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A two-speed IT strategy for the digital era

As the business world gets rapidly digitized, the practice of “bimodal IT” is gaining popularity. For CIOs who want to keep up with the latest trends in technology, it is important to understand what the term, coined by Gartner, actually means. Bimodal IT is the practice of maintaining two distinct modes -- Mode 1 and Mode 2 -- of IT delivery. Mode 1 is more traditional, with a focus on stability, while Mode 2 is more exploratory, with a focus on agility.

In this webcast presentation, Kurt Marko, analyst at MarkoInsights, discusses how the era of digitization is driving the idea of two-speed IT. Read on to find out about the important differences between the two modes, the role of cloud services in a bimodal IT strategy, and why IT shops need to be able to develop digital IT products in an uncertain environment.

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the first of four excerpts of Marko's webcast presentation on two-speed IT. It has been edited for clarity and length.

The term "bimodal IT" was coined by Gartner in 2014. And like many of the buzzwords that Gartner coins, it quickly became a very commonly used phrase, and, of course, they were instrumental in promoting that through their venues or their conferences and white papers.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people ended up hearing the term "bimodal" -- and it does seem sort of stark when you hear it -- and it sounds like a psychological disorder. But it's not any of that, and it's not nearly as threatening as some people seem to make it out to be. But hopefully after the next 20 or 30 minutes, you'll understand why.

It really defines two modes of IT where, as I say, they are creatively named Mode 1 and Mode 2. But they're basically categories to describe different characteristics for IT systems and applications, the operating characteristics, the business requirements, the business environment even.

What is the first mode of two-speed IT?

And the notion is Mode 1 would be what most people would consider traditional IT: your big business systems, your ERP, your finance, your HR, those mission-critical systems that really have defined IT for decades. And IT as a discipline grew up around these systems. In fact, actually the way I got into IT out of product development and engineering was as IT was becoming formalized as a discipline, and it looked like it was an attractive opportunity for me both professionally and just intellectually.

But ... many, many businesses have become IT-centric, where IT, instead of being just an operator of critical infrastructure, is now an instrumental part of the business itself.
Kurt Markoanalyst, MarkoInsights

And IT became synonymous with conservative, keep it running, but let's not take too many risks because the business could be at stake if we mess up. And that worked fine for many, many years. Unfortunately, as the business environments have changed dramatically, through the internet, there have been many catalysts, internet, mobility, consumerization of technology. But ... many, many businesses have become IT-centric, where IT, instead of being just an operator of critical infrastructure, is now an instrumental part of the business itself.

What is the second mode of bimodal IT?

And this is where Mode 2 comes in, and it's a concept Gartner calls the digitization of business. We'll look at that in a bit. But this type of environment is characterized by digital applications that really take their cue almost from the mobile and the internet world, where things have to be fast, agile, fail-fast, continuous delivery, you have new ideas that need to be tested and implemented at at least a very initial stage rapidly. And it focuses on cloud services and design as vehicles for the deployment. Often, it includes mobile as the target application platform.

And this is partly where some of the confusion about bimodal IT has come in because cloud services are really instrumental in these Mode 2 applications, because they allow developers and businesses to both create rapidly and deploy at any scale desired. And so many people consider Mode 2 synonymous with cloud, Mode 1 synonymous with on premises. That's not the case, and we'll get into some of the subtleties of why in a bit.

See other excerpts from this webcast presentation on the two-speed IT delivery model.

Part 2: Mode 1 vs. Mode 2.

Part 3: Myths vs. facts.

Part 4: Bimodal IT takeaways.

Two-speed IT delivery model driven by digital economy

As I mentioned, digital business is driving this notion of two-speed IT. And that's really what this whole Mode 2-Mode 1 dichotomy is about. It's about having a set of applications that are run conservatively, but it's important to understand they're not on life support. And [then there is] another set of applications which need to be developed, deployed very rapidly but where failure is an option and getting it right the first time or getting it perfect isn't an absolute requirement.

Explaining this rationale for bimodal IT, Gartner talks about this notion of different eras of IT. And the Mode 1 is characterized by this industrial manufacturing line, kind of the Henry Ford era of IT, where it's about minimizing risk, planning, being predictable, doing it right, maintaining control, reliability, stability.

However, in this era, this digital business era, which they call a third era, there are very different business drivers and that prompts different behaviors. And they characterize the challenges and the activities that IT and businesses need to be capable of the following five [things]:

  • Absorbing new business models rapidly. Being able to adapt to a changing digital environment.
  • Being able to scale up and down rapidly again, and this gets to some of the cloud discussion, but the notion that a successful product may grow demand, like a hockey stick, or it may have very seasonal demands.
  • You have to be able to react both over time and to events as they call them, "business moments," whether you have a promotional campaign that's going to coincide with the Super Bowl or the Oscars or some big event that you're focusing on, or you have a product that gets mentioned on Oprah Winfrey and suddenly demand has shot through the roof.
  • You also have to be able to support different business models. And as we know, the internet and the digital business era we're in now, whether it's sharing services like Uber, and Airbnb, or different distribution channels for media like Spotify or digital content books, you have to be able to support different ways of monetizing your digital assets.
  • And you have to be able do this in an environment where you don't necessarily understand ahead of time what's going to work and what's not. And so you have to be comfortable in developing digital IT products in this environment of uncertainty.

Gartner's contends, and I actually agree with it, these are two very distinct sets of requirements, and that doing it within one business structure of IT is impossible; hence, this idea that you have two modes of your IT organization.

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