By Tim Robinson, Well-Architected Geo Solutions Architect at AWS

The AWS Well-Architected Framework has been used at Amazon Web Services (AWS) since 2012 to conduct review sessions with customers. Based on five pillars, the framework provides a consistent approach for customers and partners to evaluate architectures, and implement designs that scale over time.

The five pillars the AWS Well-Architected Framework are:

  • Operational excellence
  • Security
  • Reliability
  • Performance efficiency
  • Cost optimization

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Well-Architected Reviews often result in targeted improvements to customers’ workloads, including lower costs and decreased risk aligned to security, reliability, and performance. This is done by working closely with AWS teams and experts, and through the dissemination of best practice principles.

The AWS Well-Architected Partner Program enables AWS Partner Network (APN) Consulting Partners to perform Well-Architected Reviews for their own customers. In 2019 alone, the Well-Architected Partner Program was responsible for generating in excess of 3,500 partner-led Well-Architected Reviews.

The program is designed to enable a consultancy partner to help AWS customers establish good architectural habits, eliminate risk, and respond faster to changes that affect designs, applications, and workloads.

Thanks to the dedication and skill of APN Partners throughout the world, the Well-Architected Partner Program continues to drive benefits for our customers while building a new business stream for partners.

I have worked to build the Well-Architected Partner Program within Asia for the past two years. During this time, I have focused on educating consultancy partners on the techniques that should be employed within the field to produce high-impact reviews.

This post is the first in a two-part series for Well-Architected Partners which covers the essential areas that will assist you in building a successful consultancy practice through the use of tried and tested techniques.

Building Your Partner Practice as an Owner

Success in the AWS Well-Architected Partner Program is not just indexed against having a team of highly-skilled technical consultants.

Using knowledge gained from working with hundreds of partner practices worldwide to build their Well-Architected practices, we can offer a number of tips that business owners should follow in order to maximize success.

Perhaps the most asked question we hear across business owners is simply: What should I do to ensure success for my business with the AWS Well-Architected Partner Program?

Here are some tips for APN Consulting Partners who want to generate maximum impact from the AWS Well-Architected Partner Program.

Business Tip #1: Initial Customer Selection

Customer selection is one of the areas where business leaders have the ability to kick-start their practice. Most Well-Architected Partners come from established businesses and have access to a number of customers they have worked with previously.

So, which ones do you choose to approach for a Well-Architected Review?

Whilst a partner that has worked with the Well-Architected Program for some time has established integration points deep within their business (see Tip #2), there are a number of criteria new members can use to create a priority list.

For each of your customers, think about the following points and use them to guide you to a shortlist of 4-5 customers to connect with.

Does my customer use services that may have been subject to innovation within the past six months?

If this is the case, there may have been an update to the best practices associated with that service. This allows you to have a timely conversation with your customer to understand how these changes impact their workloads.

Making improvements based on service innovation may provide a customer with an attractive return on investment (ROI) in terms of improved efficiency, or simply represent additional value through functionality to their business.

Is my business currently engaging with a new customer to assist them in a migration or re-architecture of their current environment?

Where you are currently engaged on a deployment, your customer may not be aware of the risk and efficiency profile of what you propose to deploy.

Running a Well-Architected Review in these circumstances allows you to set expectations for what they’ll receive at the point of delivery. It also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate the value your expertise delivers. In addition, completing a Well-Architected Review at an early migration stage allows you to work with the customer to set the foundations for their technical roadmap as part of an ongoing relationship.

Have I received recent feedback from a customer that is specific in nature?

Most stakeholders within a consultancy are familiar with receiving very direct feedback from customers.

Sometimes, the feedback is subjective (“Our environment is great, but I wish I could reduce costs internally”), or data driven (“I have been tasked with removing 5 percent of ongoing infrastructure expenditure and want you to help me with that”).

In either of these examples, running a review with an emphasis based on customer feedback or input typically produces results that a customer will be receptive towards.

