The bimodal IT concept, in which one part of the IT organization operates traditionally while the other part performs in the new agile mode of digital transformation, has been around for nearly two years, having first been proposed by Gartner as a prescriptive organization model for enterprise IT. A rise in bimodal chatter over the past spring and summer led us to poll 20 CIO Executive Council members about it, and 75 percent responded that they viewed the concept of bimodal IT very favorably.
God help these people.
Bimodal is a refuge, a temporary relief, and a false hope for the leaders of IT orgs that are failing to reinvent themselves as future-ready innovators and transformers. There is no long-term reason to preserve and cling to the old ways. In fact, doing so will be deadly for many CIOs.
Waterfall methodologies and three-year projects still have a place—in the National Museum of American History’s Computing Relics department. Agile, collaborative, digitally innovative and customer-engaged governance, development and implementation methods are the new backbone of IT organizations. It’s time to CIO-up and get with the program.
Bimodal IT is like a CIO owning acres of swampland. Even if the CIO builds one or two digital smart homes on the swamp, it’s still a bad, bad neighborhood. No digitally minded CMO is going to come calling, let alone build their house next door. As long as IT preserves any of its old, slow ways, business leaders will use this as an excuse—a dooming rationale—to denigrate IT’s capability and relevance in the aggregate. “They still do multiyear projects over there in IT. They can’t help us; they can only get in our way.” The end game for those CIOs—foreclosure.
Last week I spent four hours with a CIO and his leadership team, discussing how IT orgs are restructuring talent, processes and relationships, and what his group could do to become future-ready. In the final hour, the CIO cut through the excuses and silenced the naysayers with a simple, stark statement: “The business perceives us as slow. Whether it’s fair or not doesn’t matter. It’s the perception, and this is why we are not included in decisions.”
CIOs who do object to a bimodal division dislike the consequences of ghettoizing a large portion of their staff, relegated to the legacy systems and legacy ways. Is there a long-term future for IT staff who don’t interact with business peers or end customers? Who just manage projects with a service provider approach and with little knowledge of the business goals their actions are presumably tied to? Maybe, at some IT vendor’s code factory. But not at a business that must transform to keep pace with customer expectations—that is, your business and mine.
Future-ready IT must be a multi-threaded organization. The new-style skills and capabilities of agility, responsiveness, collaboration, innovation, customer engagement and digital fluency must weave through all of IT. That way, those threads can be pulled into in any of IT’s endeavors, with minimum ramp-up. If these capabilities are isolated to some compartmentalized digital innovation team, they will not be readily available when needed.
And, they will be needed. Digital initiatives may once have been discrete and isolated to one user community or business unit. Digital business transformation does not respect internal borders. Neither should IT.
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