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U.S. Air Force

Accelerating cloud migration through service design


The U.S. Air Force (USAF) Weather Systems Program Office (WxPO) encountered roadblocks during its cloud migration process. We helped unblock and accelerate their efforts using a service design approach.

An airman removes traffic cones that were impeding the progress of a cloud.

The challenge

The Department of Defense (DoD) relies on WxPO to deliver authoritative terrestrial and space weather intelligence and information. DoD meteorologists, air traffic controllers, pilots, and the intelligence community leverage WxPO’s applications to predict weather patterns, prepare forecasts, and communicate weather information. WxPO’s applications support around-the-clock operations, supporting mission planning and execution.

WxPO has access to massive amounts of valuable data that they could provide to the weather community, but it’s stuck behind dated, on-premise applications that can’t deliver or process even a fraction of what’s possible. These aging applications were designed without taking into account today’s wide variety of users and their weather data experience levels.

The existing on-premise solutions severely limit WxPO’s ability to improve or extend their capabilities. Teams struggle to quickly deploy improvements, use modern developer tools, and understand the end users’ goals, needs, and workflows. To better support the massive amounts of data flowing through its systems and provide resilient access to end users, WxPO decided to modernize their technologies and move the on-premise infrastructure and applications to the cloud.

However, the cloud migration initiative faced its own challenges. WxPO teams struggled to balance maintenance of legacy systems with planning and executing the migration of applications and data to the cloud. Initial efforts weren’t clearly defined under an overarching vision or plan, creating miscommunication which in turn caused confusion, rework, churn, and frustration. Teams were learning new technologies on the fly and felt like they were continuously “chasing down” answers to questions and updates to processes.

I think it’s affected all of middle management because every day, we’re trying to put things together and every day, we’re in some form of lost and found.

Weather Officer, Acquisitions Training

Limited user research also hindered progress. Many of the existing applications were built without a solid understanding of users’ goals, needs, and workflows. The wide variety of end user roles and use cases has also made it difficult for teams to understand them all.

Recognizing the need for a more user-centered approach, WxPO engaged with us through our Service Design Accelerator program to help unblock and accelerate their cloud migration efforts.

The solution

Our Service Design Accelerator helps clients tackle major technology initiatives more quickly and with fewer roadblocks. For WxPO, we used it to quickly turn around their stalled cloud migration and get their critical infrastructure improvements back on track.

We started by emphasizing team communication, forming and adhering to a shared vision and strategy and establishing more cohesive cross-team processes. We then took on the developer experience, fostering increased autonomy and implementing modern and ergonomic developer tools.

Through the application of service design techniques, we took a holistic look at the factors affecting WxPO’s ability to migrate their applications to the cloud. We then used our findings to craft targeted solutions around several aspects of WxPO operations.

Service design helped us improve the developer onboarding experience, reducing multiple pain points for new team members. It also allowed us to address process barriers blocking digital transformation. We also documented specific opportunities to improve the customer experience with new capabilities enabled by the cloud.

From our service design activities, we formulated eight recommendations and began implementing them:

  • Create self-service artifacts
  • Build a shared migration vision and plan
  • Provide updated trainings
  • Improve agile processes
  • Standardize and define roles
  • Create uniform communication strategy
  • Continue discovery efforts
  • Improve support services

We also helped ensure the work would continue by identifying WxPO product champions and Skylight collaborators who can enable change to move away from legacy rules and toward a modern digital platform. Finally, we helped WxPO’s own teams develop and expand their own user research and service design capabilities, enabling them to maintain a greater awareness and focus on the needs of the DoD’s weather community.

The results

  • Created and shared a human-centered design playbook, service blueprints, persona templates, user research plan and report templates, an assumptions tracker, and an outcome-oriented roadmap
  • Helped build internal design capacity by hosting agile, user research, and human-centered design trainings
  • Created and shared self-service design tools, including a human-centered design playbook, service blueprints, persona templates, user research plan and report template, assumptions tracker, and outcome-oriented roadmap
  • Set them on a path to a successful cloud migration by embedding with individual application teams to improve team processes

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