A typical example of this was a customer I worked with last year to complete a review in conjunction with a partner in ASEAN. Upon arrival, the customer immediately presented our reviewers with the recent bill for the company, explaining that costs were escalating rapidly without a matched increase in revenue into the company.

Whilst this is sometimes challenging at the start of a review, we were able to work with this customer on deep-dive techniques to maximize cost efficiency and transparency across their individual business units. Following best practice advice, the customer was able to implement a tagging strategy which provided deeper visibility into the cost efficiency of the different departments within their business.

In addition to this, a number of cost alerts sent throughout the month created awareness throughout the month of spending patterns that resulted in a behavioral change across his organization.

Another example is a customer who’s concerned about security posture of a particular workload, specifically before the workload is moved to a production state. Through the use of a deep-dive review that focuses on the security pillar, a consultant can work with a customer to initially gain an understanding of the current state of the workload, before educating as to how security posture could be improved.

Typically, the use of a continuous compliance mechanism such as AWS Config, for example, can provide regular checks within a customer environment against a specific best practice, such as open security group ports and unexpected updates to IAM users and groups.

Have I worked with the customer in a managed service capacity and do I want to drive structure and value into our regular cadence discussions?

Setting expectations with managed service customers means you are building a relationship based on clear communication.

Customers want to feel they are on a journey rather than moving from one reactive situation to the next. The use of Well-Architected for managed service customers provides a high degree of value, and can be used to meter where they should focus their efforts in the short and long-term.

Business Tip #2: Review Audience Selection

Bringing grade ‘A’ consultancy skills to a Well-Architected Review is not enough to generate high impact. You also need the appropriate stakeholders within your customer’s organization. Working to understand the necessary stakeholders is pivotal to not only gaining a deep understanding of a customer’s workload, but also to ensure the changes resulting from the review are supported throughout the organization.

By spanning across multiple organizational leaders within a company from both a technical and managerial perspective, a consultancy is capable of building a high degree of both business and technical visibility. This means conclusions drawn from the review will be reflective of stakeholder KPIs and objectives, and thus attract a higher chance of support when positioned as a statement of work (SOW) to the customer.

An example of this would be approaching a CISO stakeholder in collaboration with a security operations team to complete the security pillar of a review. This audience ensures the security aspects of the workload are viewed from both a day-to-day perspective through a team skilled in operational security challenges of the workload, together with a long-term strategic perspective that is aligned with the company direction and vision.

Encouraging your consultants to build appropriate target audiences for each pillar of the review, which can also aid decision-making when presenting the conclusions and associated statements of work (SOW) at a later stage.

As a business owner, reaching out to a C-suite audience to book calendars with appropriate members of staff in a proactive manner is key to your consultants’ time being invested wisely during the review.

When deciding on your audience for each pillar, use the following criteria to select appropriate employees of your customer. As I have previously mentioned, audience selection is critical for successfully understanding how to improve the posture of a workload within each pillar. But how exactly should that audience be chosen?

Here are a few aspects to consider when selecting your stakeholders for each pillar of the review:

Area of Depth

Utilize specialists to gain precise knowledge of the workload that is under review. If you are reviewing the security pillar, perhaps the security team or CISO is appropriate.

In the same way, cost sections of the review can be run in conjunction with a mix of technologists and finance teams, together with operational personnel contributing to the Operational Readiness pillar within the review.

Business Impact

Whilst understanding the technical details of a customer environment is critical to a review, ensuring your audience can make internal business impacts means that findings, outcomes, ownership, and funding can be easily escalated and actioned effectively.

This is equally true when presenting findings and an SOW following a review. If business stakeholders are present at this stage, you can ensure findings are well communicated at an early stage. This allows group buy-in for review focal points.

You’ll also want to ensure your audience has stakeholders who can effect and drive the business outcomes within your customer. This may be as simple as involving a CFO for the cost optimization pillar, either directly or through enablement of their staff.

