Digital technologies like cloud, big data, social media, the Internet of Things (IoT), and mobile are coming together and are disrupting business models across the globe. This is due to the inherent dependency modern businesses have on IT, not only for critical back-end operations but also for customer engagement and the creation of strategic advantage and business value. Innovation in business is also dependent on the most recent advances in IT and an organization’s ability to capitalize on them. This can be the difference between business leaders of tomorrow and those who are stuck in the past.
For example, let’s look at the business disrupters of today. Uber came out of nowhere and disrupted the commute space. Airbnb appeared from thin air and transformed the hospitality/vacation space. Tesla automobiles erupted on the scene with over-the-air software updates that keep changing the consumer experience and did the unthinkable — digitized the power train by coupling the power transfer across two physically separated electric motors, one driving the front wheel and the other driving the rear. The whole touch environment we see today in consumer goods, which we keep taking for granted, wouldn’t have been possible without advances in technology. Google wouldn’t have dominated all other search engines and Apple wouldn’t have pushed its competitors to extinction. Technology advancements are forcing organizations to reinvent themselves in terms of the performance and value they deliver to the customers. Businesses that are not prepared quickly become obsolete.
The global CxO’s job today is not an enviable one at all. On one hand, they need to ensure that the existing business goes on smoothly and that IT provides enough safety, efficiency, scalability, accuracy, and predictability. They also have to maintain the “as-is” revenues. On the other hand, they have to steer the enterprise and reinvent it in a manner that allows them to take advantage of today’s opportunities. One of the most daunting challenges that global CxOs are currently experiencing is leveraging the new generation of technology advancements without impacting the existing legacy environment. It is like riding two different boats: one a lifeboat and another a speedboat, both at the same time. A plan is desperately needed.
Gartner’s Bimodal IT
In 2014, Gartner coined the term “Bimodal IT,” which is a prescriptive organization model designed to address current enterprise IT challenges. In Bimodal IT, the enterprise simultaneously operates in two different modes. The first mode is called Traditional Mode, which ensures operations run smoothly in the as-is state. The second mode is called the Exploratory (New) Mode, which is non-sequential, much faster, and agile. The IT team in each enterprise today should comprise of the Traditional IT team and the Exploratory IT team.
Traditional vs Exploratory
As we all know, the Traditional IT team in each enterprise is entrusted with the responsibilities of maintaining functionality, safety, and predictability. Generally speaking, these are the teams that ensure that the show is running without any interruptions. The Exploratory IT team, however, are the specialists, specifically employed to implement the latest, futuristic version of IT. They work on systems and processes that will increase the ability of the company today and optimize its capabilities for the future. They are the guys who, for example, are implementing the new move to the cloud, creating the proof of concepts for the latest IoT offering, demonstrating to the world your connected car expertise, or training the new team created to work on the latest systems. They train the “would-be” employees and make all the necessary plans and strategies for the future migrations. While the hallmarks of the Traditional IT teams remain efficiency and control, those of the Exploratory IT teams are rapid value delivery to the business through developing software iteratively and delivering continuously.
Let us consider the retail industry as an example. Online commerce/retail needs incredible flexibility in terms of accommodating demand peaks and troughs. Global retailers like Amazon are designing and maintaining data centers that provide this capability based on web-scale IT, a concept that has many similarities to Bimodal IT. The app-based business and ecommerce are fully dependent on Exploratory IT team while the brick-and-mortar businesses operating through the point of sale (POS) terminals are still handled by the Traditional IT teams, making bimodality imperative.
The retail industry is experiencing a sea of changes in the recent years in terms of digital transformation. Many of the players in the industry are not taking the steps required to adopt the disruptive technologies to redefine themselves — whether that’s in-store solutions like implementing wearables, beacon technology, or mobile app analytics — knowing fully well how they can help customer experience.
For example, let’s look at the Bluetooth beacon technology. These are small, battery-operated, inexpensive devices that emit low intensity Bluetooth signals. When a customer with a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone passes by a Bluetooth beacon in a store, they can help the customer navigate the store, find what they are looking for, and also push out information about in-store promotions of the hour. Apart from that, it enables customers to look at their loyalty history and offer them the perks or discounts that they might be eligible for. Thus, it increases the customer engagement and gives them a reason to visit the store again.
In fact, technology disruption might change the digital front end and the connected back end of retail. Artificial intelligence (AI) chat-bots are enabling conversational commerce — such as the Amazon Echo — that engage customers on the ecommerce websites. Real-time inventory systems can help keep track of stock outs, reduce shrinkage, and free up store associates’ time to work on consumer engagement. AI can also help retailers to get the critical, time-sensitive information needed to take products to the market and bring customers into every sales channel. This can be achieved by using IoT-enabled sensors along with cloud-based architecture, including elastically scaling computing infrastructure, managed software systems to reduce administrative complexity, and best-in-class data processing and warehousing.
