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AWS and relentless reinvention. What we took away from Andy Jassy’s AWS re:Invent keynote

January 14, 2021 | Technology trends

Gordon McKenna

Gordon McKenna
CTO Public Cloud

Andy Jassy, CEO at AWS, gave a keynote speech at AWS re:Invent focusing on the theme of reinvention.

The speech was packed with announcements, ranging from ground-breaking new compute models to new innovations in Aurora DB that allow you to run SQL Server Applications on Aurora.

Andy Jassy made it clear that all companies will eventually go to cloud.  He referenced that only 4% of global IT currently goes to cloud computing, meaning there are some tremendous opportunities in this space.  Andy went on to discuss the wider challenges that leaders need to overcome in order to achieve longevity for their businesses

“We work with leaders of enterprise organizations across many sectors and this is where I’ll focus today. It’s tough trying to create a successful business over a long time. Maintaining a leadership position is even harder. Leaders must remain laser-focused on reinventing their businesses. Evidence of this is in the list of Fortune 500 companies. Only half of those companies listed in 2000 are still included today.”

“We see the desire and need to reinvent every day in our work with clients across industries. Reimagining and reinventing is a thrilling part of our work. So, what does it take for leaders to re-invent?” Andy Jassy identified eight crucial ingredients that we wanted to break down deeper.

  1. The will of leaders to invent and keep on reinventingReinvention is everywhere across all industry sectors. Digital transformation was driven by leadership, not technology. Andy referenced Stripe in the payment space and Airbnb in the holiday rental sector; technology disruptors that shook established markets. You have to be vigorous and single-minded in knowing how to reinvent in order to deliver what the customer wants. This is one of the perennial challenges of leaders. They have to be restless and relentless in challenging orthodoxy, whilst ensuring they bring people along on that journey.
  2. Accept you can’t fight gravity.Jassy referenced Amazon in the late 1990s when it was an inventory retail business. It decided to build a marketplace and offer third party seller suppliers; better to cannibalize yourself than let someone else do it. That reinvention set Amazon on the path to becoming the behemoth it is today.
  3. You need talent that is hungry to invent.It can be a challenge to get people who have been working for the business a long time to reinvent. Understandably, it can be hard to convince people to recreate something they themselves built. By contrast, new colleagues can offer fresh perspectives and drive innovation for the business. Progress comes when this new talent is balanced with re-training existing talent in order to maximize their potential.
  4. Solving customer problems with buildersBuilders always want to learn and reinvent. The priority is to solve problems that help customers rather than simply for the sake of inventing “cool” new technology. AWS has built a lot of great technology over the years – much of it cool – not simply because it’s advanced but because that’s what the customer wants, and it solves a real need.
  5. The need for speed mattersThe ability to move quickly matters in every part of the business. It’s not uncommon that leaders in enterprise companies move slowly because of their size, but that does not mean a lack of speed is unavoidable. Urgency in decision-making can be developed in a business culture. To build speed requires developing the backbone and muscle of an organization, which in turn creates the ability to act with pace.
  6. Complexity is the enemy of speedWhen companies embark on enterprise-wide transformations, many vendors try to sell in solutions for a multitude of functions, and enterprises can find themselves struggling to deal with these complexities. In large transformation focused companies, it’s best to start simple and instigate incremental change towards your transformation goals. It’s never good to have too much complexity.  
  7. Use the broadest platform  Andy offered a useful golf analogy. A player could use a functional 5-iron around an entire golf course and just about manage but will never win. On the cloud you only pay for services you consume; you do not pay upfront. Why go for a platform with a fraction of the functionality provided by a leader? With the right platform it makes it easier to migrate all your existing applications. Businesses need the right tools for the right job so their builders can feel empowered to reinvent.
  8. Leaders use aggressive top-down goals.This is the key factor to make organizations move faster. AWS worked with GE when the CIO decided to migrate 50 applications to AWS in 30 days. It achieved 42 migrations in 30 days, but this process also helped work out security and governance issues. It then provided the impetus for a new goal to be set of 9000 applications to be migrated over several years. Setting an aggressive goal means teams can’t simply dip their toe in the water for a few years. To succeed across the organization, set aggressive goals and build a leadership culture.

Andy provided sage advice on these daunting leadership challenges. There are many factors that can derail a successful business: competitors, regulations, a pandemic. You can’t control everything or predict the future. What you can do as a leader is build capacity, to make changes when needed and be prepared. That’s what do you need for re-invention and that’s what your customers need.

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