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.
Regular Planet Mainframe Blog Contributor
Allan Zander is the CEO of DataKinetics – the global leader in Data Performance and Optimization. As a “Friend of the Mainframe”, Allan’s experience addressing both the technical and business needs of Global Fortune 500 customers has provided him with great insight into the industry’s opportunities and challenges – making him a sought-after writer and speaker on the topic of databases and mainframes.
3 thoughts on “Bimodal IT – is it really the right way to go?”
One must always remember to keep the main thing the main thing and the main thing in the digital age is relentlessly discovering ideas that matter for customers and urgently turning them into deliverables that make a difference…continuously.
Bimodal IT’s first mistake is naively assuming that IT can be divided neatly into pieces and parts. This is silly. Large enterprise IT is a collection of highly integrated, interdependent systems and platforms. As an example, a change or enhancement to a system of engagement can cause a change or enhancement to a system of record and vice versa. And, you can’t predict what systems and platforms will be affected by future awesome ideas to be discovered. Bimodal IT’s second mistake is advocating for different cultures, processes and tools for each silo. Transformative leaders understand that a worthy vision can never be achieved by a house divided against itself especially when the work to fulfill the vision spans the divide. Imagine a Product Manager in a Bimodal IT organization that discovers an awesome idea to improve customer experience. This is an idea that would provide her company a competitive advantage in the eyes of customers and prospects. The Product Manager fashions the idea into agile Epic and Stories and arrives all excited to turn the idea into a deliverable that makes a difference. That is, until she comes face to face with a house divided against itself. The system of engagement folks love the idea and are can rearrange priorities to start the work. The system of record folks love the idea, but can’t consider until after the current waterfall cycle is completed. The frustrated Product Manager is then left to fend for himself in fighting a losing battle against silo-ed organizations proudly displaying their “Gartner’s Bimodal IT” badges. Eventually the Product Manager either gives up or dumbs down the idea to the point of being worthless in the eyes of customers. Bimodal ignores the human and political factors and makes worthy innovation impossible by design.
I go back to keeping the main thing the main thing. That is, discovering ideas that matter & turning them into deliverables that make a difference…continuously. The laboratory of digital invention is the learnings gained in release frequency. To successfully achieve this, Product Managers must work with an engineering organization that has ONE inspired DevOps culture, ONE low-friction process and ONE set of highly productive tools ALL working towards a collective vision.
This is certainly hard and requires strong leadership, but meaningful change that leads to competitive advantage always is.
Thanks Chris; great points.
I agree 100%. I especially like your example of how Bimodal-IT can get in the way of making positive changes for customers.
But there is another form on bimodal IT – a somewhat less sanctioned version of it. Another colleague of mine brought this up recently, that Bimodal IT is often not so much bimodal as it is Rogue-IT. And I use this term purposely and forcefully because it shines a clear light on to what this often is – an unsanctioned (by Corporate-IT), ill-conceived, ill-advised, and dangerous practice.
A non-sanctioned IT bypasses not only what are seen as ‘impediments’ by rogue-IT advocates, but also many of the business-critical IT responsibilities including security, data integrity and risk avoidance. There are boatloads of examples of individuals bringing Wi-Fi access points into corporate environments, violating established corporate security protocols, and exposing corporate data to easy external access and/or cyber-attack, but these are only the start of the risk to an organization.
Serious, well-planned departmental rogue-IT is far worse, potentially far more damaging. Rogue-IT organizations in many cases may require access to some corporate assets or data, and if that is obtained outside of normal channels, then the crime is compounded. Beyond the immediate and most obvious concerns of data and network security, there is the reputation of the business as a whole – to investors and potential business partners. What happens when a third-party or government agency performs an IT audit on a company- and discovers unsanctioned pockets of rogue-IT?
From the outside, it could appear that the business is badly organized and badly led- something pretty damaging to the business’ reputation. A reputation is something a business works long and hard at- something of great value that cannot be understated. Is this really something that department heads or VPs should be messing around with? Just to avoid some IT paperwork? These are deceptive, and dishonest practices. Let’s call it what it really should be – a fireable offence.
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