Bimodal IT: threat or opportunity?

Posted by Ian Hight on Dec 10, 2015 2:40:46 PM

Topics: Business drivers

Since Gartner created the term ‘Bimodal IT’ in 2014 there has been considerable debate as to the pros and cons of this organisational model for IT. The analyst organisation sums up bimodal IT as an IT organisational model with two types of services/two modes: Bimodal_IT-bowling_pins.jpg

Mode 1:    Traditional IT focused on efficiency, robustness, safety and accuracy. It's a deliberate, consensus-driven and slower moving process and often involves technology core to the business. Also known as ‘systems of record’.

Mode 2:    Modern IT focused on experiment, agile, agility and speed to market around technologies that are often business applications, but they can be core technologies as well. Also known as ‘systems of engagement’.

For those not familiar with the term, it is explained reasonably concisely in this short clip here:

A lively debate

Advocates point out that many organisations now need to function at two speeds - fast to seize the rapidly developing world of digital business and slow to ensure the security, compliance and stability of the systems of record. They further note that the skills and attributes of the people involved in both approaches are fundamentally different as are the investment and governance techniques. Therefore the two modes should be kept separate.

Detractors, however, point out that the term may be new but the business drivers behind it are not. There has always been a healthy tension between pursuing the new and protecting the old, they aver. With bimodal IT there is a very real danger of creating artificial silos of products, processes and people. The detractors also highlight the risk of Mode 1 failing to progress, effectively suspending these systems in time to the detriment of the organisation.

Despite the potential problems presented by the detractors the evidence is that organisations worldwide are adopting bimodal approaches: In a recent Gartner survey 45 percent of CIOs stated that they had a second, fast mode of operation i.e. they had bimodal operations.

Perhaps for some organisations they have little choice as they have a corporate responsibility to manage and maintain the systems of record which in many cases are large complex systems not easily modified or extended. Yet they must also provision their organisations with modern systems and approaches or risk being swamped by shadow IT.

Is bimodal the right approach for the organisation?

There is no simple answer to this question. To a great degree the answer lies in an assessment of the organisation’s circumstances including the level of need for accelerated change. Cost is always a factor as having two groups of people operating slightly differently will incur an extra overhead but the benefits might justify it.

Every IT organisation has some mix of Mode 1 and Mode 2 approaches: most large enterprises operate primarily in Mode 1 with a big investment to maintain legacy infrastructure while start-ups and smaller organisations tend to skew towards Mode 2.

Avoiding silos

Bimodal IT is one way of maintaining stability and being fast to market to retain or gain competitive advantage. It must be acknowledged however that there is a risk of creating silos which does seem contrary to effective business transformation.

A major tipping point may be if the organisation is at a competitive disadvantage due to its inability to harness digital innovation in a timely and effective fashion. If so, it is time to have a serious review of whether IT has both the time and ability to both manage the systems of record and assess, implement and manage new agile systems of engagement.

In this case, creating two modes must just be the catalyst needed. It can bring fresh thinking and create more intense focus on new capabilities whilst ensuring traditional systems of record are not neglected. This challenge is just something CIOs who opt for this approach will need to take in their stride.

At SASIT we are arguably one of the 45% of Gartner’s study who have already implemented bimodal operations. For a large number of our customers we operate in Mode 1 as we manage their traditional systems ensuring efficiency, safety and accuracy. For others we are focused on helping improve their agility and speed to market which includes provisioning the very latest technologies and cloud services.

So, is bimodal a threat or an opportunity?