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Bimodal IT – Maintain the Now and Plan for the Future

Bimodal IT is a new methodology being adopted by some organizations so that they can have a division of focus and effort between taking care of the current or legacy technology, while also looking to the future and what is needed to sustain the organization as business and technology cycles continue to ripple.

Every organization follows a methodology, whether it is formalized or not. This is true not only of the organization as a whole, but also the key components or departments. For example, your accounting department follows a methodology according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), your production and quality departments may follow methodologies directed by ISO standards for documentation, as well as Lean or Six Sigma for means to manage and measure production. The information technology department is no different though it often lags behind other departments in terms of formality in methodology. To the extent that a methodology is identified, trained, communicated, and followed it can assist the IT department in working with the business to align the technology to the needs of the organization.

One of the recent trends in Information technology management methodologies is Bimodal IT.

What is Bimodal IT?

Bimodal IT is an approach to information technology where two areas are in focus, with expected results established for each.

The first area is the traditional IT function which remains highly valuable: the normal “keep the current systems reliable, secure and performing” so that the business can reliably deliver on its plans and promises. The emphasis here is on safety, accuracy, reliability, and scalability.

The second area is innovative (or fast mode), and emphasizes speed and agility.

A great CIO will struggle to compete with small, disruptive startups that threaten the business. The startups do not have the overhead an existing IT operation must maintain, and are not limited by the lack of focus on something new. They are able to be fast and agile. But a good CIO can simply shift some resources to be focused on innovation.

Gartner research has studied this trend, where Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president and global head of research, said “CIOs can’t transform their old IT organization into a digital startup, but they can turn it into a bimodal IT organization. Forty-five percent of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation, and we predict that 75% of IT organizations will be bimodal in some way by 2017.”

In other words, bimodal IT is simply a shift in some resources, with goals of speed and agility to develop options and solutions for current and future problems.

What Problems does Bimodal IT Address?

In our view, there are several problems this methodology is addressing.

  • Keeping IT Current so the organization does not fall behind – a key business case for the danger of neglecting upgrades and innovation in IT is the New York subway system. The subway system was designed and built in the 1930s to provide for safety and largely avoid collisions between trains. The article’s author, Bob Lewis points out the details and the estimate to replace it was set at 20 billion dollars. Certainly the obsolete technology’s issues had been known for a long time, and discussions held to plan its replacement in an orderly fashion for the budget and operational cycles had been thoroughly designed and vetted right? No, in fact the discussions followed the same path they do in most organizations facing a potentially expensive replacement of a legacy system (the following italicized text is from Mr. Lewis article): Does any of this sound familiar — a legacy system that would be good enough except its architecture is obsolete, the platforms it runs on aren’t around anymore, and:
  • “Lift-and-shift” replacement provide no new features, and so no business-driven value to justify the expense?
  • Nobody can describe important new features that would justify anything more than a lift-and-shift replacement?
  • Investing in any kind of replacement system would drain needed capital away from other efforts that are also important for the organization’s ongoing survival and success?
  • Increasing Value – In general, the most persistent complaint from business leadership about IT is that it is unreliable. Once that is solved, the second most persistent complaint is that it is not adding value to the business. The IT department spends their budget and focus to “keep the lights” on, but never comes to the table with investment opportunities with clear ROI that will help the business. The fact is that a lot of IT shops spend 85% of their budget on maintaining what is, rather than thinking about what could be. This holds back 70% of IT leaders from focusing on innovative projects that will increase business value. Bimodal IT allocates a certain percentage of the IT function to the future needs, and should be associated with an accountability to develop innovative options for the business.
  • Attracting great talent – Great talent in technology likes to work on interesting projects, so having some projects that are more than just point upgrades will attract and retain people with better skills and ability to deliver innovation. They will add value in multiple ways in all areas of IT.

Is Bimodal IT a Fad, or Will It Help Me?

Maybe it is a fad term. While the phrase Bimodal IT may go the way of “zero defects”, “Total Quality Management”, and other names for lost methodologies, the concept of planning for orderly replacement of obsolescent technologies and developing new options by having a focus on new solutions to the changing technology landscape and business challenges is a good thing, no matter what it is called.

We focus on the actual goals, not the terms. And there are other methodology options that people are quite passionate about, such as Dev Ops or Agile. These are great also, the main thought we are bringing is that we believe some of your efforts should be focused on the future, where technology can make an impact negatively if not dealt with (New York subway), or make a positive impact on a growing organization (disruptive technologies that provide a competitive advantage, e.g. “news blogs vs traditional newspapers”).

In order to maintain the now, and plan for the future, you will need a strategy to generate new options (innovations) which can be implemented (accountability). This will help you avoid the negative and benefit from the positive.

Keystone’s Bimodal IT

We spend a lot of time looking at the current systems via monitoring tools, reports, and visual review. We also look at the future on a regular basis, in fact we just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where we witnessed numerous trends in robotics, product development, monitoring with connected devices, and so much more.

We also published two articles on Technology Frontiers you may enjoy, part 1 and part 2, which described various new technology trends that you should know about.

One of the features we have at Keystone is a technology museum. You may wonder what does a museum have to do with Bimodal IT? It does for two primary reasons.


Keystone Technology MuseumThe museum has items that come and go to keep it fresh, but starts in the 1800s with old journals of a store’s transactions and accounts (“the books”), which were filled out with a pen dipped in ink. This was “technology” at the time. It then moves to typewriters that replaced the pen, and PCs that replaced the typewriter. These were shifts that had to be planned for or the risk of being out of business was real. These past shifts give us insight into how to plan for future shifts.

IBM PC1800s technologyWe always reserve the last section of the museum for future technology; something that represents what is coming that can make a difference, or must be planned for, or often both. We see things here that are part of the Internet of Things (IOT), 3D printing for product development and someday delivery, voice command technology, and so much more.

It is all a continuum of technology we help clients understand and implement. The past into the future. Maintain the now, and plan for the future.

You may want to know how to implement this approach, feel free to contact us today to start that discussion!

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