Can bi-modal IT divide and conquer?

Brid-Aine Parnell

Monday 28 September 2015

Using one team to keep the lights on and another to innovate could solve many legacy problems, but CIOs need to handle bi-modal IT with care

Leave it to Gartner to come up with the latest buzzword in enterprise technology – bi-modal IT. Introduced by the IT analysis firm last year, bi-modal IT is their answer to the question of what firms with legacy tech systems can do to keep up with agile digital start-ups. As the name suggests, the idea is to have two IT departments or teams, one whose job is to keep the lights on and the ancient programs chugging along and another which concentrates on daring new innovations.

“CIOs can’t transform their old IT organisation into a digital start-up, but they can turn it into a bi-modal IT organisation,” suggested senior vice president, Peter Sondergaard, at the 2014 Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Spain. “Forty-five per cent of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation, and we predict that 75 per cent of IT organisations will be bi-modal in some way by 2017.”

Of course, like many management ideas, this makes a lot of sense on paper, but might be a more difficult thing to implement within a business. There are a number of potential pitfalls to splitting out Type 1 IT work from the Type 2 innovative R&D. The first is your staff – dividing them into two teams and giving one what seems like donkey work and the other the flashy DevOps labour could engender bad feeling, rivalry and a lack of cooperation. Ultimately, these groups have to be able to work together – a swanky new app from your Type 2 team isn’t going to be worth much if it can’t talk to your back-end systems.

But it may be possible to run bi-modal IT without dividing the ranks so rigidly. Allowing some overlap in individual roles could boost staff morale and ensuring better cooperation is more easily achievable between legacy and new systems.

If an enterprise can make it work, the benefits to going bi-modal are clear. For existing firms to be able to move business units down new paths as quickly and as innovatively as digital start-ups is obviously a huge boost to competition.

Bi-modal is by no means the magic cure-all to the problem of legacy IT and innovation in enterprise technology, but with the right implementation, staff and skills, the model has the potential to give large and unwieldy firms a competitive edge on even their most agile rivals.

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