Once your audience is selected, ensure you explain to your customer who you’d like to involve, but more importantly “why” you would like to involve them.

Business Tip #3: Post-Review Feedback

There are times when an SOW is presented to a customer and it’s not accepted. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but Well-Architected Partners typically find their SOW uptake ratio becomes more positive over time.

This can be attributed to the experience of the consultants in running the review, and the meshing of the sales and business unit activity to ensure the customer is in a good position to understand and value what the review process can deliver.

Gathering feedback from customers can help APN Partners develop and build their individual capabilities to hone their review skills for impact.

Following a review and SOW presentation, reaching out to your customer’s decision makers allows you to learn from mistakes and understand what went well. Arrange a time following the review to speak with stakeholders.

When you meet with them, try and understand the following:

  • What went well in the review and what were the key takeaways?
  • Was the audience appropriate for each pillar?
  • If an SOW was presented to you, was it aligned to your business needs and requirements?
  • Were you presented with an SOW that was flexible in terms of approach and prioritization, or were these items decided for you?
  • Was the cost of the SOW outside of the budget you had made provision for? If so, would you have accepted a prioritized SOW that was iterative?
  • At the end of the review process, were you clear about your company’s current risk position and the remediation that would be most impactful?

Building a feedback loop at both a business and consultative layer ensures your Well-Architected business is as successful as possible. In most cases, APN Partners can take a few basic feedback points and dramatically increase their success ratio.

Business Tip #4: The Importance of Deep Business Integration

When consulting partners first work within the AWS Well-Architected Partner Program, there’s a tendency to view Well-Architected as another competency or capability you have to offer customers.

In a way this is true, but there’s also a “think big” opportunity that is being missed.

Successful partners within our Well-Architected Program have achieved deep integration into their business. This means they no longer see the program as a sidecar addition to their offerings, but rather a central behaviour around which they can shape and define all of their customer offerings.

By integrating the Well-Architected Program into existing consultancy and managed service offerings, APN Partners find they are able refine their strategies around the Well-Architected Framework. This helps them to provide balanced and uniform outcomes for customers.

An example of this would be a migration of a workload from an on-premises environment to the AWS Cloud. Most partners will undertake such a project as a standard engagement, and given sufficient time and resources they will successfully move their customer to AWS.

If that same engagement is based around a Well-Architected-centric approach, a customer will also benefit from the following:

  • A measure of the risks in the environment from an operational and security perspective.
  • An idea of efficiency of resources within the environment from a performance perspective.
  • An idea of the ongoing cost of the environment, together with areas for cost reduction.
  • A roadmap of areas to concentrate on for the next 6-12 months as part of an ongoing engagement.

Business Tip #5: Marketing Your Customer Successes with Well-Architected

Promoting the value of Well-Architected Reviews for customers is an important part of building your Well-Architected practice.

Where customers have received a positive experience from a review, would they be prepared to be part of a case study for your business? If so, then a well-aimed article covering the customer business, together with the benefits that were received as part of the engagement, can provide potential new customers with confidence they should engage with your business.

For organizations with large or small (or no) marketing support, there are creative ways to utilize web properties, blogs, and social media platforms to share the value you deliver to customers through Well-Architected Reviews.

Have an outstanding Well-Architected customer success story? Tell us about it and there may be an opportunity to showcase your story on an AWS blog, in an AWS case study, or virtual event.

Case Study: WOLK Technology Australia

WOLK Technology has been part of the AWS Well-Architected Partner Program since 2019. They have conducted Well-Architected Reviews as a standard offering across their customer base.

Reviewing a workload within the Well-Architected Tool in the console allows a workload to be verified against established best practice within AWS.

Where a major deviation from best practice is discovered, a High Risk Issue (HRI) is recorded that represents a measure of risk that exists within a workload in relation to best practice. Through Well-Architected Review sessions and associated remediation, WOLK has successfully completed over 250 HRI remediations this year.

