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Did you know Bimodal IT might make your IT Organisation Bi-Polar?

In the digital age, where companies are driving towards digital excellence and moving towards a consumer-oriented enterprises by evolving their culture and talent, it is eminent that the setup and approach of IT organizations has to change as well to embrace and support the digital transformation. 

I have already covered in my previous blogs few ideas and approaches that IT organisations can follow as well around digital excellence, agility, talent characteristics, digital ecosystems, strategy and analytics. I am not done yet and I will cover more in future blogs; so watch this space!

However, in this blog I would like to (once and for all) tackle the topic "Bimodal IT" (Gartner's model ,released in 2014, that claims Bimodal IT will help IT organisations to meet their Digital challenge) and why in my point of view (with full respect and me being one of great admirers of Gartner's thought leadership) disagree with the Bimodal IT model and I believe if applied might create a Bi-Polar IT organisation who instead of serving and contributing to the overall organisation's digital transformation program will be occupied in trying to sort out internal understanding of which mode should perform which activity or project.

So first, what is BiModal IT?

Gartner's definition of BiModal IT has changed in the last 2 years from

  • "the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasising safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasising agility and speed" to

  • "the practice of managing two separate but coherence styles of work: one focused on predictability; the other on exploration. Mode 1 is optimised for areas that are more predictable and well-understood. Mode 2 is exploratory, experimenting to solve new problems and optimised for areas of uncertainty. "

In simple terms, (even with the change in definition which is an interesting aspect by itself) Mode 1 provides stability and steady service delivery to ensure efficiency, security and "keeping the lights on". Even if it is not explicitly mentioned, but indicated in other comments about Mode 1 in the last 2 years, Mode 1 relies on "slow" traditional development cycles. However, Mode 2 is more fluid, quick and agile in terms of development and deployment of new and innovative ideas. In addition, Gartner very clearly separates the two modes organisationally, with recent suggestions that Mode 2 can be within or outside the CIO remit. According to Gartner, each mode require different skills, tools and techniques. 

So in summary, Gartner is suggesting Bimodal IT is required due to the fact that you require 2 sets of skills & talents, 2 sets of speed & agility, 2 sets of culture (operator culture vs innovator culture) and 2 organisational setups. In the following I will touch on each of these areas, challenge the model and suggest alternatives:


1- Talents and Skills

Gartner suggests that Mode 1 requires talents that can stick to the rules but be motivated by making stakeholders more successful day today and love removing obstacles while Mode 2 requires talents that are excited by the new and not afraid of uncertainty or risk or lack of structure. However, Gartner didn't dig deep in the psychological implications of having 2 modes, where mode 1 will have the stigma that they are slower, less flexible in trying new stuff and concentrate on the "now" (short term), while mode 2 will think they are chosen to be free to define future competing architectures.

In my point of view, I fully support Gartner's view that we will need different skills in the future, but that is irrespective of any modes (check my previous blog for more details on characteristics of talent in the digital world). In addition, in the evolution of IT organisations for the last 20 years, we already have the strategy and architecture teams looking at the new and have a different set of skills than that of the operations teams. But I also agree that this is not working effectively anymore.

Therefore, in relation to tackling the different set of skills required for different types of activities, I suggest instead an on-demand, build and release, multi-disciplinary and cross-functional teams to be created to deal the challenge and/or demand from the customer at stake. I also recommend to always have someone from the business, where possible. With these teams, all employees feel their skills are appreciated and used where needed. 


2- Speed & Agility

Gartner stated that "effective IT execution often lacks urgency and commitment to bearing the costs and managing the demands than an increase in speed and agility would bring" and that's one of their reason for the Bimodal IT.

I would agree with this statement if IT is still expected to be traditional. It is already a known fact across the market that IT has to change but not only one of the modes. In addition, today's products and services rely heavily on data and therefore are almost always connected to current well established systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning applications or Production systems. So everything is intertwined.

Therefore, to tackle speed & agility, I suggest you work on the organisational strategic flexibility and responsiveness with the right priorities assigned and move from a multi-tasking environment to single, fully focused task environment. For details on the characteristic of agility within an organisation, please check my previous blog.


3- Culture

Gartner is suggesting that to win with Bimodal IT, you need to start with culture. At the same time it says that we will have 2 different cultures: mode 1 is an operator culture and mode 2 is an innovator culture.

However, already by naming 2 cultures creates a two-class environment that kills culture as a whole. I agree that subculture should exist to strengthen the teams but NOT to the detriment of the organisation.

Therefore, instead I suggest that if IT subculture(s) are required, let it organically grow geographically or demographically by the employees themselves however your IT leaders have to ensure that these subcultures are connected and complementary and definitely avoid it to be organisationally driven!


4- Organisational Structure

Gartner proposes to a separate organisational structure for mode 2 first to give organisational distance at first but also implicitly to separate reporting and budget structures and conflicts around operations and innovation. Gartner also suggests that mode 2 can be outside IT.

I would agree with Gartner that, depending on company, information technology related investment will be done outside IT (some research states this already exceeded 50% in large number of companies) and therefore it makes sense to keep it there based on the business model and products they create. However, that doesn't to be mode 2 purely, but a mixture of operations and innovations. In addition, such organisation split is technologically focused instead of business or consumer focused and therefore this will evidently break the "lean" setup that CIOs are trying to bring to IT to reduce complexity, break silos and deliver faster collaboration, innovation and delivery. 

Therefore, I suggest that the IT organisational structure has to have consumer-oriented setup from a demand and customer management perspective, product-oriented centres of excellence (end-to-end rather then technology products) for delivery and service management, and for new ideas and innovation, as mentioned before, create and use on-demand cross-functional teams from across IT and the wider organisation.


In summary, Gartner's BiModal IT approach is a very valid thought to push and reconfirm that a new approach of work needs to be looked at to achieve speed and agility across the IT organisation however in my perspective the current approach is not optimal and causes more effort and confusion in the organisation that it helps. 

For your next 100 days, I would strongly recommend you to identify where in your IT organisation the Bimodal IT is being investigated as a concept and ensure an open and transparent discussion takes place in the challenges they are trying to resolve with BiModal IT and tackle it with some of the suggestions above instead. 


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