At which speed should you drive your IT organization?

bimodal IT DXC Blogs

As an IT organisation, you need to support your business and deliver perceived commodity services, including:

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems
  • Applications that were developed 30 years ago on mainframes
  • Workplace solutions (email, computer, Internet, network, etc.)
  • Storage capacity

As a perceived commodity, these services must be reliable, secure and always available. Moreover, the business expects a high level of quality. As a comparison, think about when you go to a restroom and expect every element to be working, clean and comfortable. This standard is the normal.

(These ideas, by the way, have long been analysed and discussed, going back to this 2003 Harvard Business review article

But as a commodity, IT organisations don’t ADD value. Therefore most business stakeholders today expect IT to bring innovation, deliver services quickly, stay flexible and continually adapt to business needs to deliver the highest value and support business objectives. In short, they expect IT to be the differentiator they need to succeed in competitive marketplace.

Nowadays, it’s not unusual for a CIO to be fired from an organisation, not because the IT systems do not work, but because he/she was not able to innovate and deliver business needs fast enough.

But IT organisations face major challenges meeting these demands. Statistics show that IT consumes, on the average, at least 70% of resources (budget and human capital) on “keeping the lights on.”

The remaining 30% could be used to change the organisation with new projects and innovative business differentiators. Unfortunately, a part of these funds are already earmarked for commodity and IT projects, as well as bigger changes.

Thus, instead of being a business supporter and enabler, IT is perceived more as a show stopper.

Consumer perception adds to the problem. In our consumer lives, we can have everything we want in just a few minutes or hours. So, why can my IT company not do the same? This perception is called IT consumerization.

So to summarize, IT must:

  • Be reliable and secure
  • Offer a high level of quality
  • Have a controlled budget and not be too expensive
  • Manage complex legacy systems (technical debt)

But at the same time, they must:

  • Innovate
  • Deliver fast results
  • Be flexible and agile
  • Be a business enabler/differentiator

This brings us to the question, “At which speed should you drive your IT organization?”

IT speed DXC Blogs

Fortunately, it’s not really like a car gear; you don’t have that many different choices. 🙂


First let’s consider: Why should IT be faster today than before?

The simple answer, as explained above, is that users expect more and faster results due to the consumerisation of IT. On a business side, companies see an increased need to change and adapt more quickly than before.

The speed change on the business side is due to several reasons:

  • With globalisation, companies are not competing anymore with local competitors but with businesses around the globe.
  • If you’re not fast, surely your competitors will be.
  • Innovation and start-up culture is highly present with the new generation, and a start-up by nature is very fast, lean and agile. Successful ones (Uber, Airbnb) disrupt and change entire industry business models.
  • With technologies such as robotics and automation, production speed has increased significantly
  • Customers expect and demand faster service

So what are the different speeds to choose from?

Unimodal — One speed IT or Industrialised IT 

This is how IT organisations have been driven for decades: Everything at the same speed with maximum standardisation of the IT landscape and processes. It’s more of a one-size-fits-all approach with the goal of being reliable, robust, cost effective, industrialised and fully documented with a clear direction and not too many changes.

You can visualise it as tanker. It has a direction; it’s reliable but not fast and slow to change direction.

Bimodal or digital IT

This concept is quite new and came about with the growth of Agile methodologies and DevOps.

With this approach, one part of the organisation and resources (industrial IT) works to keep the lights on for legacy systems, including mainframes, ERP, infrastructure, etc. These are the things that are critical to run but are considered commodities.

The second part of the organization works to deliver new applications and solutions fast.

Closely aligned or integrated with the business, this group aims to try fast, fail fast and learn fast. Innovation, entrepreneurship, fast delivery, continuous improvement and adaptation are part of the organisational DNA.

This new way of work, possible only with the growth of cloud computing and agile methodologies, requires a shift in mindset and culture. It also requires an admission that innovation often comes from outside the organisation, and a belief that partnering is very critical.

Based on a recent Gartner survey, bimodal is seen as a mix of processes, organisation and capabilities:

  • Processes – Agile methodologies and DevOps
  • Organisation – Working with start-ups, being flexible, embracing new operating models
  • Capabilities – Staying flexible, adapting to change, challenging yourself, embracing continuous learning and improvement

Visualise this approach as a speed boat: fast, adaptive but, if a storm comes, the risk of sinking goes up.

So, let’s compare both speeds:

  Industrial speed Digital speed
General concept Standards, one size fits all, highly reliable Try fast, fail fast, learn fast; increased time to market
Goal Reliability, predictability, cost effectiveness Agility, exploration, innovation
Value Performance and quality Customer experience, differentiator, revenue; try fast, fail or succeed fast; perfect is the enemy of good.
Methodology V Model, waterfall, ITIL Agile, Kanban, Devops
IT to Third parties Long term contracts, frame contracts Small deals, start-ups.
Human side Process driven Entrepreneur, derive energy from uncertainty
Culture IT centric Business/customer centric
Speed and cycle time Long term Short term
  Big tanker Speed boat
  Industrialisation POC
Landscape Mature and Legacy Emergent and short lifecycle
Release time 6 to 12 months Less than one month
Infrastructure On premise Hybrid and public cloud
Organisation Hierarchical and silos Lean and no silos
IT to business IT is a vertical and a silo; business IT alignment IT is a horizontal; IT fusion; IT is in the business; IT IS the business
Other companies Competitors Partners
Advantages Reliable, Predictive, Industrialised Speed to market, agility and change, innovation, attraction of talents/entrepreneurs
Risks Speed of change, low business satisfaction, innovation capabilities, speed to market Failure, lack of direction, organisational complexity
Image  Tanker  Speed boat


Is bimodal the holy grail?

As you can see, bimodal is a solution but not a perfect one. There are risks, uncertainties and disadvantages to this model.

Like most frameworks and concepts, management skills will be needed to take advantage of this approach in the organisation. I like to repeat business management guru Peter Drucker’s famous quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Even with the best strategy in place, if it does not fit the culture of your company, it simply will not work.

Some more takeaways to consider about the bimodal approach are:

  • CIO or IT leaders may feel almost schizophrenic at certain times as they need to manage two different organisations with two different ways of work, culture, objectives and strategies.
  • The same could apply to organisations that have small numbers of employees. Who should wear which hat, how and when?
  • Organisations must ensure a common IT vision and strategy even when they have two different ITs.
  • Change management will be highly intense, first in the IT organisation then in the business side. This is necessary so that everyone understands the new model, accepts it and is up to speed.
  • Integrating work with legacy systems will bring a layer of complexity. Of course, if you could start with a green field, this would make it easier… but the chance of this happening is almost zero.
  • It’s not black or white or binary as IT is; it’s not one or the other. Most solutions are mix of new and legacy technology.
  • You need to consider how legacy and historical data, which could be complex, non-accurate and heavy, could be integrated in this new paradigm.
  • Think about how to attract people and talents in the industrial speed. This could be perceived as a punishment. So, attrition rate could be high, which could create lost knowledge and continuity.
  • Finally, remember, organisations are, at the end, as fast as their weakest link…

I hope this article is useful for you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or write a comment. I always appreciate feedback.

Christopher Franskin has 15 years of working experience in IT and digital transformation with  more than 10 years in management positions. Before joining DXC in November 2016 as Principal consultant in IT Advisory, he worked in defense, banking, pharma and recycling industries, in various senior management positions and in different countries in Europe (Spain, France and Switzerland).

Christopher holds and international Executive MBA, an IT management postgraduate and a bachelor in marketing and communications.


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