IT has become intrinsic to the development and success of practically every industry. In recent years, we have witnessed a rise in both its importance and value thanks in part to an abundance of modern architecture and delivery methods (e.g., DevOps, Serverless), big data needs, and new business goals. This has transformed IT from being a traditional cost center into a fundamentally transformative and innovative component within an enterprise foundation.
As the emphasis has increased on the need to develop innovative technologies, the teams and resources required to meet those expectations have risen as well. As a result, according to Gartner, 45% of CIOs have developed a second agile force. At the same time, IT departments are still expected to continue to maintain and renovate existing solutions, further increasing both the burden and complexity of their workload. CIOs have adopted two different types of management and development processes—in some cases unknowingly—in an effort to segment their teams based on their obligations, whether they be maintenance or innovation.
Although this may seem to simplify management, it in fact can have the opposite effect and prove incredibly detrimental towards a company’s culture.
What Is Bimodal IT
First coined by Gartner,
“Bimodal is the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work: one focused on predictability; the other on exploration. Mode 1 is optimized for areas that are more predictable and well-understood. It focuses on exploiting what is known, while renovating the legacy environment into a state that is fit for a digital world. Mode 2 is exploratory, experimenting to solve new problems and optimized for areas of uncertainty.”
In addition to the business perspective, bimodal IT can be thought of rather simply as the separation of an IT department into two teams with different goals. One team’s goal is to develop and maintain existing systems, infrastructure, and solutions, while the other’s is to innovate through experimentation.
Bimodal IT is a strategy used throughout IT in a variety of industries as a means to simplify the complex nature of managing a large number of employees with various assignments and goals. In essence, it offers simplification through segmentation. Although the term bimodal IT may be new, the concept of simplification through segmentation isn’t. Some IT departments have been doing this for decades just without a term to define it. The main difference was that the innovative team was usually much smaller than the larger IT team responsible for managing and maintaining infrastructure. This is still the case today in certain situations, although the abundance of DevOps tools has trivialized this work somewhat and reduced the number of team members required. At first glance, this separation appears to be a straightforward and elegant solution, but in many situations it is precisely this separation that can cause problems within the organization. The results can be:
- Increased management and development complexity
- Competition among teams within the same department
- Diminished corporate culture and lack of talent
The Negative Effects of Bimodal IT
Management is typically simplified through segmentation. There are benefits to assigning clearly defined tasks and objectives unique to each team, so resources can be allocated effectively. In the case of bimodal IT in the modern age, with technology so interconnected, it can be more difficult to separate them and therefore both management and development between teams becomes more interconnected and complicated. This can prove difficult as both teams have conflicting objectives.
Separating IT into two modes can also have the adverse effect of a decreased perceived importance among team members due to both the team’s goals and the way in which resources are allocated within the department. It’s common for different teams to determine their importance within the organization’s hierarchy based on a number of factors, including their objectives, the projects, and the resources awarded to them. Typically a team working on new innovative products meant to expand the company’s bottom line will be perceived as more important than a team simply working to maintain current infrastructure and systems and will therefore receive more resources and larger budgets. This can make it difficult to both retain talent and attract new talent within a large proportion of the entire IT department.
Furthermore, with today’s emphasis on innovation, it has become increasingly more challenging to attract talented developers and other employees to work in an environment that is focused on maintenance and renovation as opposed to new product development and experimentation. This was precisely the issue General Electric faced before discarding their bimodal organization in favor of uniting their IT and digital groups under the GE Digital banner in 2015. Talented people want to work with other talented people on exciting projects that have the potential for a very influential impact. For this reason, teams considered to be strictly responsible for traditional IT, meaning maintenance and support, are not typically capable of attracting the same caliber of talent as those responsible for more innovative projects. As a result, the nature of bimodal IT has possibly made IT significantly more difficult and complex while simultaneously sabotaging healthy corporate culture in certain situations and organizations.
Solutions for the Modern Company
Today, practically every company is a digital company and therefore it is more important than ever to implement the right strategy. Although bimodal IT can often seem the logical transition to curb complexity, it is extremely important to realize that it can have the opposite effect. A modern solution requires that many IT departments unite rather than divide and the abundance of IT software and technology available today has made that easier than ever before. By adopting existing solutions that make the deployment, analysis, and maintenance simpler, easier, and more transparent than ever, IT departments are able to focus their talent and efforts on developing new and innovative products and solutions. With this strategy, the division within IT is removed, thereby combining both teams under a single umbrella. With the help of existing tools and advanced solutions such as Docker, Chef, Github/BitBucket, and clouds such as Stratoscale Symphony, teams can both maintain and renovate existing systems while also focusing on innovating by developing new products and services.
Additionally, many IT teams are adopting hybrid cloud approach as one of the strategies for alleviating the pressure, time, and resources required to both maintain current systems and develop new solutions. By utilizing the cloud technologies available to them, such as AWS S3 and they are able to take advantage of all of the optimizations, safeties, and redundancies already built in, and get to market significantly faster. New tools exist today to take care of the repetitive, trivial, and sometimes even complex tasks that took up so much time and effort in the past. Taking full advantage of them can be the difference between an IT department whose main focus is ensuring their existing systems stay up and one whose main focus is delivering new products to best their competitors and satisfy their clients.
Some companies, even in highly regulated industries such as the healthcare industry, are leveraging the cloud as much as possible so they can focus their attention on activities that directly stimulate growth. They have their entire infrastructure in the cloud and leverage technologies and DevOps tools such as those mentioned above to reduce the pressure and work required to maintain existing systems. Employing the reliability, efficiency, and scalability that these systems provide allows them to experiment at a level unprecedented in their industry and attract incredible talent that helps them to gain an edge in a very competitive and fast moving industry.
Large enterprise leaders are realizing that exceptional IT talent is both incredibly valuable and surprisingly rare. This is an awareness that is taking every industry by storm and having a monumental impact not only on the quality of the software solutions being developed but also on their cost and time to market. Organizations must take a top down approach to innovation, starting with the CEO, and make it a priority within every aspect of the business to effect real transformative change.
Despite the stated disadvantages of bimodal IT, it is certainly a possibility that it can work very well and may in fact be the right strategy for a company or given situation. There is no single solution that works best for every organization. On the contrary, it is up to every CIO to manage, delegate, and support their department in the way that best suits their teams, tasks and objectives. Every strategy will have its inherent advantages and disadvantages, much in the same way that bimodal IT does, but it is important to remember that no matter the strategy, the right tools, systems, and processes can help to make the most of whatever strategy is installed.
Technology is simply moving too quickly to allow teams to get bogged down with the monotonous tasks of the past. Solutions exist to alleviate the majority of those issues, allowing teams to concentrate on what is truly important and interesting to the world-class talent that you are trying to attract.
With the entire world branding themselves as innovative companies within their industries, it has become more important than ever to not just market innovation but to actually live it and breed it within every aspect of your organization. By adopting existing and incredible DevOps solutions to help with handling the maintenance aspect of IT, you will finally have the time, energy, and resources to truly innovate and become a leader in your industry.