So you’ve split your IT team in two: One half is working on business critical and innovative products and services; the other half works on the tried and true (albeit out-dated) legacy systems that still support your company’s core.
The innovators-team may be predominantly fresh hires; perhaps you’ve tapped the desirable millennial market. You’ve invested in some of the latest technologies and the cloud has been introduced to give developers server space in which they can quickly stretch compute capacity at will (and without all those nagging internal network admin policies and limitations).
The innovators-team has been arranged differently than IT teams of the past; they are encouraged to work side-by-side with the business and talk about things like “business strategy” and company goals. Before jumping into the conversation with technology solutions they have a mindset that understands the importance of things like “customer journey maps.” This team is all about creative ways to generate revenue, they are comfortable being in front of business leaders, and they even like the marketing team.
The business in turn, sees a team from IT that speaks their language and therefore, the innovators-team are welcomed into the strategy conversations and considered integral in helping shape the direction of new product and service delivery.
This is digital transformation utopia! Oh, except for the other side of IT. You know, the team working in the background to keep your legacy systems running. Remember them?
The Legacy Custodians
You’ve got some legacy systems kicking around (perhaps from the ‘90s) that still support the core business applications. While you may desperately want to get rid of them, finding time and funding to replace these applications is complicated. These old systems, while chugging along doing what they are supposed to do, are based on technologies that are archaic and often don’t integrate well with newer technologies and platforms.
No one coming out of school today would know how or want to touch these old dogs, but someone has to keep them going. Perhaps you have your more tenured staff focused on the support? After all, these long-time employees know the apps better than anyone because after all, they implemented them “back in the day.”
A Customer-First Mindset is Critical for Digital Transformation
Bimodal IT, where one team focuses on the business-centric innovations and one team keeps the old plumbing working, is one organizational strategy used to solve the problem of how to be nimble and business-focused while still managing core, but out-dated systems.
However, using a bimodal model within your internal team is fodder for a non-productive cultural divide that will hold back your entire team, and therefore will hold back the success of IT delivering value to the business.
According to Information Week1 a bimodal organizational structure “…has two side effects that can have a significant impact on a company. The first is that it makes IT too slow… The second side effect… means a portion of the company isn’t looking at customers.” The point being that when one segment of the team is slow moving (playing custodian to old systems) it will naturally drag down the speed of the entire group. Secondly, this statement proposes that departments that are fully targeted on customer-first thinking are the only model that can be successful to the business today.
The Cultural Divide of Bimodal IT
The bimodal model also has impact on the morale of the IT team as a whole and will restrict recruiting efforts. In a Forbes article2 by fellow Institute for Digital Transformation fellow Jason Bloomberg describing the effects of bimodal where mode 1 is legacy support and mode 2 is innovative project work, Justin Vaughan-Brown, global digital transformation lead for CA Technologies now Director of Product Marketing at AppDynamics, describes it this way: “If I was explaining the two bimodal descriptions at an IT conference and I asked ‘Who would prefer to be a member of a mode 2 team?’, I estimate more than 90 percent of hands would go up, with 10 percent or less opting for mode 1 when asked.” He says, “This is goes at the heart of the bimodal IT issue, as recruitment of the smartest and most dynamic brains into mode 1 could well be a challenge going forward.”
Beyond hiring efforts and internal IT department culture, bimodal can have an effect on IT’s relationship with the business. According to Forrester3, “It makes no sense to have two groups competing for funding, resources, skills and the business’ attention… bimodal IT will only widen the gulf between the CIO and the business.”
Where does this leave us in determining the best make-up of our IT teams? You need activity in both the new product arena and someone still must keep old systems tuned and running, at least for a time. So who gets to do what?
Some of your new hires (millennial or other) are going to bring fantastically fresh viewpoints and you want to infuse your environment with this perspective. But, conversely, some of your most tenured employees may rejoice at getting the chance to jump out of the routine of traditional IT work and processes. They can be among the strongest partners with the business during strategy sessions because they already have deep relationships across the enterprise. Find employees that embrace change and opportunity, regardless of the years on the resume. A diverse blend of new minds and seasoned experience working toward the same goal can spawn a multi-layered IT in which to cultivate innovative and compelling customer solutions.
Diversify and Solidify
Mix your group so that everyone has a role in both the new and the old technologies and projects. Encourage the value across all activities and not that one segment of the work is more important that another. Using the strength of ideas from your entire team have them attack the challenges together, including how to transition away from older products sooner rather than later. Cultivate an organization rooted in “one for all and all for one” and you will have a vibrant technology team that brings value to the business across all IT disciplines.
Every role in IT needs to bring customer value – and everyone in IT should be valuable.
1Franklin, Curtis, Jr. “How Bimodal IT Can Kill Your Company.” InformationWeek. InformationWeek, 11 May 2016. Web. 11 Mar. 2017. http://www.informationweek.com/strategic-cio/digital-business/how-bimodal-it-can-kill-your-company/a/d-id/1325457
2 Bloomberg, Jason. “Bimodal IT: Gartner’s Recipe For Disaster.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 Oct. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2017. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbloomberg/2015/09/26/bimodal-it-gartners-recipe-for-disaster/3/#5eebfadf7f98
3 Anirbancy. “Bimodal in a Digital World: To Be or Not to Be.” Influencer Insights. Kea Company, 02 June 2016. Web. 11 Mar. 2017. https://keablogs.com/2016/06/01/bimodal-in-a-digital-world-to-be-or-not-to-be/
About the Author:
An evangelist for creating a customer-centric culture, Ms. Carroll founded jCX Strategies in 2021, a consultancy service with a unique approach to fostering B2B customer-focused programs that drive successful outcomes for the business. Through innovative client engagement frameworks, methodologies, and interactive workshops, clients uncover measurable business success plans that create transparency, team trust, and collaboration, resulting in mutual growth opportunities for both the client and their customers.
With over 30 years of experience in leadership roles in the technology industry, Ms. Carroll is a speaker on the topics of client engagement, team culture, and digital transformation, has been published in CIOInsight , BizTech, the Institute for Digital Transformation, among others, and was named a Computer World Premier 100 IT Leader.