• June 28, 2016

Split Personality: Is Bimodal IT a Solution or a Diversion?

Could it be the answer to the digital transformation conundrum?

The enterprise transformation equation involves a number of daunting challenges. Chief among them: modernizing legacy IT systems for the digital future. Gartner confronts this challenge with a seemingly flexible strategy it dubs “bimodal IT.” The idea is to divide enterprise IT into two modes: traditional IT focused on stability, accuracy, and safety; and agile IT driven by speed, discovery, and innovation. Think two-speed IT: systems of record and systems of engagement.

“Bimodal IT is the only sustainable solution for businesses in an increasingly disruptive digital world,” says Gartner. In the Gartner scenario, the enterprise can reap the benefits of transformation while stabilizing business-critical processes. In other words, it can adopt disruptive technologies without too much disruption.

But this creates tension, critics say. Traditional IT simply was not built to perform at the same pace as the digital ecosystem of cloud, smart mobile devices, sensors, and data analytics. Is the Gartner scenario ultimately counterproductive?

Bimodal Backlash

The reaction to the Gartner proposal was swift and terse. What has the years-long struggle to modernize legacy IT yielded anyway, ask some, save for stacks of consulting bills? The two-phase, two-speed IT approach will lead to conflict and disaster, others contend. IT transformation guru Mark Theile says bimodal IT stands in stark conflict with human nature. How? It divides enterprise technology into a has-been (legacy IT) mode, and the “cool” future-forward (agile IT) mode. This scenario sets up a pitched bimodal battle for influence, power, and limited resources. It also creates recruiting challenges for enterprises as they attempt to enlist the smartest, most dynamic minds to drive and transition legacy systems.

Plus success in the enterprise transformation journey means the process must be end-to-end, with customers on one end and systems of record on the other. The latter endpoint is the domain of traditional IT. Bimodal IT strategies may throttle the necessary cultural shifts by erecting new silos. At the same time, it impedes enterprise-wide collaboration focused on a common objective.

Power of Two

Others counter that bimodal IT is already in place, even if it’s not explicitly defined as such. And always has been. Traditional IT models have been challenged over the years by minicomputers, microcomputers, departmental networks, client servers, and the web. Each technology required different investment, management, and governance strategies. The big difference in today’s environment is the ever-escalating pace of digital change.

The successful enterprise leverages these modes to its advantage. It recognizes that IT professionals possess different skills, temperaments, and motivations. Recruiting and aligning people and skills with the right modes can drive transformation success. The key: don’t marginalize Mode 1 tasks and processes. These systems—ERP, financials, email—are often the critical workhorses of the enterprise.

When boiled down, the enterprise environment is inherently bimodal (tweet this!). The trick is to deploy the right people and harness effective management skills to align these modes with enterprise objectives. Well-oiled bimodal adds thrust to the IT machine.

Like this story? Read more about the great cloud takeover.