What is ASHEN?

Cloud adoption is not just a technical challenge; it is a transformative journey that requires organizations to establish the right people, processes, and, more broadly speaking, knowledge to effectively leverage the power of the cloud. While many cloud adoption frameworks provided by cloud providers and big 4 consulting firms focus on technical aspects, there is often a significant gap when it comes to addressing the knowledge required to operate and run the cloud effectively.

I believe that knowledge management plays a crucial role in successful cloud adoption. However, it goes beyond simply acquiring technical skills. It involves understanding how the organization wants to use and enable the cloud, and capturing that knowledge (read: codifying) to drive effective decision-making and operational excellence.

Cloud adoption frameworks often fall short in discussing the knowledge that organizations actually need to be successful. They tend to focus on generic skills and fail to capture the specific knowledge about the organization’s cloud strategy, goals, and desired outcomes. They fail to capture the “ethos” of why the cloud is being used in the current context. This is where knowledge mapping tools, such as ASHEN (an example tool), can play a vital role in broadening our scope and treating knowledge as a valuable asset.

By leveraging knowledge mapping tools, organizations can go beyond just documenting technical skills and certifications. They can capture and visualize the broader knowledge landscape, including insights about the organization’s cloud vision, governance principles, security requirements, compliance considerations, and more. This holistic approach to knowledge management enables organizations to make informed decisions, align their cloud strategy with business objectives, and drive successful cloud adoption.

What is ASHEN?

Per the cynefin wiki, ASHEN is a method that can be used for knowledge mapping. It’s aim is to provide a framework for asking meaningful questions in a meaningful context as it relates to knowledge. There are 5 key areas that you can ask questions:

  • Artifacts
  • Skills
  • Heuristics
  • Experience
  • Natural Talent

The output of this method generally comes in two forms. The first is knowledge objects. What I like about this concept is that it’s a deeper understanding of what actually matters, and really goes beyond the traditional “skills” section of most cloud adoption frameworks guidance. For example, most skills matrices for cloud adoption will talk about the core skills you need in your devops or SRE teams. Those might include learning plans for specific technologies ( like pulumi, or terraform, or bicep, or ….). What that misses, however, is discussion about how those specific technologies are implemented in the current context. It doesn’t take into account the lifecycle of the current organization as it relates to cloud adoption, the skillsets and maturity within various teams (that work together to deliver “business value”), and the regulatory landscape (or other) that might affect how and when certain tools are used.

The second output of this management actions. The idea here is that as you start to identify knowledge objects, you can start to manage them better. Going back to our example, how much “cloud knowledge” is locked away in the experience area of ASHEN. For example, we know we can’t use “technology X” in the cloud because existing standards, maturity, and investments prevent us from exploring those options. Where and how is that knowledge codified within the organization? The idea here is that if knowledge objects consist primarily of elements within the natural talent or experience areas, you likely have a problem. Once knowledge objects can be described as business assets (with properties) you will have a better time managing them (as you would manage any other asset).


ASHEN seems like an interesting framework to consider both from the management angle and from the consulting angle. How can consulting companies use the concept of ASHEN to better set up their clients/customers for success after they leave? How can management make use of ASHEN to better equip teams to make local decisions in a global context? Definitely areas that are worth exploring further.


About Shamir Charania

Shamir Charania, a seasoned cloud expert, possesses in-depth expertise in Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, complemented by his six-year tenure as a Microsoft MVP in Azure. At Keep Secure, Shamir provides strategic cloud guidance, with senior architecture-level decision-making to having the technical chops to back it all up. With a strong emphasis on cybersecurity, he develops robust global cloud strategies prioritizing data protection and resilience. Leveraging complexity theory, Shamir delivers innovative and elegant solutions to address complex requirements while driving business growth, positioning himself as a driving force in cloud transformation for organizations in the digital age.

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