The aversion towards technology change coupled with the fear of cultural change prevents many industry players from utilizing the opportunities brought in by new technologies. It is in such instances that a concept like Bimodal IT can make an impact. While the Exploratory IT team can invest in and explore new technologies, the Traditional IT team can continue running the show without any interruption. Once the plan for Bimodal IT is approved, the required resources can be trained and it can be rolled out on an enterprise-wide level. It will allow the enterprise to circumvent the risks that have been traditionally associated with the rapid introduction of operational changes. In addition to this, it also allows the company to assimilate the speed and agility that has been made possible by new technology. The Bimodal IT model leverages the best of both schools of thought by combining the agility of the Exploratory IT team and the stability of the Traditional IT team. The focus entirely lies on using Agile and DevOps to bypass the processes of development, testing, and production. Whatever is developed is constantly tested, moved into production, and iterations are continued in very small cycles.
So, how do organizations implement Bimodal IT without making it another impregnable silo in the company?
The Key to Bimodal IT
The Bimodal IT, like any other new initiative, needs a capable driver/sponsor. The only key factor for the person entrusted with the responsibility to drive Bimodal IT is that he/she should be very closely aligned with the business and should have a clear understanding of what the critical imperatives are for the initiatives. Organizations must focus on choosing the right business use cases, getting the right talent, and making the right investments on the right technology platforms. Organizations who want to adopt the Bimodal IT model should identify the right business partner and address the technology challenge by experimenting in a small prototyping environment. The “fail fast, learn fast” mode of Bimodal IT helps in testing the new initiatives more efficiently before making a huge investment. Gartner suggests that once the need for the organization is analyzed and the cost implications for the approach have been looked into, organizations can follow the five-step approach that might make it possible to implement Bimodal IT.
Step One: Plan Fast
The business need has to be taken into account with no excuses whatsoever. The initiative should be started quickly without paralyzing the team with analysis and the plan should be proposed even faster. If the CMO needs a marketing campaign to be executed within 10 weeks, it’s imperative that the need of the hour is the execution of the marketing campaign. It should not take more than that. We should not go back to the business with just the requirement analysis in after four months.
Step Two: Launch the Plan
The plan should be launched by implementing a number of small changes, creating some proof of concepts, and ensuring that a couple of early results are delivered. This will ensure a rapid move to the execution stage.
Step Three: Execute and Iterate
The plan should be executed in a small prototyping environment. Execution and iteration should be done very quickly and in small cycles to release the projects in the agreed-upon time. “Fail fast, learn fast” will enable iterations at the planning stages before the enterprise wide launch.
Step Four: Analyze and Refine
The plan is made scalable by analyzing all the insights from the first three stages and refining them.
Step Five: Launch Enterprise Wide
The final step is tested, iterated, analyzed, and refined before the prototyped solution is taken to an enterprise-wide level. While doing this, the business need has to be taken into consideration. In addition, IT should make sure that the right technology investment is made from a business point of view. The performance and scalability challenges should also be analyzed and appropriate measures must be taken to address any future issues.
Beyond Digital Transformation
Bimodal IT is enabling innovation and maintenance at the same time and some enterprises have already adopted and benefited from it. For example, the Schindler Group based in Switzerland is among the global leaders in manufacturing elevators, escalators, and moving walkways. The Schindler Group adopted Bimodal IT to bring more innovation to the customer and improve customer service. Ever since the adoption of Bimodal IT, the company has been moving forward in using the latest technologies like IoT and mobile platforms to make its equipment smarter, its workforce more efficient, and to improve its overall customer responsiveness.
The Bimodal IT concept is still in its nascent stages in the global IT world as organizations are still treading through the roads of digital transformation and are not completely detached from the traditional legacy IT world. Bimodal IT can act as a bridge that better connects the two worlds and leads organizations to a better IT enterprise environment which supports change management, scalability, and high quality performance. The concept, however, does bring up some questions, which are worth looking into. For example, will the traditional IT as we know it cease to exist? What is the right way to balance Traditional IT and Exploratory IT? The definitive answers will be provided only by time, but as of now, Bimodal IT appears to be one of the ways to infuse the much needed speed and flexibility into an IT enterprise. Let’s continue to watch the space and see how it unfolds.
Sethuraman is the practice leader for big data and advanced analytics at Happiest Minds. He is involved in pre-sales, solutions, delivery and account management for Analytics Practice in North America Geography. He currently manages key fortune 50 retail customers on their big data analytics strategy, implementation and product development at Happiest Minds. Sethu’s primary areas of expertise include marketing, risk & web analytics like Retail, Travel, Financial Services and Technology. Sethu holds a PhD in Systems & Finance from Indian Institute of Management Calcutta and is regular guest speaker on Analytics and Strategy.
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