Four years after Bi-Modal IT - Is the model still relevant?

31 August 2018 5 min. read

The term ‘Bi-modal IT’ was first coined by Gartner four years ago, but to what extent has this model been successfully implemented and is it still relevant? Experts at First Consulting reflect on the developments.

Gartner defined ‘Bi-modal IT’ as: The practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasising safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasising agility and speed.

In theory, the benefits of implementing a ‘Bi-modal’ approach are numerous. Primarily, being able to add a layer of change control and security on legacy systems that are often running business critical applications, whilst simultaneously enabling the rapid development and innovation associated with new digital technologies.

Working closely with our clients as they embark on their digital journeys, we have come across some common challenges as the businesses try and adapt to the new without compromising or risking their business operations. While theoretically separating platforms and applications into Systems of Records (Mode 1) and Systems of Engagement (Mode 2) may seem appropriate, in reality, the definitions of what constitutes each may be greyer than originally thought back in 2014.

IT Future is Now - Gartner, John-MacDorman

The problem is that in many of our client IT eco-systems, several of their new digital technologies are not standalone systems. Indeed, part of the benefits of adopting these new applications is their inter-operability and easy integrations with other systems. As an example, we help develop high productivity applications (web-based, mobile or both) with data visualisations retrieving information from an ERP system or other systems of records style application. 

How does the bi-modal approach apply considering that any changes on one system inevitably impacts the other? In this case working in two modes may cause more harm than good. From a conceptual point of view; creating two distinct IT units, may introduce more complexity in IT’s overall goal of helping the business. For example, the business may not understand why one team can deliver a new product in few weeks, when the other takes several weeks to implement a change. The business typically sees the IT systems that support their operations as the same in terms of how a change can be made, regardless as to whether they are the systems of records application or the new lightweight low-code application platform. Providing the business with two speeds to get change into the systems can cause communication challenges and friction when seemingly one team can achieve a change significantly faster. 

Additionally, what we have seen as a common but often neglected problem of Bi-modal IT is the psychological and organisational implications of a two mode approach. Ensuring that the team managing the system maintenance (mode 1) are kept motivated can be a challenge when they see their colleagues are working with the ‘latest and greatest’ technologies. 

But what are the possible solutions? After all, Bi-modal came into existence to solve a valid problem so simply dismissing it due to the issues we have seen thus far may be jumping to conclusions. 

“Bi-modal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility.” 

From our experience in aiding digital transformations with our clients, the key to success with adopting and implementing new digital technologies and shifting the organisational mindset to embrace these changes is to reduce the communication barrier between business and IT. Cross-organisational collaboration is integral for any successful digital project. There also needs to be leadership ownership around the move to digital, this ‘drive from the top’ will aid the transition to embrace new ways of working.  

From what we have seen, whether bi-modal can still be considered relevant depends entirely on where an organisation is on their digital journey. There is no one size fits all approach here in determining if it is the right path. For example, for those coming from a large systems of records based landscape and are considering a move to a more digital based capability then there may well be a cause to consider the bi-modal approach. This may give a safe way to test out a faster more agile way of working whilst retaining the stability around the process that keeps the core systems operating. Once the agile approach has landed well, then the approach can considered be scaled to the systems of records. 

At First Consulting, whenever we help clients in their digital journey; be it rapid low-code agile application development, process-mining and optimising or RPA for example, we pay close attention to the change aspects associated with this. Driving collaboration to dissolve the boundaries between the business, IT and the vendor landscape to eliminate delays and errors through transparent information. 

Related: First Consulting: Is RPA implementation going in the right direction?