Blab: What does Bimodal IT mean in a New Zealand context?

by Brendon Livingstone on 14/01/2016 10:00

'Bimodal IT' is a term that Gartner have coined to describe the practice where organisations run two separate modes of IT delivery in parallel. Mode 1 is the traditional approach to IT, focusing on stability, safety and accuracy. Mode 2 uses agile approaches to IT, focusing on change, flexibility and speed. In this Blab we address the question 'What does Bimodal IT mean in a New Zealand context?'.

Blab topic: Exploring DevOps and Bimodal IT in a New Zealand IT context

We recently ran a Blab session (find out more about Blab) discussing DevOps and Bimodal IT in a New Zealand context, where we worked through these questions:

This post covers the second question. The recorded Blab is ~12 minutes long and there is also a transcript of the discussion below.

Blab presenters

Our presenters during the Blab presentation were:

  • Blue polo: Bill Ross, Principal Consultant, Equinox IT Wellington office
  • Grey shirt: Herman van Krieken, Principal Consultant, Equinox IT Wellington office
  • Green shirt: Peter Smeaton, Senior Consultant, Equinox IT Wellington office
  • Green polo with window blinds behind: Brendon Livingstone, Marketing and Communications Manager, Equinox IT Wellington office.

Transcript of conversation

Brendon: What does bimodal IT mean in a New Zealand context?

Peter: What does it mean in any context?

Bill: Yes, this is, I understand, a term that Gartner dreamed up or have come up with. And the idea basically that you split your IT department in two, effectively. One using the traditional approach, meaning that okay it's going to change slowly, it's a system of record, has to be super accurate, etc., which is the 'mode 1' that they talk about. And in 'mode 2' is your sexy, new, mobile, fast-moving part of IT. And I don't know whether it actually addresses or helps the organisation, apart from maybe separating a split down the... How do you decide which side things are in for one point? And also there's massive interdependencies between the sorts of things you want to do in the 'mode 2' space, and what's needed to happen in the 'mode 1' space to support that stuff. It still doesn't say 'how does it develop over time?' It could be a temporary situation, if you try to deal with the demands or the expectations that people have with mobile applications etc. in 'mode 2' space. But you don't want to...I don't think that you'd want your IT organisation to have that bimodal, or I'd almost call it bipolar structure, going forward.

Herman: Yeah, I tend to agree with you. I have a feeling that if an organisation is purely and only in 'mode 1', they're going to be overtaken by competition and become irrelevant very quickly, because this world is about speed to react to the market. That is today's world. What is going to happen tomorrow, we all don't know, because it is such a fast moving beast, but being in 'mode 1' only, or having a 'mode 1' piece of an organisation seems so much overkill and it seems to me a sure way to fail.

Peter: Yeah, I agree. I think bimodal is definitely what is out there. I see a lot of it. I see core systems, which are the systems of record as you said, Bill, and then they're surrounded by other bits that have maybe the systems of interactions or customer engagement or whatever you want to call it. But then often there's a hand-off, there's a disjunction between those two where it's all good, you get this lovely interactive thing going on, and at some point it's we come to screeching halt and in fact you get a paper form to fill in and you scan that and send that as an email or something and then it goes...then it gets picked up internally and popped into the system of record. So you sort of get things like that going on, and I think that's good enough for now for some organisations, but in a competitive situation, those organisations that have digitised their core are going to have an advantage. They're going to offer a seamless end to end transaction, a deep transaction. I think that's powerful and important. Bimodal seems to...I don't know doesn't seem to acknowledge that or...

Herman: I think what they need to acknowledge in there more is that bimodal is a transitional state that an organisation will live in for a while until they've fully adopted the digital world and become an agile organisation through and through so that they can compete in this world. It's the only way to survive, really.

Bill: I'm not sure why Gartner... I'm not sure how they pitch it exactly. To pitch it as a way's a categorisation which is true, you could take over an organisation, categorise your system and denote 'mode 1' and 'mode 2', that's fine. But it's not a desirable place to be, and ideally all your systems would be 'mode 1' type, operating, and that would be ideally where you're moving. Unfortunately, over time, if you set up the recognition of a 'mode 1' and 'mode 2', the problem would be that over time your 'mode 1' grows bigger as things have developed in 'mode 2', in five years time they're going to be then sitting in 'mode 1'? And all that happens is your 'mode 1' space gets bigger when you want the reverse to occur. You want to be moving things out of 'mode 1' into 'mode 2', and that's going to imply active projects, active investments and all the rest of it.

Herman: Absolutely.

Peter: I agree completely. You look at an outfit like a Netflix for example. I know it's easier to pick those internet, those ones, but can you imagine being viable with chunk of it being 'mode 1'? What they have essentially got is the deep properties of 'mode 1' in the sense that they've got something that's super reliable, high availability, high resilience, all those things, and in fact they're doing that chaos monkey thing to constantly push the system and test it, but at the same time, it's clear that they're able to be very Agile and they're able to introduce things and change and respond to business changes. So, it's the best of both and I think really should be the objective.

