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Bimodal IT: A Buzzword, a Solution, or a Smokescreen?

The traditional IT model is broken.

Since its inception in the 90s, the IT department has grown in its focus and responsibilities. Unfortunately, instead of segmenting the department into focused workgroups, most organizations have fallen into seemingly organized chaos.

Projects can take precedence, pushing the regular responsibilities of operations and maintenance to the wayside. Or, engineers can  drag their feet in creating new things and innovating within legacy systems because they have too much maintenance work on their plate. These problems can create a stagnant environment for companies, a dangerous situation in 2017.

But this problem can be solved. It really just comes down to resources. And there’s a way to segment everything as a solution.

Gartner has labeled this approach Bimodal IT.

What is a Bimodal IT Organization?

A bimodal IT organization splits the IT department into two teams, or, as the definition implies, two modes. One focuses on all technology and applications that absolutely need attention. These core systems, legacy applications, and solutions that keep the wheels on absolutely need maintenance. They require a dedicated team, so they should have one.

The second team focuses solely on innovation. What can they build to make the business more efficient and successful? How quickly can they build it? This group is made up of “dreamer” engineers who envision new technology to push their companies forward.

Development Cycles

Each group, of course, will operate completely differently. The first operates much more slowly with longer, more carefully-controlled development cycles. Updates to core technology are no joke. They must be vetted, tested, approved, and then slowly rolled out to each user in the company. It takes time, patience, and a lot of buy-in.

The second team, however, is the hare to the tortoise. Innovation requires speed and agility. This team tends to follow a rapid application development (RAD) approach – things are built, updated, and enhanced more quickly, with short, tight, development cycles. A decision is made, and things are built in a short window afterward.

Business Involvement

Of course, as these different teams within a bimodal IT organization have different goals, they also have different involvement levels in the company. IT often only interacts with other teams if a problem arises with a system or if an update will affect users. Think about your last email from IT. It was probably because a system was “undergoing maintenance,” or to close a ticket on an issue you reported. These IT team members fly under the radar. Business leaders rarely interact with them, and their work, while critical to the business, hums under the surface, earning little acclaim or attention. The first mode doesn’t require frequent, intensive interaction with other departments.

This second IT mode operates completely differently. They have ideas that will change the business, and that means they need buy-in from individual organizational units as well. They are often tasked with presenting their ideas to other departments, effectively explaining how things will work and the impact the proposed new technology will have. They’re responsible for delivering on their promises and sticking to strict development deadlines. Everyone is watching them, especially those whom the new applications or solutions will affect.

As a result, this second mode needs a different kind of oversight. Your business will need a strong, skilled leader, who can balance pushing his or her team to be more innovative while overseeing them and understanding their work and goals.

Team Members’ Responsibilities

Think about your IT department. Many of those team members fall under the radar, don’t they? Their work is crucial – they literally keep the business running, but many of their coworkers and colleagues may not realize this.

Sometimes the flashier ones make a splash, though. These are the IT team members pushing for new systems, new development, and a fresh look at their technology. If you’re following our line of thought here, this is an intuitive way to split up your team to achieve a bimodal IT organization.

More traditional developers who have been with the business longer often fall into the first team. They know the systems and are the experts. They know the ins and outs of the systems that cannot fail and often know the tricks to get things humming again that others don’t.

Developers hungry to try something new and “go fast and break things” often fall into the second mode. They want to push boundaries and invent something new. They also often have been formally educated with the most recent development techniques and have the skills to pull off rapid application development.

Risks of a Bimodal IT Organization

Of course, any major structural change also comes with its risks, and there’s been plenty of discussion on all the reasons why a bimodal IT organization just can’t work. Here are a few arguments against it:

Bimodal IT Builds Walls

Instead of all your best and brightest technology specialists and developers working together, you officially pit them against one another, possibly creating more problems than solutions. Splitting instead of pooling your resources can halt innovation and create tension between teams vying for budget, time, and attention.

Modern Technology Connects

Modern technology often relies on integrations to drive efficiency within businesses. After all, any tech leader will agree that merging two systems and/or applications will make things easier on other departments. This can create confusion in a bimodal IT organization. Which team determines which customizations should be made to the new add-on technology? Who deploys it once it’s finished? Which team maintains the technology? Integrations can cause lines of responsibility to become blurred within a bimodal IT strategy.

Legacy Systems Never Evolve

If you hand off legacy systems to a team focused strictly on maintenance and never on innovation, you’re going to have a difficult time moving forward. And when core technology can’t move forward, neither can the business. New applications can’t easily drive sustainable growth if legacy systems still hold entire teams back.

Developers Get Disgruntled

If you could pick between working maintenance on an old system and completing IT tickets or collaborating for an interesting and innovative solution, which would you choose?

It’s an obvious choice for many in the IT world. If you give your developers and engineers a choice, you’ll most likely end up with lopsided teams. If you make decisions without their input, you risk disgruntled team members and employee churn. Pigeon-holing your IT team members won’t be easy.

The Reality of Bimodal IT

For many large businesses, a bimodal IT strategy makes sense. They can hire an entire new team of software and application engineers for internal development work and ask them to build visionary solutions for the company. Large businesses can afford to hit a few bumps when hiring resources and trying out new things. They can have a project or two crash and burn and absorb the costs of failure.

Medium and small-sized businesses, on the other hand, may have a harder time following a bimodal strategy. Resources are tight as it is and hiring an entire employee team for a few innovative applications may not be practical.

Soliant’s team can act as an organization’s second IT team, as their innovative arm of the business. Our team of certified and innovative developers, solution architects, and UX consultants help you dream up the perfect applications, build it, and then launch it. We help your “first mode” team learn it and then teach them how to maintain it, adding it to your depository of owned technology.

Then, when you’re ready, we move onto the next project you have in mind.

If your business isn’t in the right place to build a bimodal IT organization, you don’t need to. We can serve as that team for you and deliver rapid application development to keep your business innovative without the onerous overhead.

Contact our team today to get started.

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