‘Bimodal IT’ is a term coined by Gartner. It describes one approach for both keeping the lights on with mission critical, but stable core IT systems (Mode 1), whilst taking another route (Mode 2) to delivering the innovative new applications required to digitally transform and differentiate the business.
Both streams of IT are critical. Mode 1 requires highly specialised programmers, long and detailed development cycles. Control, detailed planning and process adherence are of priority. Projects are technical and require little involvement from business teams. Mode 2 requires a high degree of business involvement, fast turnaround, and frequent updates; effectively a quick sprint to rapidly transform business ideas into applications.
According to a recent survey by the analyst group, nearly 40 per cent of CIOs have embraced bimodal IT, with the majority of the remainder planning to follow in the next three years. Those yet to implement bimodal IT were tellingly those who also fared worst in terms of digital strategy performance.
If you’re one of the recently converted, you won’t want to rush blindly into bimodal IT, oblivious to the mistakes made by those who have already ventured down that path.
Based on experience over many customer projects, here are seven mistakes and misconceptions I’ve learned firms need to avoid when implementing bimodal IT:
1. Thinking bimodal IT impacts only IT – In transforming how IT operates, bimodal IT changes the way the business operates too. Mode 2 is about bringing IT and business together to collaboratively bring new ideas to market. This requires the business to be much more actively involved, as well as take different approaches to planning, budgeting and decision making.
2. Lacking strong (business) leadership – Strong IT and business leadership is absolutely critical to implementing bimodal IT. The individual responsible for operationally setting up Mode 2 needs to be a strong leader, and ideally even a business leader. That’s because the goals and KPIs of Mode 2 are so completely different from Mode 1. When Mode 2 is set up by someone with a Mode 1 mind-set, they tend to focus on the wrong things (e.g. upfront planning vs. learning as you go, technical evaluations vs. business value etc.), limiting the team’s chance of success
3. Confusing Mode 2 with ‘agile’ – One of the biggest misconception about bimodal IT is that Mode 2 is synonymous with agile. Don’t get me wrong; iterative development is a key part of it. Because requirements for digital applications are often fuzzy, teams need to work in short, iterative cycles, creating functionality, releasing it, and iterating continually based on user feedback. But the Process element extends beyond agile, encompassing DevOps practices (to achieve the deployment agility required for continuous iteration) and new governance models.
4. Not creating dedicated teams for Mode 1/2 – Organisations that have one team serving as both Mode 1 and Mode 2 will inevitably fail. For starters, Mode 1 always takes precedence over Mode 2. When your SAP production instance goes down, your team is going to drop everything to put out the fire, leaving the innovation project on the shelf. Second, Mode 1 and Mode 2 require a different set of people, processes and platforms. By forcing one team to perform double duty, you’re not setting yourself up for success.
5. Overlooking the Matchmaker role – When building your Mode 2 team, it’s important to identify the individual(s) that will help cultivate and prioritise new project ideas through a strong dialog with the business. These matchmakers have a deep understanding of, and trusted relationship with the business, which they can leverage to uncover new opportunities that can be exploited with Mode 2. Without them, it’s much harder to identify projects that deliver real business impact.
6. Keeping Mode 1 and 2 completely separate – While we believe Mode 1 and Mode 2 teams should have separate reporting structures, the two teams should never be isolated from each other. In fact, the two should collaborate and work closely together, whether to integrate a Mode 2 digital application with a system of record or to transfer maintenance of a digital application to Mode 1 once it becomes mission critical, requiring stability and security over speed and agility.
7. Ignoring technical debt – Mode 2 is a great way to rapidly bring new applications to market. However, you can’t move fast at the expense of accumulating technical debt along the way. It is important to ensure maintainability, refactoring applications over time as required.
While 75 per cent of IT organisations will have a bimodal capability by 2017, Gartner predicts that half of those will make a mess. Don’t be one of them! Avoid the mistakes above to you implement bimodal IT properly and sustainably, with a focus on the right business outcomes that drive your digital innovation initiatives forward.
Written by Roald Kruit, Co-founder at Mendix