Bimodal IT is an IT strategy using two distinct modes of delivery—one focused on stability and work, and the other on innovation and exploration.
Modern IT faces two disparate pressures when tasked with delivery. On the one hand, IT teams must be able to explore new solutions and push the boundaries of their current capabilities to improve their business and their product offerings. On the other hand, it is just as important that IT maintains existing infrastructures with safety and accuracy to ensure stability in the work. Taken together, these different approaches may seem contradictory. After all, how can a business play it safe while also leaving their IT comfort zone to pursue innovation?
Bimodal IT may be the answer.
Bimodal IT turns IT delivery into a two-tiered set of processes. By applying two parallel tracks for IT development, your organisation gains the advantage of pursuing innovative options while still prioritising maintenance and operational stability.
As mentioned above, the bimodal approach allows you to support two distinct methodologies in IT development—making it possible for you to ‘have your cake and eat it too’. Although specific definitions vary between businesses, a common way to differentiate the two modes is to look at the advantages and challenges associated with each:
Mode 1 in bimodal IT exists to optimise existing processes within well-defined areas with clear requirements and fully understood parameters. This mode is more effective when applied to tasks such as core system maintenance and stability, and generally consists of deliberate, well-established development cycles that deliver predictable results. Mode 1 relies on highly specialised programmers and includes many legacy software development methodologies, including the waterfall methodology.
Where Mode 1 plays things safe and operates within familiar arenas, Mode 2 is more exploratory. Mode 2 applies agile principles to optimise areas of uncertainty and more quickly guide projects to completion. To help reduce the dangers involved in these avant-garde approaches, IT teams create and test hypotheses on a smaller scale before applying them in larger iterations. That said, Mode 2 still represents greater risk, and demands increased flexibility and frequent updates to allow project requirements to adapt as development progresses.
Simply put, the first mode is more associated with stability. It is slow, predictable and (most importantly) safe. The second mode is defined by its ability to innovate. It is exploratory, fluid and risky, but can produce much faster results and drive digital transformation within your organisation.
The two conflicting pressures on IT—the traditional focus of maintaining systems and the increasing need for competitive innovation—create an environment where a two-tier approach is becoming the standard for IT-relevant businesses across many different industries. This is because bimodal IT processes bring with them certain advantages, including the following:
The traditional monomodal approach to IT tasks the same resources with maintaining existing systems and processes as those that are responsible for innovating. Often, this means that either one focus or the other tends to get neglected. Bimodal IT divides IT into multiple modes individually defined and managed, so that each can dedicate their full capabilities to the mode they are attached to. This allows organisations to deliver innovation without forgoing vital upkeep, and vice versa.
Time to market has always been a major performance indicator of IT in business. The bimodal approach accelerates IT development, by allowing an area of IT to focus all its energies on ideating and delivering solutions at speed to meet user needs.
Going hand in hand with reduced time to market, agility is a prime characteristic of Mode 2 in bimodal IT. Mode 2 is unrestricted by established processes and is instead free to try novel solutions and pivot to address changing requirements and conditions. This enhanced flexibility allows businesses to keep up with industry disruption and remain competitive in a changing digital world.
Slow and steady may not always win the race, but it is vital for system stability and security. Mode 1 in bimodal IT ensures that an increasing focus on innovation does not pull attention away from necessary support tasks and legacy systems. This allows businesses to retain their secure foundation and optimise important low-innovation processes.
Today’s users are extremely proactive and undeniably tech savvy—when IT doesn’t provide them with the full solution they need, then they’re more likely to try to find their own. This can lead to dangerous ‘shadow IT’ where unauthorised devices and software are used to bypass IT. A bimodal approach to IT gives users the approved solutions they want quickly, so that they are not tempted to look elsewhere.
Given the potential advantages, it may seem as though bimodal IT is an obvious choice. Unfortunately, there are certain challenges and misconceptions that a company will need to overcome before they can establish an effective bimodal IT approach. These challenges include:
Ideally, a bimodal approach will create two distinct groups, each dedicated to the same overarching goals for your company. In practice, however, these groups may feel as though they are in direct competition for resources and influence. This can create a counter-productive ‘us vs. them’ mentality that hampers communication and collaboration, and prevents Modes 1 and 2 from being able to fully trust or rely on one another.
Without proper training and other forms of preparation, dividing IT into multiple camps can easily lead to confusion regarding roles, processes, expectations etc. When employees don’t understand the specifics or the need for these changes, they may become disengaged, undermining the possible advantages offered by a bimodal approach.
A major concern among industry leaders is that bimodal IT seems to suggest that digital transformation efforts should not be directed towards established IT processes. Instead, the most effective bimodal IT solutions are those that encourage organisations to continue to refine their Mode 1 process rather than simply applying stop-gap measures and shifting all innovation into Mode 2.
The challenges of bimodal IT can easily derail your business’ attempt at establishing a working two-tier IT delivery structure. To help ensure success, consider the following best practices:
For most businesses, separating IT into two distinct modes means creating two IT teams—one responsible for maintaining established systems, processes and operations, and the other dedicated to innovation. Although this may be unavoidable, be aware that by creating teams you may be putting up barriers between them. Ensure that communication and collaboration are still a major focus for each, otherwise your teams may operate at cross purposes, or even pursue success at each other’s expense.
Bimodal success depends on the capabilities of those within your IT department. Unfortunately, finding or assembling the right staff can be a difficult prospect, particularly if you are making your first push towards the two-tiered IT structure. Before you assemble your teams, create detailed talent profiles to identify the experience and skills you need, with an emphasis on versatility and the ability to function productively in an autonomous environment. Once your teams are established, hold regular performance reviews and provide ongoing training options to help improve team effectiveness.
A bimodal approach affects more than just your company’s IT department. Because so many established governance processes were designed with legacy systems and increased control as their primary concerns, the move to bimodal IT will likely bring with it a need to reevaluate and redesign many processes to make them more innovation friendly. To do this, you will need to present a convincing case for bimodal IT to key decision-makers, identify the existing processes that are ill suited to bimodal IT, and make changes where necessary to promote the idea of fewer management layers and increased self-governance.
Both modes within the bimodal structure can benefit from technology solutions, such as automation, smart analytics, single-source-of-truth data models, omnichannel availability and more. Supplement and enhance your teams’ abilities with reliable tools and solicit feedback to ensure that the technology is working properly and solving the right problems.
Choose and track relevant success metrics, making course corrections where necessary. And when your efforts pay off and you see that bimodal IT is making a positive impact on your business, communicate that success. Publicly celebrate the achievement and make sure that your teams know that their efforts are valued and are paying off.
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