Bimodal in a digital world: To be or not to be

aaeaaqaaaaaaaaqtaaaajdzmogfimdi4lta4zdatnddios05ngm3lte4m2jjymfinmq1ygRecently, there has been a lot of debate on “Bimodal IT” as two of the leading industry analyst firms have proposed diametrically opposite views. 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 ( Gartner suggests such an approach as changes due to digital business will create chaos and uncertainty for those designing and operating the business and hence the need to balance business stability against imminent innovation. An increasing number of clients will adopt a combination of fast-paced exploratory innovation projects alongside more predictable and reliable support services to ensure modernized and secure IT environments.

On the other hand, Forrester feels that bimodal IT creates two separate groups that work at different speeds on segregated systems. It is fundamentally unable to address customer and enterprise needs for agility. CIOs need a single strategy to accelerate innovation and simplification, not a two-class system that adds more front-end and back-end silos of complexity. It makes no sense to have two groups competing for funding, resources, skills and the business’ attention. They feel that bimodal IT will only widen the gulf between the CIO and the business. A unified strategy is needed to engage and energize the C-suite and board. Firms that do not embrace such a unified strategy and continue to hedge with a bimodal strategy will face the additional cost and complexity of running two parallel systems. And without the simplification and modernization of core operational systems in areas like supply chain management and core banking, they will be forced to use manual process workarounds to meet the needs of customers — all of which will drive up costs and hurt margins.

Couple of thoughts on the above approaches:

  • Most organizations today are still struggling to define what digital means for them; digital transformation requires leadership from the very top as it affects the entire way of working for the organization as well as its clients. In the absence of a clear understanding of what digital means, a bimodal strategy is what would work best wherein fast-paced exploratory projects help the company realize its digital future while it continues to modernize its current IT environment.
  • There is often no clear ownership of who owns digital.  Most of the organizations consider this as a primary barrier to achieving digital transformation. In such a scenario, you have different buyers of IT services like the CIO, CMO and others LOBs. Service providers realize this and are trying to help different buyers in the client organizations via bimodal IT – Mode 1 where the innovation focus is on objectives such as the industrialization and automation of delivery services and processes and the overall modernization of core IT systems. In Mode 2, service providers aim to start small, be agile and take fast action on opportunities, fail fast and adapt.
  • Legacy IT systems in most organizations resemble more like noodle soup than a coherent interconnection of systems. One of the core ideas behind digital is to adopt an agile sprint-based approach wherein some specific processes are first taken into consideration and transformed using a “fail fast – learn fast” approach trying than a multi-year overhaul of the entire system. In the meanwhile, one still needs to run existing environments to make sure that clients’ needs don’t suffer. Hence, the need for incremental change rather than a Big-Bang approach.
  • As per – Bill Ruh, the Chief Digital Officer at GE Digital told the problem organizations run into creating bimodal systems is the stigma that the mode 1 group operating back-office systems is slower than the mode 2 unit building digital technologies. Employees may not want to work on mode 1 because of the perception that it is not innovative. This is in line with what Forrester says and retaining talent in Mode 1 will certainly be a challenge with Bimodal IT.
  • Forrester is right in saying that traditional IT delivery methods can’t meet the rising expectations of customers and the increasing speed of innovation. Bimodal IT does not talk about the broader business, process, and organizational changes required to improve customer experience and operational excellence. If organizations can have clear leadership, ownership and budgets for Digital wherein groups don’t compete for funding, resources, skills and the business’ attention; then a unified strategy is certainly possible. Forrester is right in saying that calls for a complete shift to put customers at the center of technology strategy and to operate as one team.

Overall, there is merit to what both firms say and, if one reads between the lines, one will find that the views are not as diametrically opposite as they would appear and there are points wherein both firms are actually in agreement. Your opinion?

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This article by  first appeared on LinkedIn and is republished with his kind permission.

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