Can bimodal IT help drive innovation in the digital world?

Bimodal IT, which segments IT into two streams of management and innovation, has captured the imaginations of CIOs. We investigate what it involves and how organizations can make this take on IT strategy work effectively for them.

Gartner introduced the concept of bimodal back in 2014, encouraging enterprises to run two separate modes of IT delivery in parallel to answer the proliferating challenges of IT and digital transformation. Mode one is traditional IT, which underpinned by themes of efficiency, stability, safety and accuracy. Mode two focuses on innovation, speed and agility to drive business transformation and improvement.

The idea appears to appeal to CIOs; according to Gartner’s 2016 CIO survey, almost 40 percent of enterprises have already put bimodal into practice, with the remainder planning to introduce it within the next three years (this was covered in a recent Orange Business blog post).

Gartner’s survey found that the need to innovate is driving bimodal, with enterprises increasingly separating the more exploratory parts of the IT from the well-established part. Evidence from the survey claims that building a mature bimodal platform results in significantly improved digital performance.

Ultimately it should enable an organization to achieve increased productivity, faster adoption of new services and the ability to locate teams anywhere across the globe and allow them to communicate 24/7.

Roadblocks to bimodal

The recipe for bimodal may sound simple – running the tried and tested alongside the new. But there are cultural, organizational and technical issues to overcome.

Cloud, for example, demands that IT needs to change to support new technologies and services. The 2015 BCM Annual Industry Survey, for example, found that 67 percent of enterprises surveyed plan to implement multiple cloud over the next 18 months, but 90 percent were worried how they would integrate these cloud services into their legacy or on-premise services.

Flexible working has become more mainstream, demanding content collaboration and management capabilities from any device, whilst maintaining the highest data privacy and security. To allow for mobile working, organizations must turn to cloud-based collaboration services to provide greater flexibility and increase productivity.

All of this requires significant cultural and organizational change, not to mention the adoption of new technology, all of which come with budget battles and political clashes. This is why introducing bimodal needs careful and well thought out planning into the future.

Cultural change is required

Bimodal is not a quick fix. It requires long term cultural change, not only in the IT department, but across the entire organization. Strong leadership and support for bimodal must be shared from the top down, with both modes being valued equally. There is a danger that by setting up a start-up like entity two factions are created – the ‘cool’ set and everyone else. Everyone in the organization must see that mode one can’t work without mode two and vice versa.

In fact, some commentators warn that the bimodal approach can actually hinder an organization’s digital transformation because it can stop them modernizing traditional IT. Enterprises should ensure that both teams work closely together on projects, such as transferring an application to mode one if it becomes mission-critical and requires ultimate security and stability.

Rolling out bimodal IT

Strong leadership and the trusted engagement of key business stakeholders is critical in pushing bimodal forward in any organization. To keep up momentum, Gartner maintains that a two-to three-year bimodal vision is essential to a long term strategy.

Organizations sometimes struggle with project managing the transition, because they find it difficult to bridge the gap between the so called ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ lanes.

“Enterprise project management organization (PMO) and application management leaders are struggling to adapt governance processes to handle new, agile Mode two efforts that don't conform to traditional project management structures,” explained Donna Fitzgerald, research vice president at Gartner. “A focus on business outcome and value will bridge the gap between Mode one and Mode two projects.”

Gartner has identified three best practices to enable PMOs to better manage any type of IT project or program within the portfolio: use a simple approach to work out which mode works best for each project, define the intended business outcome as the measure of success such as improving lead generation by X percent and finally, ensuring a consistent approach to governing once the project has started.

“Place responsibility for the project with the people who can practically make things happen,” explained Fitzgerald. “Place responsibility for the investment portfolio with the people who have the authority to make decisions across the entire portfolio.”

Security is paramount

Getting security right from the start is fundamental to bimodal working. The security challenges around traditional legacy mode one systems will already be familiar to organizations. But the fast and agile delivery offered by mode two requires far more focus on data and information security.

With bimodal there is a move from securing the assets and the infrastructure to one that demands securing information and data flow across both legacy systems and cloud. But this doesn’t mean dealing with the two entities in isolation when it comes to security. It is important to understand the links between mode one and mode two and carry out risk assessments of both based on data in motion between the two environments from the very beginning.

The continuous delivery offered by both DevOps and cloud as part of a bimodal strategy means that risk management must be a continuous and ongoing process, built into the organization’s security policy.

Security can’t be an afterthought, neither can it be added ad hoc to a bimodal infrastructure once it is up and running. It has to be included from the start, otherwise it can leave an organization open to security breaches.

It isn’t all about IT

Thinking bimodal does not just impact the technology in an organization. In changing how IT operates, bimodal dramatically changes how a business runs as well. Mode two is focused on pulling IT and business together to collaboratively innovate and bring new products and services to market quickly. This necessitates business being much more involved with IT in budgeting and company roadmaps, for example.

Bimodal will soon be the norm, believes Gartner, but a large number of organizations will make a mess of this transformation, by failing to understand where to apply the two modes, it warns. If organizations don’t get it right the risks are enormous, particularly if it affects the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) backbone. Make sure your enterprise isn’t one of them by understanding exactly how to implement bimodal properly and sustainably from the onset, with the right business outcomes that will drive digital innovation and transformation forward.

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