I’ve been hearing a lot about Bimodal IT—Gartner was pumping it up recently at their Gartner Symposium, while Jason Bloomberg at Forbes.com didn’t like it and neither does Compuware’s Chis O’Malley. I don’t like it either. Bimodal IT is one of those things that I actually enjoy reading about. It’s right up there with Marxism: a great idea on paper, but the reality of implementation typically deviates far from the promise of the benefit.
I think Bimodal IT is a technical answer to a non-technical problem—sometimes we in the technical world tend to create technical answers to problems that are not so technical. At one point it was rumoured that NASA spent a fortune creating the pen that could write in zero gravity. It was a fantastic piece of technology, but it only accomplishes what a pencil can do. The pencil even has a manual undo feature if it has an eraser. My point is that sometimes we focus too much on technology and forget to look beyond technology, especially when our job is to apply technology in a clever way.
This is why I’m not a fan of Bimodal IT. I buy into the value statements: a separate team with separate leadership, and a clean slate mandate to focus on growth and transformation while the rest of your IT organization focuses on running the business. It sounds like the answer to your prayers. Finally, we can achieve the dream of equal budget expenditure across the main pillars of enterprise IT: Run, Grow and Transform. But wait a minute. Why did the act of creating a new team suddenly let us accomplish what we have wanted to do for years? Why do we need a revolution? The answer is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Evolution is typically faster, cheaper and less risky than revolution. The problem for many IT organizations is the sheer workload that needs to be done balanced against the resources available to do it. Culture may also play a role. Even so, I’m a firm believer that addressing your cultural problem and evolving your company culture to one of innovation and design starts with the leadership setting the direction. I’ve met a lot of CIOs in my tenure as a CEO at DataKinetics and I’ve never met the CIO that has unlimited resources and budget. I hear all too frequently about their resource constraints, limited budgets and hiring freezes—they are perpetually trying figure out how to do more with what they have. Imagine the people management challenge: not only do they have to manage two separate teams with completely different mandates, cultures and strategic approach to a problem, but also to manage them within the context of resource constraints and budget issues. That’s an organizational powder keg just waiting to go off. And, true to Murphy’s Law, you know this organization powder keg is going to go off right when you need the whole team to rally and solve a big problem.
I agree, too, that at times culture and a compelling need to just follow the process is what holds us back. I speak frequently to my team at DataKinetics and, to punctuate a point, I often quote successful leaders in business—this reminds me of a famous quote by Jon Madonna who has been a CEO and who is currently a board member at AT&T. He said, “Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.” This quote captures my reticence about Bimodal IT. If you’re feeling that squeeze of keeping the lights on while innovating, then maybe it’s time to apply a cultural audit to your team—you don’t need a technology audit and technology solution to a problem that is cultural. In its simplest form, a cultural audit can consist of just finding out where the staleness is and where there is resistance to innovation. I’m going to bet that at least part of the underlying cause is the blind need to continue doing things the way they were done yesterday—a cultural problem, not a technology problem.
Now, if you’re going Bimodal, are you still going to have the budget prioritization discussion? You’re still going to have to find a way to hire people and you’re still going to have to innovate. But why create a cultural divide to do it? Seriously, I would be quite concerned that there would be one team that feels privileged while the other would be frequently frustrated. Instead, if we took the time to innovate within the context of the current culture, or changed the current culture such that innovation was no longer impractical or impossible, a culture that would more likely succeed without creating a dysfunctional divide.
Many companies offer services to help with culture change, Stratford Managers is one I know well. But I encourage you to spend time talking with your team. When I say that, I don’t mean your direct reports, but get as low down into the organization as you can. Work the team, not the technology. I’m frequently surprised at what happens when you properly empower people, and then get out of their way to allow them to succeed. I would also encourage you to talk to vendors like DataKinetics, Compuware or IBM, organizations that see IT across a vast playing field and have probably seen the hardest problems faced by current IT organizations. Obviously, they can’t give you specifics, but they can share what they think is a best practice based on their experiences. Don’t hide behind a speakerphone or your email. Talk. Want to know why? Because, as they say, talk is cheap. A lot cheaper than failure.