Duality in life is omnipresent, isn’t it? Good vs bad. Light vs dark. Vegetarians vs non-vegetarians. Science vs Religion. Empirical vs Theoretical. The refined and elite class of people who use iOS vs the village idiot Fandroids. You get the picture, right? Basically, there are always two schools of thought when it comes to pretty much anything in existence. And despite the differences in opinion and point-of-view, both sides have learned to exist in their own domains without causing too much damage to the other. And the same could have been said about the delicate process of software delivery. There are two ways of delivering software as we all know. The traditional methods where focus is on stability, and the newer methods where focus is on agility.
However, as time moves on, there’s a movement in the IT world that says there’s room for both the tortoise and the hare. Groups charged with being innovative and agile don’t have time to sweep the floors and keep the lights on. Teams responsible for basic blocking and tackling need to concentrate on being safe and reliable rather than highly innovative. This “bimodal IT” scenario is the key to successful big-enterprise IT, experts say. Bimodal is the next big trend in IT, a dual speed model for enabling an effective mixture of stable, well-managed core systems and applications that change infrequently, while simultaneously unleashing agility and innovation along the edge of the organization via rapidly developed new digital solutions using the latest emerging platforms, technologies and processes.
The origin of bimodal IT is credited to Gartner, which has been developing perhaps the most sophisticated and detailed research around the way organizations are varying the speed and formality of IT enablement. The analyst firm has doubled down recently on the concept with its latest CIO Agenda Report for 2016, which is literally packed beginning-to-end with data and analysis on bimodal IT trends. At first glance, it certainly seems to make sense, and from my perspective bimodal is intellectually useful as a concept in creating a dividing line between legacy technology efforts that change much more slowly and must be managed more carefully on one side and high velocity new digital projects that must more faithfully match the rate of exponential change of market conditions today, while also effectively applying the latest technologies and techniques.
But, as I see it, there are a few problems with this newfangled idea. The first is that it makes IT too slow. As we all know, customers’ expectations are evolving more rapidly than ever before. The faster we execute, the more quickly we will win them over. When a portion of the IT operation is focused on not moving quickly, it can prove to be a drag on the entire group. The impact on customers, specifically, is part of the second side effect. The second side effect, inherent in holding part of the IT operation aside to be inward-focused, means a portion of the company isn’t looking at customers. The focus on customers, more than speed or a particular discipline, is what I see as the critical differentiator in companies that are succeeding. In my opinion, It’s not just all of the agile-based technology methods that companies have to deal with, but we see the leaders building a more modern end-to-end process and toolkit. They’re using design thinking and minimum requirements to see what truly adds value to the customer. Without that we’re just using agile to do the wrong thing more quickly. Also, as I explained earlier, bimodal IT creates two separate groups working on segregated systems that “adds more front-end and back-end silos of complexity” making it “fundamentally unable to address customer and enterprise needs for agility.” For example, earlier this year LinkedIn launched a re-build of their mobile app. Their new pipeline is completely automated, and new code goes live three times per day, with no more than three hours between when code is committed and when that code is available to users! With techniques like these, where’s the need for bimodal IT? Well, for one thing, not all companies have the 270 or so engineers to create this kind of automation that LinkedIn used to get this up and running. For another, LinkedIn’s infrastructure was launched in 2002 and thus did not have as far to go as other legacy companies.
In my opinion, bimodal IT is about incorporating and standardizing this shadow IT and allowing the innovators to innovate, but within corporate structure. It is not suggested for every company, and especially not for companies that are already doing agile. Nowhere is it suggested as a destination, but as a means to an end. Add to this, large companies move slowly to adopt change. As I see it, CEOs and their leadership teams are at a crossroads as technology underpins virtually all customers’ expectations and unlocks new sources of customer value. The choice is rather straightforward: Invest heavily in business technology (BT) to win, serve, and retain customers, or flounder under the weight of legacy IT. The choice is obvious, isn’t it? We know and have proven that a better customer experience correlates with higher revenue growth. And what firm can claim immunity from the pressure of increasingly powerful customers wielding unbelievable technology power?
This is no time to hedge. Strategies like bimodal IT that advocate for silos and two operating speeds may appeal to risk-averse leaders. But bimodal won’t get the job done. Customer’s expectations are evolving more rapidly than ever before – digital disruptors are built for speed. The faster you execute, the more quickly you will win customers over and more effectively you compete against disruptors. Bimodal advocates for only part of your organization to move fast, while perpetuating the isolation and glacial pace of change for older, monolithic, operational systems. But customer experiences aren’t confined to a small subset of systems. Even a simple purchase needs to reach back into fulfillment and billing systems. t’s time to go fast; you cannot out-slow the competition. CEOs, business leaders, and CIOs must co-create and prioritize a business technology agenda that centers on customers and spans all corners of the organization. The move to customer-obsession is no longer a choice. Now is the time you must decide what kind of company you will be in order to win.