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Bimodal IT: Is it really anything new?

Billy McInnes wades through the sea of IT jargon and asks whether Gartner's new catchphrase is a paradigm shift, or is simply a snappy term for something we've been doing all along

The IT industry has a nasty habit of throwing up new buzzwords and concepts just as people have started to become accustomed to the latest ones. So it is with bimodal IT, a term coined by Gartner, to describe the need for organisations to manage and provide “two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility”. Coeus Consulting has come up with the slightly less snappy but easier to grasp 2-Speed IT to describe the same phenomenon.

There are some who might wonder whether bimodal is really all that new, arguing that IT has always had to balance the shift to new platforms with the maintenance of the established ones. David Foreman, data centre practice director at ECS, is one of that number. “The truth is we’ve been here before,” he says. “Previous radical shifts – from centralised to distributed, from localised to networked – did not happen overnight. For years two radically different forms of IT had to be managed in parallel. This was bimodal IT, just as Gartner refers to it today.”

IT has always had to balance the shift to new platforms with the maintenance of the established ones

But he believes there are some differences today because there is “a stronger commitment to retaining the older working environments and established practices. Despite taking years, bimodal IT has been a transitory state; whereas today it is considered a more sustained approach”.

Kevin Linsell, director of strategy & architecture at Adapt, disagrees. “The components of bimodal IT delivery used to be mutually exclusive,” he argues. “Businesses used to have to buy tech that was effectively a 'best fit’ and would have to deliberately prioritise stability over agility, or vice versa, if they wanted all their applications hosted in the same place. They are not mutually exclusive anymore.”

Monica Brink, EMEA marketing director at iland, says the big change has been the cloud. “While many organisations in the pre-cloud era found ways to experiment with IT applications, the cloud has opened up a whole new era of innovation, reducing risks and speeding projects,” she observes. This is benefiting companies in many ways, but “IT departments will have to ‘plate-spin’, managing the continued existence of many legacy applications while also working to migrate and develop other applications on a cloud platform”.

Gartner research claims 75% of organisations will have bimodal capability by 2017 but it also believes fewer providers will be able “to respond to the needs of agile, bimodal enterprises”. Separately, the CEO and IT Leadership Survey by Coeus Consulting found 60% of respondents believed there was a need for “2-Speed IT” and two-thirds had already implemented it or were in the process of implementation.

In addition, only 17% of respondents believed they had the in-house capability to run a 2-Speed operation. Around two-thirds who had already implemented 2-Speed IT used external support, and nearly all those considering a 2-Speed operating model “believe that they need external support.” Only 27% thought their existing suppliers were capable of running a 2-Speed IT operation and 31% said they planned to change their supplier landscape as a result of 2-Speed IT.

Brink says “companies accept they need to adopt bimodal models to keep pace with today’s market, but the transition can be daunting for technical and procedural reasons”. To ease the transition, organisations need to understand which applications should remain in-house and those that can be developed in or moved to a more agile environment such as the cloud.

Companies should turn to service providers that take a consultative approach to service, she adds, avoiding the pitfalls of commodity cloud infrastructures that commonly compete in pricing wars. Providers that take the time to understand their business can help them “assess, plan, execute and manage the evolution to bimodal IT”.

Linsell at Adapt says multi-cloud and hybrid solutions have required managed service providers to become ‘ambidextrous’ to deliver different platforms for different purposes to customers. But providers can struggle to deliver a truly bimodal service as a cohesive experience. “Bimodal means being aware of seemingly conflicting priorities and finding a way of satisfying both,” he warns. “Why should agility come at the expense of stability? And vice versa?”

In addition, organisations need to drop their “legacy thinking” and focus on “increasing business value” to free them from the constraints of their environment so they can evaluate “their options with a more open mind and weigh the cost/benefit equation in a clearer way”.

Kevin Sparks, EMC UK & Ireland director of alliances and channels, argues many organisations are “realising that the cost of bi-modal IT, often with duplication, is becoming challenging”, he claims. “There is also inherent risk in having data sprawl across multiple platforms and external providers.”

Sparks believes partner ecosystems should “focus on modernising existing internal IT to cut costs, which is estimated at over 70 percent of overall IT budget. This enables money to be diverted to deliver new platforms for the generation of new applications and associated sources of data, allowing a ‘customer centric’ IT experience”.

Foreman argues that DevOps needs to become the default for IT delivery to help marry manageability and agility. “The operational changes to support this can be a challenge for many organisations, particularly those where inertia is a factor,” he admits.  

Specialist service suppliers can ensure the manageability, allowing the core IT team to focus on enabling agility

The alternative is to treat elements of the IT function as service suppliers to the IT function itself. Specialist service suppliers can ensure the manageability, allowing the core IT team to focus on enabling agility. “This is where value-added partnerships, rather than suppliers, come into their own. Identifying a partner that can help the IT function achieve this is often the litmus test on the readiness of the IT function for bimodal IT,” he adds.

Foreman says partners can add value “by sustaining effective service delivery in the long term” while providing the expertise “to transform the operating model for DevOps and/or for enabling IT functions to self-supply services”.

Without these transformative approaches, he adds, the IT function can still diverge, “but more in the operational sense only – with one set of suppliers helping to manage operations and another delivering change. This does not address agility, the key ingredient for bimodal IT, and may prove a costly sacrifice for IT functions unwilling or unable to engage in this way”.

Sparks at EMC says its partner ecosystem of integrators, managed service and cloud providers “need to help our customers evolve. The technology exists, the service creation capability exists”. Allied with their consulting expertise, partners can use “their IP and sales motion to drive a new agenda with their clients”.

Any partners still unconvinced that they should do more to help customers move to bimodal IT might want to consider the Coeus findings that 44% of organisations were unsure their suppliers could run a 2-Speed IT operation and 29% thought they were incapable of doing so. No one wants to find themselves being placed in either of those categories. The same goes for the 31% planning to change their supplier landscape as a result of 2-Speed IT and the 44% that were unsure. No one wants to be in that 75%!

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