Brendon: Being devil's advocate a little bit here, and again in a New Zealand context, is it more practical to take this approach though? We see organisations who are adopting approaches such as SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), probably more so than something like LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum), and is that partly because they can make that happen more easily without significant change to the organisation because SAFe seems to work more well in existing structures of an organisation compared to LeSS which is a moving quite a lot more to pure Scrum approach on an enterprise scale. Is Bimodal IT a pragmatic approach for New Zealand organisations?

Bill: That's a good question Brendon. And the position of the SAFe Agile framework against the LeSS Agile framework, I'd say for my reading of it, a large organisation with a commitment, or a large investment in traditional type applications that are living in the 'Mode 1' space probably find the SAFe framework for doing Agile development, should I say 'safe' in that they can map, it seems to map almost to their existing structures. There's a lot of roles and SAFe - enterprise architects, there's systems architects, there's portfolios of projects and all that stuff you can say "oh yes it looks pretty similar". And there's the Scrum part in SAFe that sits down on the bottom left hand corner. It happens in the bottom level, tucked away.

Whereas LeSS is more radical, but I'd say if done well, probably actually make the organisation really more agile, because effectively it does try to form very close to linkages at the top level of the organisation - the executive management, the market, the marketplace they're working in, the demands for the organisation and the environment. It tries to make very close connection between that at the top and the actual Scrum teams doing the work if you like at the bottom, for lack of a better term, but the actual doers with not a lot of disintermediation occurring. They try to basically short circuit what used to be the realm of middle managers and coordinators and all that

But when you look at the SAFe framework, you do tend to see a lot of these intermediary roles, which fit between that connection of the executives and the demand of the organisation at the top and the doers, the people doing the work at the bottom.

So yeah, it's a real spectrum, but I wonder whether maybe going straight to a LeSS type structure in an organisation could be quite a radical change and how you'd implement it, I don't know, and possibly SAFe could be a stepping stone, if you like, from going from really traditional, go to SAFe and then ultimately move to something more like LeSS.

Brendon: But pulling us back to Bimodal IT, isn't it the same argument? You could see that it could be attractive to organisations, yeah possibly as a transition, even if it's not the right...necessary the right thing for them to get the ultimate prize, if you like. You could see it (Bimodal IT) could be attractive to some organisations.

Peter: Well at least it explicitly acknowledges the need for velocity in part of the organisation's IT.

Herman: Yeah, I was wondering about the...what Bill was talking about, the composition of IT teams throughout the New Zealand landscape. And you look at that and you say, well, a lot of the practitioners are of an age that were grown up in traditional activities and it will be hard, although IT is all about changing the business and changing technology and introducing new stuff, changing selves is kind of difficult and people find it very hard to move away from the traditional techniques and methods and structures into an Agile environment, whether that is SAFe, or whether it is LeSS, it doesn't matter. It'll be changing themselves and reinventing ourselves, if you like, will be a difficult task until such time that the 'z' generation is starting to make really its way into this industry and are expecting to see just 'mode 2'. You with me?

Bill: Yeah, I think you're right. There is that concept in the book 'Management 3.0' (Jurgen Appelo) and it talks about the first management 1.0 was effectively your classic 'command and control and coordination and top down stuff' which we're all familiar with. Version two (management 2.0) talks about, essentially, when the things got harder was basically model version one of management but just work harder and work longer and more control and more coordination was pushed down for trying to deal with the environment. And now we've got version three (management 3.0) which basically is this idea of mixed, multi-disciplinary, self-managing teams. And that ties in why it's so important, that concept and the values like that tying in to doing agile effectively in the organisation. And reinvent, that's a good point, I think the term there reinventing ourselves. Those of us who've been in the industry awhile. Looking through all this information on this these topics and trying to pull out the wheat from the chaff, and how to pragmatically apply it is a big part of the role we find ourselves in.

Herman: Well it's interesting. I mentioned this because a couple of my clients that I serviced over the past, it was very clear that the 'z' generation is trying to push to these new methodologies. They're expecting it to be there, and they're expecting everybody to understand it, yet the older generation, my generation, is resisting that because it is a change. It is how do we accept that it is necessary to move from 'mode 1' to 'mode 2' and go into a DevOps state, really changing our ways if you like. And again I'll use the word reinvent, maybe that's what this all about. The older generation needs to give up their own values and start thinking in Lean way I guess.

Blab: What does Bimodal IT mean in a New Zealand context?

We'll be doing more Blab-based content in the future covering other common Agile and IT questions. Please let us know if you have any IT questions that you would like us to address.


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