Is bimodal IT relevant for a digitally transforming enterprise?

Is bimodal IT relevant for a digitally transforming enterprise?

Much has been spoken about bimodal IT, an approach proposed a few years ago that bifurcates the IT function within an enterprise into two modes. Under this approach one mode runs, maintains and upgrades legacy infrastructure from time to time and the other focuses on embracing new technology and drive innovation. The approach required IT departments to separate the function among two teams. The first mode comprised the traditional approach to IT, while the second mode was touted as the ‘agile’ mode.

The objective behind the bimodal approach was to enable enterprises to maintain and upgrade legacy to be digital ready while innovating and quickly responding to disruptions brought about by digital technology. While this sounded good on paper, as legacy limited organisations’ ability to transform and respond to changes quickly, some inherent drawbacks in the bimodal model, new patterns in IT consumption and new approaches to product development such as DevOps, cast doubts about the ability of bimodal to deliver in a digitally transforming world.

One of the developments that makes bimodal redundant is cloud adoption. As enterprises are moving more and more workloads to cloud, IT teams no longer have to spend time on routine functions like software maintenance and upgrade, patch management and similar tasks. As a result they are free to pursue other tasks that could involve innovation and new product development.

The other concept that makes bimodal superfluous is DevOps. Many organisations have discovered that by implementing a DevOps or agile development model they can rollout products much faster. As DevOps involves continuous development, testing and integration, tasks that would have earlier taken weeks or months get done within days.

Frank Granito, Partner and Chief Scientist, Institute of Digital Transformation, lists the kind of risks organisations tend to face with bimodal IT. He points out the bimodal approach may lead to lost communication as it might result in two teams working in silos. It could also adversely impact the company culture, as one tends to create two classes of IT teams within an organisation.

Frank also questions the sustainability of bimodal IT. “The creation of artificial silos runs counter to the collaboration and innovation required in the digital era,” he says. “There will likely be different products, processes for each silo. There may also be Mode 1 stagnation discouraging innovation on legacy systems.” In his view, bimodal also forces organisations to deal with growing stagnation within their legacy systems in an environment where sprints and agility are over emphasised. “You may have to leave a second team back in the IT office to trudge through underwhelming work deliverables,” he remarks.

He believes that IT leaderships in enterprises will focus on issues and ideas that face customers and business units, not those that concern stability. Nor will IT leadership address some innovations that directly concern stability as only Mode 2 in a bimodal set up addresses innovation.

To sum it up, bimodal as a strategy has been deployed by many organisations in the past over the short term. Given the systemic changes and disruption being caused by digital technologies, bimodal is losing its relevance as an approach to IT management.