dog in the front seat of a car
By balancing power between the front- and back-end of web development, businesses can speed their time to delivery PHOTO: Tim Gouw

Digital transformation is speeding up the rate at which companies make or break. 

Fifty years ago, a Fortune 500 company would last for about 75 years. The average lifespan for even the largest companies is now down to 15 years, and declining.

All this acceleration is due to the fact that success (or failure) is just one social share away from any of your customers. If customers don’t like the digital experience you provide, they’ll quickly switch vendors. And they share almost everything online: the good, the bad, the ugly.

Companies that make the cut are agile, listen to their customers and provide the best possible user experience. Those that adapt quickly to the digital world are 26 percent more profitable than their industry peers, according to an MIT Sloan report.

So how can you emulate the successes of the Amazons, Apples and Googles of this world? Your best bet is to be faster, in order to out-innovate your competition. 

A Revival of (True) Bimodal 

Bimodal IT can help. Bimodal refers to the practice of managing two separate but coherent modes of work: one focusing on stability (conventional, sequential, predictability) and the other on agility (exploratory, non-linear, speed). 

The term, first coined by Gartner in 2014, is not universally loved. Reactions include: 

I would simply say that the detractors have ignored the “bi” in bimodal. They tend to view the two modes as disjointed, but new web development technologies are enabling you to operate in both modes simultaneously. 

A quiet revolution is going on in the CMS world, with a gradual power shift from the back-end to the front-end. 

Flipping Power From Back End to Front End

Here’s how CMS front-end tools are speeding up and freeing up innovation:

Empower Front-End Developers

Many CMS products still create two camps: front-end and back-end. In the classical way of doing things, you would have a graphic designer, then someone who does HTML, CSS and so on. Then it goes to the back-end developers to create templates, and you need to test again. 

The results are never how you wanted and take forever. In the old world, the learning curve was steep. 

You would have to learn how to customize in a Java environment and work on templates at the back-end. Java, still one of the most used programming languages, is the stalwart for enterprise-scale, mature technology. This is heavy lifting, but what if you could combine this solid infrastructure with being agile on the front-end and using any front-end framework you like .... 

Enter the API-driven and standard front-end framework driven new world. No more compilation or build time or restarting the system after changes. Front-end developers already understand Javascript and they can now create templates. Depending on your needs, you can work exclusively with the front-end and not use Java at all. This speeds up development. 

Work With Components Instead of Pages

You might be used to working with pages, but try thinking components instead. 

Components are easy to work with: you can mix and match, assemble different components on a page, re-use components in different contexts. Marketers get more freedom and control over how the pages look: they can rearrange components, place them in different locations and not be restricted to pre-defined pages. 

The component-centric approach gets developers and marketers talking about, working with, viewing and testing the same thing. Components are very flexible to work with and changes can be made at any stage of the project. You can also grow the website iteratively: you can build the most important components first, then add new ones, then add new functionality. 

Share and Create Components in Real Time

One agency leveraged front-end tools to create a platform that enabled front- and back-end developers to work together and work fast by editing the same master files. The platform allowed developers to work both ways: developing front-end components first and integrating them into the CMS after, or developing back-end templates first, then letting the front-end developers take over and polish them. 

This sped up web development as front-end teams didn't have to wait for changes and updates to be implemented by the back-end team and integrated into the CMS.

The platform solved a long-standing problem of files getting out of sync. Previously, front-end devs would develop a “static prototype” independently, then back-end devs would copy parts of it into the website CMS. 

Because the file copies were separate and independent, subsequent changes could throw them out of sync. If the front-end devs updated the prototype, those changes had to be made in the CMS. Likewise, if the back-end devs updated the CMS, those changes had to be made in the static prototype. 

The platform removed the need for the static prototype. Each component file held both the front-end design prototype and the actual CMS template — keeping everything in sync because both parts were in one file and were easy to track and update.

Improve Teamwork

New front-end tools stop the quibbles among different teams as to who owns what code, allowing them to collaborate better. Collaboration is easy because all the files are in the same GIT repository. You can have Java developers working on the back-end and user experience experts working on the front-end in their preferred text editor or IDE. 

The best part is the two sides can work in parallel and not block one another, in effect moving faster and saving time.

Continuous Delivery and Iteration

Big projects always build up to a moment of reckoning in the final test phase, only to go back to the drawing board again. This is avoidable if you continuously demonstrate, review and accept components during the course of projects, with less testing at the end. The process is more efficient. You can even tune your components until the last minute before project launch.

Safe to Fail

Businesses now want live websites in weeks, not months. But even more crucial than the time it takes for the initial rollout is the time it takes to add new features. It is the day-to-day, incremental innovations that make the difference. 

Going bimodal in the CMS world means tapping into mature enterprise technology on the one end, and tapping into speed and agility on the other. Make sure that your back-end is robust and stable, then go wild on the front-end. 

One caveat though: bimodal is no guarantee against failure. Gartner also predicted that by 2017, 75 percent of IT organizations will have a bimodal capability, but only half of them will succeed. Being innovative means trying out ideas, experimenting and risking failure. 

The up and rising CMS front-end tools allow you to test fast and shorten the time from idea to delivery. If you fail, you also fail and learn fast: experimenting is less costly. 

Speed is your only currency in the ongoing battle for the next killer innovation.