WOLK’s founders, Wayne Hayes and James Bettaney, offered these comments concerning the program:

“When we first started our partner business, we searched for a standard method of communication with our clients in terms of initial architectural assessment and guidance. We found ourselves looking for a process to constantly and consistently assess, reassess and iterate workloads.

“In the past, you had to wait for a hardware refresh cycle, predicted or hardware failure, or end of warranty / O/S support. This is no longer regular enough, and is no longer needed or a concern. This is the point at which our partner manager introduced us to the Well-Architected Partner Program. “

WOLK was keen to ensure they were building a consultancy practice based on a deep integration with the Well-Architected Program. In doing this, they ensure that every customer engagement has an ability to both measure and improve via a standardized repeatable framework.

“We initially thought we would use the Well-Architected Program to address high-priority customer issues, but found ourselves using it for so much more,” says James. “We now conduct a Well-Architected Review every time we do a migration, project, new customer acquisition/onboarding, migration or refresh cycle. Our ability to inject Well-Architected methodology to our standard service offerings has enabled us to produce repeatable standardized engagements with measurable success outcomes.”

As consultancy owners who have built a deeply integrated Well-Architected Partner Practice, WOLK structures their review to always include these points to ensure that they generate a highly impactful review for every customer that they engage with:

  • Initiate a 15-30 minute meeting to evaluate the client and ensure they are a good fit for the program. They explain what the customer can expect from a review, together with the costs required to provide the customer with a high degree of communication from the start of the engagement.
  • Following an initial meeting, WOLK works with a customer to arrange a date for the review. This allows business-level stakeholders to block their calendars, and also provides a timeline for review completion and statement of work presentation back to the customer. WOLK looks at the account without knowing anything about it to ensure there is no bias or influence.
  • As standard practice, WOLK works with customers to provide account mapping and visualization at the start of the review. This provides the customer with a high degree of insight into their existing environment and gives a chance to discuss any initial findings early on in the review cycle.
  • Depending on breadth and complexity of the workload, it may be necessary to focus on a few key Well-Architected pillars. This means the remaining pillars will also be completed, with a view to providing a greater level of detail in a follow-up review at a later date.

WOLK has found that by delivering a repeatable experience as a low-cost engagement, they have built a high degree of customer trust, which allows them to explore more potential workloads with their customer base as they arise.

“In 95 percent of cases, we end up delivering the initial Well-Architected Review, including the SOW remediation items within the credit amount offered by AWS, so the entire exercise is cost neutral for the client, while also delivering considerable cost savings, both of which are critical to the SME market,” says Hayes.

“We have built up a library of reusable assets to maximize our efficiency within our business. In addition to this, we also discuss multiple reviews as an option for the customer based on the size and complexity of their environment. This is pivotal in building trust with our customers and maximizing our value.”

For WOLK, the Well-Architected Partner Program has proven it can become an entire business unit on its own. They have recruited their first full-time Well-Architected Specialist to drive further success with a view to becoming the dominant Well-Architected Partner in Asia Pacific. WOLK’s goal is to complete at least 100 Well-Architected Reviews for 2021.

If you would like to learn more about WOLK can assist with your Well-Architected journey, please check out their Well-Architected solution page.

Conclusion

AWS-Well-Architected-2As you can see, APN Partners are using the Well-Architected Framework to create repeatable engagements for their customers that provide highly impactful business-aligned change.

Through the use of the techniques discussed above, AWS Well-Architected Partners can work to ensure that at a business-owner level they are working most effectively to drive their Well-Architected business in a successful direction.

WOLK Technology has worked hard to embrace these techniques and distil down a process that offers concise repeatable results that work to differentiate them as an APN Consulting Partner.

The tips provided in this post represent the majority of the feedback we have received from the field in terms of areas where consultancy partners have seen success.

By using these techniques, you can build efficient and scalable Well-Architected practices that deliver high-impact results for customers.