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Why BiModal IT Won’t Work

I have worked in both large companies and small – started my career on mainframe, added distributed and cloud computing and now include mobile. From a development perspective I never really did waterfall, but started in what was then known as iterative development – and now has be re-designated as agile and DevOps.


I also had the good fortune to work early on with great folks like Stephen Boies and John Gould that taught me that in the end what really matters is the complete system that you deliver to your customers – and a great system means that every component works together and is the right one for the task.

When I first heard about Gartner’s take on “bi-modal” I wasn’t sure what it meant. I actually thought that it was just another way to define system risk governance for systems of records vs. systems of engagement. That makes sense to me – and I’ll get to why in a moment.

But as I read more on the subject I learned that either I misunderstood or somehow the message changed. It has become “slow ‘mode 1,’ responsible for traditional IT services, and fast ‘mode 2,’ which emphasizes agility and speed”, which seems to have been translated to – let your systems of record languish and focus on your systems of engagement. I agree with Jason Bloomberg’s comment that doing that is a recipe for disaster for any enterprise business.

First off – enterprise IT is becoming “multi-modal” not bi-modal – made up of Systems of Record, Systems of Engagement, Systems of Innovation and Systems of Intelligence (or what Gartner calls algorithms):

  1. Systems of Innovation –changes are technically simple, have little business risk with the possibility for high reward
  2. Systems of Engagement – changes are relatively complex (technically) , have medium business risk with the possibility of medium rewards
  3. Systems of Record – changes are relatively complex(technically), have high risk with the possibility medium reward
  4. Systems of Intelligence – changes are very complex(technically), have high risk with the possibility high reward

So it seems simple that you should focus on 1 and 4. The problem is (and with Bimodal IT) that all these systems are interconnected and needed together in order to provide a complete business solution to customers. They ALL need to move as fast as possible while still providing “production assurance”. You can’t allow systems of innovation that move so fast that they break systems of record, or systems of record that move so slow they inhibit systems of innovation.

The only difference should be governance – making sure that there is right tradeoff between risk and reward – not the methodologies or tools. To put it in DevOps terms all modalities need be agile and technically capable of continuous deployment – but from a governance perspective you can’t always do continuous delivery.

Companies need to apply enterprise agile and DevOps in a judicious manner for all modalities – and employ smart governance and tools to ensure production assurance.