How to Innovate with Bimodal IT

February 18, 2015

Contributor: Tom McCall

IT leaders need to function at two speeds to seize the opportunity in digital business,and nearly half of them are currently doing so.

According to research conducted by Daryl Plummer, vice president and Gartner Fellow, 45 percent of CIOs state they currently have a second fast mode of operation and, by 2017 Gartner believes 75 percent of IT organizations will have a bimodal capability.

Enterprises must learn to operate in two essential modes, known as Bimodal IT, because they can’t lose sight of the need to maintain operations while they innovate with digital possibilities. Mr. Plummer references the Hong Kong Transit system, MTR, as an example to discuss a system that manages a flow of people, information and events by running in two modes: One, it keeps the trains running; Two, it helps interactions with passengers in business moments, such as how to be safe in a weather emergency.

Daryl Plummer, vice president and Gartner

This is an example of the need to operate the safe and reliable traditional IT systems while cultivating a more fluid IT that takes advantage of the digital world and its continuous flow from moment to moment. In fact, Mr. Plummer, pictured above at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, noted that the concept of business moments, in which businesses can leverage digitalized processes to create new opportunities, are supported by a more fluid form of IT.


Focus on Customer Fluidity

Mr. Plummer says that institutionalizing these business moments means IT must build "always on" opportunities to leverage serendipity. One factor of this is the ability to allow users to evolve the use of technology on their own. Take for example, the business moment of how a fireman uses a Bluetooth enabled smartphone enabled with a state of the art indoor positioning system to navigate a burning building. The system locates the office with the largest concentration of people trapped behind the fire line and guides the fireman through the complex smoke filled corridors to find people and save their lives. This, according to Mr. Plummer, is an institutionalized business moment.

Mr. Plummer also cited Italian eyeglass company, Luxottica, whose group CIO, Dario Scagliotti, created a flatter organization of independent teams who cultivated imaginative ways to move the company from a traditional B2B portal to more of an Amazon-like experience. Mr. Scagliotti agreed that IT requires bimodal operations or a “split personality with a rigorous, detail-focused half and a creative and curious half.”

Live with Inherent Risk

However, digital business still poses significant risk. Mr. Plummer notes that 89 percent of CIOs agree that the digital world is creating new types and levels of risk for their business. As objects such as cars, televisions, even pacemakers become digital, they can be hacked.


Risk is a conscious leadership decision, says Mr. Plummer. He advises CIOs to manage specific risks as a competency and capability.  In other words, it’s important for IT leaders to focus on the risks worth taking, to learn to swim with the inherent sharks in the water of digital business. Mentioning the bigger security breaches of 2014, Mr. Plummer notes that all of them were aware of risk and all of them got hit. But their customers are living in the same world of risk, and we are all learning to live with it. He notes that it’s a conscious balancing act.  Any amount of risk you decide to accept is reasonable as long as you have considered it.

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