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Three Business Themes from AWS re:Invent 2021: Transformation, Automation & Cost Optimization

Cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure continue to evolve their services. AWS was the first entrant into the field in 2006, with an offering that was basically IT infrastructure-in-the-sky. Now, AWS offers hundreds of dynamic services that span from application modernization to predictive data & analytics to Internet-of-things (IoT) to nearly limitless computing and storage capacity that automatically scales up and down as your business needs change. The cloud is no longer just about migrating your IT infrastructure and applications to a more secure and highly available environment.

Today, cloud services provide scalability, flexibility, and economies of scale not possible on premises. Developers can leverage pre-built components to quickly automate, standardize, and extend functionality in hours rather than weeks. That’s transforming the way that companies across all industries do business. A few weeks ago, AWS wrapped up its 10th anniversary of the AWS re:Invent conference. I attended virtually and observed three business themes emerge: Automation, Transformation, & Cost Optimization.

Theme One: Transformation

Digital transformation is no longer optional

As your customers’ needs change, the services you provide and the way you provide them also have to change, as Doug Yeum explained during the Global Partner Summit. Customers expect speed, convenience, and the ability to innovate quickly.

While, admittedly, there is a lot of hype around the need to digitally transform, I lean toward the theories set forth by venture capitalist and Stanford Business School lecturer Robert Siegel in his book The Brains and Brawn Company: How Leading Organizations Blend the Best of Digital and Physical. Siegel brings into focus the need for companies to strike a balance between pursuing digital disruption while leveraging existing business advantages. His ideas strike me as similar to the idea that the best way to change culture is through leveraging the strengths of your existing culture. AND the best way to change our own behaviors and that of our teams’ is by leveraging our existing strengths.

Business and digital transformation requires cultural transformation

Shelly Swanback of Western Union said it well, committing to a culture of change is imperative to transforming your business. She explains that Western Union was able to reinvent themselves from a telegram business to a money transfer business and beyond – through a defined organizational change process. As a leader of organizational change and digital transformation, she shared the following three lessons:

1. Embrace “the mess.”

Change can be messy, and conversations can be difficult. Walking into the process knowing that it won’t always be easy, pretty, or fun is important. Having a team that consists of both disruptors and balancers is imperative. Then facilitate healthy debate among them to create the most robust strategy.

2. Close the learning loops.

Empower your teams with new routines and mindsets for continuous learning. As your transformation progresses, continually assess and invite feedback.

3. Make your technology strategy your business strategy.

New business models, cost structures, products, and experiences are possible with modern cloud computing. It’s not enough to update your legacy technology to support your legacy business strategy. Instead, leverage new technology capabilities to guide your business strategy.

Celebrate Your Successes.

In 3M SVP Shaun Braun’s session on how to drive digital transformation with AWS, he spoke about the importance of celebrating your successes. Celebrating each success along your transformation journey can build upon the preceding one, leading to greater success. And the data supports this. According to research by Judith E Glaser, positive conversations produce a chemical reaction in the brain. They increase both oxytocin and serotonin. Glaser states that these chemicals improve your team’s ability to “communicate, collaborate and trust others.”

Vulnerability begets possibility.

As you transform, being open about what you are scared and worried about with your team and your partners can create space for innovative ideas, according to Meg Knauth, VP at T-Mobile. Of course, Brené Brown has written extensively about how powerful vulnerability (with boundaries) is to both our personal and professional relationships.

Train and invest in your people.

With transformation sweeping across all industries, the cloud skills gap, and the great resignation upon us, we all need to think about up-skilling and re-skilling ourselves and our teams. Creating a culture of continuous learning and knowledge sharing across silos is imperative because AWS has found that recruiting your way out of the cloud skills gap as you scale is just not possible. AWS itself has made a commitment to train 29 million people in cloud skills by 2025. Maureen Lonergan, VP of AWS Training, spoke about the competitive edge that training and certification can give to your business. Below are some of the resources they are making available, recognizing the different ways that different people learn. There are quite a few!

