Why Digital Business Needs Bimodal IT

February 18, 2015

Contributor: Tom McCall

Its easier to predict the trajectory of a technology than to predict the human usageof that technology.

This creates uncertainty and an inherent problem for IT: Mode 1 IT is really effective when it is operating according to a predefined plan. But digital business contains much uncertainty.

As organizations innovate to seize opportunity in digital business, they’ll need to implement both the traditional and agile IT modes in their organizations, or bimodal IT.  Mary Mesaglio, research vice president Gartner, said at at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2015.

“You need to become bimodal because one mode can’t answer the complex needs of the organization. It’s not nice to have. Gartner believes you must have both modes.”

Stability and Agility

Mode 1 is focused on stability, and reliability. Mode 2, on the other hand, focuses on agility, flexibility, and being able to operate in an area of great uncertainty. In the case of Priority Health, a $2.3 billion US healthcare company, for example, CIO Krischa Winright credits bimodal IT with enabling the entire organization to comply with new and complicated healthcare regulations and react swiftly to customer demands. The approach has also triggered increased engagement and energy from the business.

Marathon vs. Sprint

Ms. Mesaglio compared Mode 1 to a marathon runner, with different training and skills than a sprinter. “In the era of digitalization you need both marathoners and runners,” she said.

Avoid the Timid Middle

IT organizations should start with “island” projects that protect Mode 1 from Mode 2, and note that Mode 2 still requires a rigorous, disciplined approach.

Do not use Mode 2 to change your mind a lot, said Ms. Mesaglio, because that will create a mess. It is also a mistake to act tentatively and dabble in agility by saying, "We’ll go agile, we just want all the requirements up front.” This functions more like Mode 1.5 in which organizations wallow in a timid middle ground without stability or agility.

We don’t want mid distance runners,” said Ms. Mesaglio. Whatever you’re going to do in Mode 2, go all the way.

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