Bimodal IT in the Future of the Enterprise: Pros and Cons of a Controversial Model

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By: James O'Brien|

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Bimodal IT is dangerous to the health of enterprises, according to a new report from Forrester. This strategy divides IT efforts into two units — one agile and fast-moving, and one stable and slow-to-turn — and stands to hinder companies overall, the study concludes. The report’s lead author, John McCarthy, suggests CIOs should instead demand more of their companies’ business technology planning to foreground customer and business-unit responsiveness within the IT infrastructure.

So, should enterprises adopt or avoid bimodal IT? The answer requires a fresh look at the pros and cons of the model. The following sections consider how enterprise IT can foster flexible innovation and cover basic tasks with the best strategies and approaches in place:

Advantages and Disadvantages: Looking for a Bimodal IT Verdict

Within a two-tiered IT structure, one team handles all the secure, safe and mostly basic IT functions in a traditional fashion, according to InformationWeek. The second team takes the lead on exploring new development capabilities and addressing customer and enterprise demands in nonlinear, innovation-driven and often risk-encompassing ways.

In theory, one advantage of the bimodal IT approach is that the fast-moving and innovation-minded element of the model will likely attract the best IT talent, giving the enterprise a competitive advantage. As CIO Dashboard puts it, “Waterfall, DLC, ERP and CRM kind-of environments are nowhere near as attractive to the fast-tech community as DevOps-based mobile app factories, IT people embedded in business teams, weekly sprints and monthly app releases.”

There’s something else that’s important about this notion. A dynamic development space is an exciting environment that often encourages the imaginative leaps that can vault a business to the front of the technology pack.

However, as InformationWeek explains, companies are often flirting with stagnation within their back-end systems when they overemphasize sprints and lightning-quick agility in the field but leave a second team back in the IT office to trudge through underwhelming work deliverables.

There is also the problem of isolation — only part of IT leadership will be dealing with issues and ideas that face customers and business units. A better option, under the non-bimodal analysis, is for a company to create outward-facing solutions as an end-to-end IT effort.

The Future Becomes Multimodal: Dynamics Over Divisions

The bimodal IT model is essentially about bifurcating the management of enterprise technology into digital-development and digital-caretaking binaries. It may solve some problems, such as the advent of shadow IT within companies that do not adapt fast enough, but it also raises the specter of stagnation and isolation that Forrester points out.

However, bimodal IT doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. The best ideas within the model may fuel the advantages that come with dynamism and lean-forward flexibility, but those concepts may actually work best when they’re shared by both the front-end and back-end elements of the IT ecosystem.

As Bill Ruh, chief digital officer at GE Digital, explains to CIO, uniting back-end and front-end teams means encouraging both components to innovate and seek internal and external success stories surrounding technology development.

“We found it was the only way to bring together all of the digital capability under one [group] is the only way you begin to get to the point where you have two separate groups architecting their future,” he told the source.

A key goal becomes the fusion of decision-making and the ability to operate with minimum required resources to iterate with the verification and methodology of traditional back-end IT.

Enterprises are at their best not when IT is bimodal and divided, but rather when it is multimodal and dynamic. Demanding dynamism and innovation of all IT elements fuels the outcomes that best fit customer and business-unit needs, and in multimodal models, no one gets left behind.

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About The Author

James O'Brien

Freelance Writer

As a journalist and writer in the branded content space, James O'Brien covers business, technology, social media, marketing, film, food, wine, writing and news. The Nieman Journalism Lab has called his work in the custom content space "sponsored content done right." He has written for major regional newspapers, and he has managed and edited established, startup and turnaround newsrooms in varied markets, from community papers to major-city dailies. He consults for firms and businesses — startups to seasoned — on the creation of effective content strategies and the establishment of practical editorial calendars for enacting them. O'Brien holds a Ph.D. in Editorial Studies from the Editorial Institute at Boston University, where he researched and edited Bob Dylan's other-than-song writings. He is engaged in a bibliography for Oxford University Press, covering writings about filmmaker John Cassavetes. He is the author of "The Indie Writer's Survival Guide." His short stories and poetry are published in numerous journals and magazines.

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