  • AWS Skill Builder – 500 free, on-demand learning lessons along with learning plans. Also available on Skill Builder are AWS certifications official practice question sets.
  • Amazon.com one-click cloud skills training access
  • AWS re/Start – 12-week full-time intensive training program for people with no or low technical background
  • AWS Skills Center – Physical building in Seattle where they hold demonstrations, classes, and employer match-ups. More locations are coming in 2022.
  • AWS Skills Guild – a skills enablement program that builds cloud fluency across your organization and is collaboratively designed specifically for your organization.
  • AWS Learning Needs Analysis – the AWS Training and Certification group will work with your team for free to build a training plan tailored to the requirements of your organization
  • AWS Jam – Team-based, gamified challenges that get your teams fired up about solving problems together around common use cases.
  • AWS Game Day – Gamified learning in real-life situations
  • AWS Cloud Quest – Immersive role-based learning game. Players traverse a virtual city and follow quests associated with a selected role. This product was announced in preview mode by Scott Barneson, Director of AWS Learning Products
  • Salesforce – With the Salesforce and AWS partnership continuing to grow, there are now over 139 AWS modules on the renowned Salesforce Trailhead training platform.


Environmental sustainability is top of mind for many businesses today. The new Sustainability Pillar for the AWS Well-Architected Framework helps organizations learn, measure, and improve workloads using environmental best practices for cloud computing.

Amazon is committed to becoming net-zero carbon by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement. Continued advancements in efficiency gains and energy reduction are aiding in the ability to meet this commitment.

Theme Two: Automation

How does the automation of cloud services help businesses? Much like its parent company Amazon, AWS continues to use the data that it collects to improve the way that it does business. Being customer-obsessed, that often translates into making the use of its cloud services easier, faster, and more accessible to business users so you can focus on growing your business.

Here are some examples:

Data & Analytics

Business users can now generate machine learning (ML) predictions and insights using point-and-click tools like the just-released Amazon SageMaker Canvas. In order to make full use of the tool, you will need an end-to-end data strategy that includes data collection, cleaning, storage and access, analysis and visualization, as well as predictive analytics.

Creating data sets that are ready to be analyzed can often take the longest time to do. There are a variety of tools that can speed up that process, such as SageMaker Data Wrangler and SageMaker Ground Truth. It’s also possible to discover, subscribe to, and use hundreds of datasets from third parties such as Reuters, Foursquare, Change Healthcare, IMDb, and many more on the AWS Data Exchange. As Dr. Swami Sivasubramanian said in his keynote on AI/ML and data analytics, in today’s business world, it is “survival of the most informed.”


Integrating chatbots into your website can save you time and money and improve the experience of your customers. Developers can now automatically design chatbots from conversation transcripts in hours rather than weeks using a new tool called Amazon Lex Automated Chatbot Designer, which is currently in preview mode.

Web and mobile app go-to-market speed

Have a new app you want to build fast? A new low-code tool called AWS Amplify Studio allows developers to build both the user interface (UI) and back-end of a website using point-and-click methods. The cool thing is that this tool creates the code behind the scenes so your professional developers or internal IT team can fully customize it to meet the exact needs of your business.

Reduce app debug time

Have you ever experienced a time when your critical business application encountered a performance issue, and you lost out on income because of it? AWS is working hard to help developers speed up triage in these types of situations. With Amazon DevOps Guru for Relational Database Services (RDS), your developers can get ahead of complex performance issues with automated alerting and guided bug diag

Theme Three: Cost Optimization

Track Assets

Are you currently tracking your delivery fleet, heavy construction equipment, or farm equipment with IoT devices? Or are you considering doing so to improve the lifetime of your equipment and your production processes? A new feature in Amazon Location Service allows developers to get updates on locations in a more accurate and simple way that will also reduce the cost and usage of services for apps ranging from asset tracking tools to location-based marketing.

Reduce IT application costs

AWS Systems Manager now supports application-level cost reporting within AWS Cost Explorer to help your developers reduce application level costs.

Reduce data storage costs

Does your e-commerce site or digital assets management system store tons of data that is costing you more than it should? Your developers can take advantage of a new tool for your back-end that decreases data storage costs by up to 60%. The Amazon DynamoDB Standard-Infrequent Access table class, as its name suggests, is ideal for use cases that require long-term storage of data that is infrequently accessed.

Moving Forward

As we slowly begin to emerge from the pandemic, the world will continue to change around us in both expected and unexpected ways. Businesses need flexible technology to continually adapt just as much as we need adaptive mindsets. Continuous learning, assessing, and adjusting will be necessary.

As Malcolm Gladwell has said:

Your responsibility as a person is to constantly update your positions on as many things as possible. If you don’t contradict yourself regularly, you’re not thinking.

What’s something you learned this year that you would never have imagined a year ago?

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