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Overcoming the Limitations of a Bimodal IT Strategy | @DevOpsSummit #DevOps #ContinuousDelivery

Understanding the pros and cons of bimodal IT strategy is essential to its effective implementation

Overcoming the Limitations of a Bimodal IT Strategy
By Ron Gidron

What Is Bimodal IT?
Bimodal IT was initially defined by Gartner as, "The practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work: one focused on predictability, the other on exploration."

Of course this needs a little unpacking, but in essence Bimodal IT refers to the notion of two distinct areas of an IT department. Mode one must ensure the stability of the organisation and the success of the core business applications, while mode two is the cutting edge, focused on disrupting the industry.

Supporters of Bimodal IT argue the strategy has evolved naturally and reflects generational differences that characterize the two sets of employees. The workforce that has existed for upwards of 20 years and has the experience in legacy systems are often employed in mode one environments, whereas the younger developers more familiar with recent technology tend to work on disrupting the status quo and implementing new ideas.

What Are the Benefits?
Bimodal IT provides the two distinct teams with well-defined areas of priority and focus. Those in mode one will be able to ensure the systems run effectively and efficiently, without distraction. The mode two team will not be side-tracked from their creative tasks by urgent operational issues.

Such a setup provides a significant amount of flexibility to the mode two developers, who are not constrained by older systems and tools. They can adapt to ever-changing and evolving technology stacks, enabling the company to stay at the cutting edge of any particular sector. Empowered with new tools and technologies, the team can work on delivering new solutions that will save the company money and increase engagement. Indeed, with disruption taking place across all industries, a lack of versatile and innovative applications could be the difference between success and failure.

With users constantly providing new challenges and placing demands upon the organization, it is much easier to focus on moving forward when you're not distracted with maintenance work. IT staff can instead deliver speed and innovation, testing new technologies without risking business continuity. With mode one team ensuring stability, the approach reduces the risk associated with full-scale deployment of new technologies and mitigates the effects of a full-scale transformation from legacy systems to new agile systems.

A knock-on effect is the removal of shadow IT. Because business users are getting the applications they need quickly, there is no need to bypass IT, which in turn helps to curb the use of unauthorized applications and software.

What Are Its Limitations?
There is a justifiable concern that implementing a bimodal IT strategy can result in mode one getting left behind. Mode two is focused on speed and agility, embracing change and actively seeking to disrupt the technical landscape. It is exciting. It is at the cutting age. Meanwhile, mode one gets forgotten. It's crucial to the business' needs but will plod along uneventfully. It is not exciting. It is nothing new for the business to shout about. The message is simple: safety first. If this requires time and manual intervention, then so be it.

However, allowing mode one to get cut adrift will result in a number of problems. No-one will want to work in this space and it will become a silo, increasingly isolated and gradually forgotten by the rest of the IT world. This will result in core applications becoming cumbersome and the future of mode one disregarded and bleak.

Moreover, the creativity, freedom and exploration afforded to mode two is not shared, resulting in a division between the two modes. If management focuses its attention to either mode unfairly, it can exacerbate divisions with one side or another feeling disenfranchised. This of course will lead to a breakdown in communication between the two teams that are already working towards different targets, with different ambitions and needs.

If the IT department becomes fractured and disharmonious, the implications can be severe. Those concerned with maintaining legacy systems may well create resistance to new technology within the workplace. This resistance may even spread to stakeholders. Such a state can lead to confusion with employees unsure of the company's direction and staff working in a mode unsuited to their skillsets or interests.

Of course the dwindling number of people with expertise in the mode one arena further enhances concerns about the sustainability of the bimodal model: very few recent graduates will have either the desire or relevant knowledge to work on legacy systems. This can create an imbalance in the size of the teams and also the cost - with mode one developers increasingly scarce, the fees they can command could skyrocket. For smaller companies that have difficulty in staffing a single IT department, the time and cost of sourcing a team that can be split into two to focus on different areas of work independently from one another is simply inconceivable.

How Do We Overcome These Restrictions?
At the heart of implementing a successful bimodal IT strategy is ensuring the two modes do not become separate silos. There needs to be integration, inclusivity and shared ambition to ensure a harmonious environment. Communication is vital, because new digital applications will interface with the established legacy systems and of course need maintenance and stability once released. Simultaneously, bringing modern techniques and methodologies to legacy systems will ensure they are part of a digital transformation without a massive technical overhaul.

Through Application Release Automation it is possible to connect release and deployment processes across different technologies. Automation and orchestration offer legacy system agility and new-age system compliance. Together they can overcome the current lack of control and end-to-end visibility and are hugely beneficial in complex environments, allowing business users and managers to track deployments and rapidly pinpoint issues when they arise.

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Automic, a leader in business automation, helps enterprises drive competitive advantage by automating their IT factory - from on-premise to the Cloud, Big Data and the Internet of Things.

With offices across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific, Automic powers over 2,600 customers including Bosch, PSA, BT, Carphone Warehouse, Deutsche Post, Societe Generale, TUI and Swisscom. The company is privately held by EQT. More information can be found at www.automic.com.

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