IT. It’s crucial that they have a solid grasp on how networking works in the cloud.
  • Operations. Responsible for handling incident management and scalability, usually a build/release manager or a capacity planner.
  • Applications. Someone who knows the ins and outs of your business applications—usually a solutions architect or a lead application developer.

CCoE team structures are not a one-size-fits-all. It’s important to consider the needs and special requirements of your organization and tailor the team structure accordingly.

A graphic showing the five different types of cloud center of excellence core members in addition to the four optional roles.

Optional roles

In some organizations, cloud centers of excellence also include advisory roles, which can include stakeholders from any of the following teams or departments:

  • Operations and administration
  • Legal
  • Finance
  • Risk and compliance

Depending on the nature of your business, it might be a good idea to include some or all of these. If you work in a high-regulated industry like chemicals, for instance, you will probably want to loop in—at a bare minimum—risk and compliance to advise on how to handle sensitive data historically stored on-premises.

Benefits of a cloud center of excellence

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There are X key benefits of forming a cloud center of excellence:

  • Providing structure. This might be the greatest benefit of having a CCoE. There are many moving parts within an organization, and a CCoE can help orchestrate them throughout the migration process to ensure alignment of business objectives across departments and teams.
  • Governance and security. A cloud center of excellence is responsible for drafting governance and security protocols to ensure resources are moved to the cloud while maintaining compliance and safe handling of sensitive information. Having such standards in place also helps reduce the risk of breaking applications that can be critical to business operations.
  • Evaluate new technologies. Moving to the cloud is exciting, and it’s understandable that people will want to make the most of this powerful technology. One of the CCoE’s many jobs is to take a good look at any new cloud services or features stakeholders want to implement and determine if they are compatible with your existing architecture.
  • Facilitate automation. One of the big benefits of cloud computing is that it lets your different infrastructure components talk to each other. A CCoE can help automate these components and solutions.
  • Internal training knowledge sharing. If your organization is new to the cloud, a CCoE will be instrumental in training staff on how the cloud works. This could be as simple as providing Agile methodology training to more granular topics, like explaining how to use individual cloud services.

Cloud center of excellence functions

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We said earlier that CCoEs advise the rest of the business during cloud migrations. That’s true, but let’s break it down into its component parts.

CCoEs have vertical and horizontal responsibilities

First, it’s important to understand that CCoEs perform duties within their own team and across other teams or departments. Within the cloud center of excellence, team members have responsibilities like:

  • Managing cloud vendors
  • Owning cost optimization
  • Customizing and implementing cloud best practices to keep everything running smoothly and securely
  • Automating components and standardizing processes
  • Maintaining a catalog of cloud-native applications and services, reviewing each one to ensure it meets requirements for legal, risk and compliance, and more

> IAM Best Practices: What They Are and How to Use Them

Across the organization, the CCoE provides hands-on support during and post-migration. It might help train engineers and other teams on agile and DevOps methodologies as well as infrastructure as code (IaC). Infrastructure as code is particularly important for infrastructure versioning, continuous delivery, and automating IT resource provisioning as you move to the cloud.

CCoE functions evolve over time

The above is a good example of what functions your cloud center of excellence should perform initially as the cloud migration begins. But over time, the function and responsibilities of the team will shift from a management role to a support role to an advisory role.

  1. Initial function. At first, the CCoE might meet regularly to share release information and update key stakeholders, but recurring meetings should be kept to a minimum and will naturally wane throughout the migration.
  2. After 8 months to one year. After about a year, members should rotate to help more team members get up to speed with the new infrastructure. This will give multiple stakeholders opportunities to work directly with other CCoE team members to gain valuable knowledge they can then share with others.
  3. After 18 to 24 months. Half a year to two years out from the migration start, the cloud center of excellence should transition to more of an advisory role. By this point, the migration should be mostly complete, save for a few small outstanding projects or tasks. Regular meetings are no longer necessary, and the team will likely transition to working asynchronously and on more of an as-needed basis as problems or questions arise.

It’s helpful to have this timeline as a general guideline, but always consider the needs and circumstances of your organization before making any major changes to cloud center of excellence function.

Cloud centers of excellence work best when formed proactively

If you take nothing else away from this article, let it be this: form your cloud center of excellence early, and have a plan. Many organizations form CCoEs reactively after they realize they need one. It’s still possible to form a CCoE at this point, but it’s definitely less than ideal. For a better cloud migration experience, get a head start on forming your cloud center of excellence, and don’t be afraid to seek outside advice if you need it.

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About Forrest Brown
Forrest Brown is the Content Manager at NerdRabbit. An AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, he lives in Atlanta with his wife and two cats.

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