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The Pros & Cons of Bimodal IT – Can Day-to-Day IT & Innovation Co-Exist?

Posted On: July 19, 2016

Topic: Digital Transformation

bigstock-Cat-And-Dog-5503193.jpgOrganizations with digital initiatives know how hard it is to transform the traditional IT organization. There are business-critical applications and infrastructure that sit at the core of the business, and you can’t turn a freighter into a speed boat overnight.  Given these challenges, in 2014 Gartner offered up an answer.

Enter Bimodal IT.

“Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed.”

Mode 1 is essentially “slow mode,” while Mode 2 is “fast mode.” Gartner believes this allows the IT organization to exploit the benefits of both worlds; however, others are not so convinced and believe it this thinking is a) not something new and b) not sustainable in the long term.

Learn more about the difference between Bimodal IT and Hybrid IT here.

In Defense of Bi-modality

The fundamental strength of the Gartner model is that it reflects more closely the way IT already works, as well as the underling business strategies involved.  

Yes, it’s absolutely the case that IT must progress, rolling out new applications, updates and services to fulfill business mandates.  But let’s not lose sight of the fact that IT is also inherently tied to the past.  

At the enterprise level, IT is chartered with minimizing business risk by maintaining the existing infrastructure, not to mention keeping costs down. Directly relevant are the established business processes involved, developed from years of experience, in areas ranging from change management, to hiring, to procurement.   

A part of the argument for bimodal IT is that separating the two will lead to a higher degree of innovation. Michael Nilles, CIO of the Schindler Group stated, "It’s very important when you have an established organization to give room for innovation, and you usually can’t do that within the boundaries of an established organization.”

Bimodality, seen from this perspective, thus represents a best-of-both-worlds argument: You have teams focused on innovative solutions for new digital initiatives and keep them separate from established business-critical applications, thereby preserving stability while also moving towards agility and speed.  

"CIOs can't transform their old IT organization into a digital startup, but they can turn it into a bimodal IT organization," says Gartner's Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president and global head of research. "Forty-five percent of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation, and we predict that 75% of IT organizations will be bimodal in some way by 2017."

Who could object to that?

The Case for Agility

Quite a few people, as it turns out do object, because there’s a lot to say for a philosophy focused on agility across the organization.

Critics argue that Bimodal IT is not a long-term solution, is too rigid, will ultimately stagnate growth and oversimplifies the problem. In a world where we are trying to break down the silos, it would create more, and legacy applications can benefit from integration with agile solutions. Many organizations have found that in order for digital transformation to be successful, it must be end-to-end.

As stated by Rob Meilen, vice president and CIO at Hunter Douglas North America, “We believe we can get a pretty clear picture on how these two spheres are operating without drawing an artificial line on an org chart.”

In fact, this group believes that projects are more successful when everyone is on the same team, and when innovation is infused into traditional operations, IT staffers are more satisfied and productive in their jobs. In this camp, the development of bug-free, on-time, feature-complete applications needs to mirror operating environments across development, testing and production environments.  

Any change in one should instantly drive the same change in the others.  And any delay in doing so just drives up the odds of an unsuccessful rollout down the road, diminishing whatever business value you hoped to get from the associated service.

Deciding On Your Best Path

At OneNeck IT Solutions, we think there’s merit to both sides of the argument.  

As an experienced hybrid IT provider, we routinely work with all aspects of the business to ensure the technology matches and keeps pace with the business needs. The important thing is to ensure that the unique context of the business is always considered before arriving at a tailored solution — not that one particular philosophy is objectively superior to another. And while drawing a line in the sand between stability and agility may be the ideal scenario for some, it’s not always the right approach. We have learned from years of experience that first and foremost, it's the customer, not the technology, that determines the way we successfully get there…