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A Bimodal Elephant in the Room - The Huge Concept Gartner is Forgetting in its New Definition of IT

Arthur Marinis

12 March 2015

3 Minute Read

The new era of IT is upon us, according to leading technology research company Gartner.

At their annual IT Infrastructure, Operations & Data Centre Summit in the U.S. this past December, much of the focus was on a concept that the company has labelled “bimodal IT”.

Although the bimodal IT model was actually introduced in the middle of 2014, it’s been getting more buzz in early 2015 because of its prominent place at Gartner’s summit.

The idea of bimodal IT is that there are two main types of technology that are designed to deliver services in different ways. The traditional type of IT, known as Mode 1, focuses on stability and scalability. Mode 2 IT, on the other hand, focuses on more experimental tactics that are designed to use emerging technology to help make sure that an organisation can remain agile.

Why Bimodal IT?

The reason that companies will need to adopt the bimodal IT platform is that the traditional IT approach isn’t effective enough.

Because IT departments are focusing on using new technology like the cloud as a way to improve productivity instead of to develop new, more agile solutions, CIOs are becoming frustrated at how limited their IT departments are.

Will Forrest and Kara Sprague, partners at McKinsey, gave a presentation in 2013 with a similar thrust. The basic idea was that only making gradual investments in the day-to-day productivity of a business is not enough – companies should be focusing on innovation as well.

Without innovation, it’s impossible for a business to sustain growth in the long-term.

This dichotomy might make sense to most business professionals in theory, but unfortunately Gartner also predicts that many companies won’t catch on quickly enough.

"Without innovation, it’s impossible for a business to sustain growth in the long-term."

The Bimodal Challenge

Although they might tout bimodal IT as the wave of the future, Gartner certainly doesn’t believe that the transition is going to be quick or easy. While the company did report that 75% of their clients are already facing the split between Mode 1 and Mode 2 IT, Gartner also says that of this population, 50% will fail in their attempts to handle bimodal IT properly.

Why is this the case? Two main reasons: companies aren’t adopting the next generation of technological challenges quickly enough, and when they do they’re applying the old school, Mode 1 approach to them. By properly breaking down their approach to IT into these two different modes, companies will be able to more deftly handle the rapidly developing world of enterprise technology.

But there’s a problem with the bimodal approach, one that not many in the industry have addressed yet: it fails to take into account the true reality of today’s enterprise IT world.

Why the Bimodal Definition Isn’t Enough

Gartner’s bimodal IT model isn’t wrong: we’ve already seen that companies like Facebook and Google, which use technology in a more exploratory fashion, are more likely to succeed.

The issue, however, is that this dual-minded definition of IT simply doesn’t do enough to portray the reality of enterprise IT, which is simple: Mode 1 and Mode 2 need to work together, not separately, in order for a business to succeed.

Consider a technology that creates a new way for a company to interface with customers to provide support, such as Amazon’s new Mayday button, which allows Kindle Fire users to get live customer service in mere seconds.

When we look at the Mayday button through Gartner’s bimodal lens, the idea seems solidly grounded in Mode 2 territory. The truth, however, is that once customers start talking to a support rep, that rep still needs to be able to access information about the customer. Where is this information stored? Traditional IT databases, which are a staple of the Mode 1 umbrella.

The Mayday button is only one, highly specific example of the main takeaway – in order for companies to succeed with the bimodal IT model, both modes need to work together.

Gartner’s concept is accurate, but bimodal IT should be less about the differences between Mode 1 and Mode 2 and more about how a company’s future IT processes can work together to ensure that both types of concerns are being handled. Trying to keep strict boundaries between Mode 1 and Mode 2 IT will only result in more headaches and inefficiencies for the modern enterprise.

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