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CIO Upfront: Bimodal IT should not mean splitting your organisation

CIO Upfront: Bimodal IT should not mean splitting your organisation

James Valentine of Fronde writes why some organisations succeed – and others struggle - as they apply this strategy for digital transformation.

Ensuring that there is appropriate resources devoted to transformation and innovation is a place to start.
Ensuring that there is appropriate resources devoted to transformation and innovation is a place to start.



The need to address digital transformation and industry disruption is forcing organisations to look for new operating models to meet the challenge. An increasingly popular approach is ‘Bimodal IT’.

Gartner defines Bimodal IT as the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode one is traditional, while the second is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasising agility and speed.

Now, this makes some degree of sense. For example, if you’re a bank, you’re going to want to take a different approach to changing your core banking platform than you would take to develop a campaign micro-site. The benefits are clear for the new digital initiatives - don’t shackle them with the ways of the past, free them to deliver at the same pace that disruptive new market entrants are able to.

As more executive focus and discussion is placed on the new kids on the block - people in the traditional business can feel irrelevant and insecure about their future.

James Valentine, Fronde


Think carefully about structure

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We’ve seen many organisations we work with embrace the concept of Bimodal IT. Interestingly, some have succeeded where others have struggled. Looking at why there has been mixed success we’ve noticed that there’s a common thread that identifies which side of the divide you’ll end up on - the way your bimodal organisation is structured.

One approach to realising the bimodal delivery model is to put in place a separate structure to contain the “digital team” or the “innovation team”. This gives them the mandate and the freedom to operate unconstrained. Organisational standards are eschewed in favour of leading edge techniques. All is well - at least initially. New initiatives are delivered, accolades handed out. What could possibly go wrong?

The risk is that the “legacy” part of the organisation left behind by the digital team is often highly disenfranchised by these moves. At its worst I’ve seen the new digital team regarded as “cowboys with no regard for doing things the right way”.

There’s either envy that this part of the business can use cool new tools and techniques like cloud or agile; or derision at their choice to do so. As more executive focus and discussion is placed on the new kids on the block - people in the traditional business can feel irrelevant and insecure about their future.

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'Unless we build organisations that are able to adapt to and to use whatever technology comes along, we are actually wasting our time.' - Westpac NZ CIO Dawie Olivier

Foster a culture of innovation across the team

So, what’s the solution? I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have a separate part of your organisation focused on delivering new applications at a different pace and with different levels of governance. That’s a perfectly valid approach - but if you do so, make sure that you are encouraging your entire IT organisation to embrace new ways of operating.

Ensuring that there is appropriate resources devoted to transformation and innovation is a place to start. Continuous integration and delivery can deliver exceptional benefits to any part of your business.

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Sure, you might not go right through to automatic deployments from developer to production - but just accelerating the pipeline from development through to testing is going to deliver amazing benefits.

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Agile methods can be applied right across your business. Cloud platforms are also relevant to all - and even if you’re not ready to migrate some applications to the cloud, once again the developing and testing phase likely could.

This approach will drive a common culture of continuous improvement and innovation across the whole team. Good ideas should be able to come from any part of the business and you should encourage experimentation and new techniques from all employees. With everyone enjoying new challenges and learning new skills you’ll avoid the pain that otherwise entails from splitting your organisation in two.

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Bimodal IT is a great option for organisations willing to embrace the transformation and disruption that is inevitable but want to make the right changes and decisions. It’s important to make sure your structure is solid and your whole organisation is on board to get the most from it that you can.


James Valentine is Chief Technology Officer at Fronde.

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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