Does bimodal IT indicate the end of traditional IT?

As traditional enterprise IT is not able to meet growing business demands, Bimodal IT has emerged and suggests adding another, more agile team for the job.

Anil Chopra
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bimodal it

NEW DELHI, INDIA: At a recently held conference, Gartner India’s chief, Partha Iyengar highlighted that the future of enterprise IT is bimodal. What it means is that moving forward, organizations will have to split their IT into two parts—mode 1 will be the traditional, slow moving IT, and mode 2 will be agile IT aimed at those ‘urgent’ business demands.


While this sounds interesting, it raises a lot of ominous questions like whether traditional IT will gradually come to an end since it hasn’t been able to keep up with business demands, will a CIO continue to control the new IT or will there be a power play, how will a slow moving and fast moving IT be balanced, will it end shadow IT, etc.

Here are some of the answers, and before that, if you want to get a quick overview of Bimodal IT, then click here.

Who should drive Bimodal IT?


Considering that mode 2 of bimodal IT is really about using agile IT to meet growing business demands, whoever’s driving it has to be more closely aligned to business. This is where the key question of arises of whether the CIO can really play this role. According to Partha, if a CIO is close enough to being a business leader and truly understands what business pressures are, then he/she is the ideal person to drive it because he/she also understands technology.

The challenge according to Partha is that in India, not enough CIOs are seen as those business leaders. They’re seen as techies, as a result of which the CEO brings in someone else for the role, like the CMO, because mode 2 is really about touching the customer, delivering on customer experience, loyalty, etc. Another line of thought is whether to bring in a CDO or Chief Digital Officer, which is emerging as another potential power structure that reports more often than not to the CEO. The CDO is then given organizational authority of all assets, and to get into the tech and business assets. The reason to have a separate power structure like this is because digital business requires silos within a company to breakdown. A digital business can’t operate in traditional, Micheal Porter defined, 30 year old traditional organizational structure.

Are there companies successfully running on Mode 2?


New age e-commerce companies like Flipkart are running primarily on mode 2 and aren’t really bogged down by a legacy IT infrastructure. In fact, their entire business depends upon having an agile IT infrastructure. For them, according to Partha, DevOps is a fundamental thing they do. They’re inherently mode 2 and extract whatever minimum mode 1 they need.

However, it still doesn’t mean that the traditional mode 1 can be done away with altogether. In fact, it’s essential to have the backend processes to ensure that your order entry engine is scalable enough to take huge loads, handle all incoming customer concerns, etc. Otherwise, some of the marketing campaigns (like Flipkart’s Billion Dollar Day) will just not work.

So essentially, a mode 2 that’s not adequately connected to mode 1 can blow up in your face.


Is Private Cloud inadequate in bringing business agility?

Since the whole basis for having mode 2 in an IT infrastructure is that traditional IT is not able to respond quickly enough to business requirements. This really raises a lot of doubts and concerns over whether private cloud is insufficient to bring the required agility.

Private cloud has been considered as the panacea for slow moving IT, but according to Partha, it could be part of the equation, but isn’t sufficient. Bimodal goes much beyond the use of cloud tech, and into changing business models to make the organization more competitive.


How to set the balance between traditional, slow IT and agile IT?

Striking the right balance between slow moving traditional IT, which comes under mode 1, and agile IT, which comes under mode 2 can be a challenge, especially if it’s not controlled by a single person. It might create more problems than what it aims to resolve.

The most functional model, according to Partha, is where the CIO controls both, but where the CMO or CDO controls mode 2, one of the things that’s more dangerous than not going bimodal is if mode 2 starts creating its own stealth mode 1 capabilities! So, suppose it’s difficult to get data from a mode 1 business app, then the mode 2 in-charge could extract all the data and setup a parallel application. The problem will become even more complicated as more projects are executed under mode 2, and a parallel ‘shadow’ mode 1 structure is created for each one. In the end, the company will struggle to find out which is the single version of truth. This is where the phase IV of the bimodal model comes in, which is all about creating a governance mechanism.


If both sides are controlled by the CIO, then there’s another challenge of managing both the teams. It shouldn’t happen that mode 2 team is treated as all stars and mode 1 team is treated as dead wood. It’s not about fast trackers moving into mode 2, but it’s about identifying the right skill sets and moving them to the correct teams.

Will Bimodal help combat Shadow IT?

If done right, according to Partha, it removes the need for Shadow IT, especially its rogue elements. Usually, these elements grow out of the business’s frustration with central IT. By creating bimodal capability, business leaders will recognize that it’s a more effective way of getting things done in the right time frame. Overtime it will reduce the need for shadow IT’s rogue elements. Moreover, shadow IT as such is not bad, provided it’s managed with the correct guidelines. If for instance, you allow individual departments’s users to buy their own laptops to enable BYOD, but later the users come back to IT and start demanding support, it becomes difficult to support. But if proper guidelines are laid out before rolling out such an initiative, then even shadow IT can be managed.