We make our companies like ourselves. If we can’t always endow them with souls or instill them with a collective conscience, then at least we try to make them stand for something. 

We talk about focusing on customer experiences. But like every attempt at outreach you’ve ever made, from pleading with Dad to let you borrow the car, to pleading with the judge for leniency, to hoping she sees how earnest you are while you’re down on one knee and finally says yes, you just want them to like you.

Customer outreach, like any other human endeavor, is a plea for understanding.

Going Digital

Which makes technology somewhat of a quandary. Technology is the medium of communication with which we reach our customer or with which she reaches us. 

And there’s always someone changing it out from under us. We could change the way we work every time technology evolves. But that would be ridiculous. Imagine changing your work processes as often as you update your software.

The previous sentence is, in a nutshell, both the answer and the problem. If your business “goes digital,” as most every business expert in the last 30 years has been insisting is really happening, then your business processes will inevitably be encoded in software. The whole world is going digital, we hear, except for Congress and the IT department.

For some reason, we’re told, IT was the last to get the memo.

Coping Mechanism

Information technology is split between two realities. On the surface is the bright and bubbly world of mobile devices, and the shiny new virtual palaces of instantaneous customer experiences. The gadgets, the gizmos and the verges are all up here. The cultural revolutions that consultants insist are taking place are all up here.

Down in the basement and way up in the towers where few dare to tread is the old and stuffy world of communications infrastructure, the pipelines, copper, and fiber that bridge the server boxes that keep information moving, and the transmitters and antennas that Ping-Pong the smoke signals that enable people to connect with ad platforms.

A person cannot live in two realities for very long without conjuring a coping mechanism. A psychologist would call it schizophrenia, but whenever a person is faced with the undeniable fact of two simultaneous realities, schizophrenia may very well become a workable strategy.

Two years ago, Gartner Research Vice Presidents Mary Mesaglio and Simon Mingay began a serious investigation of the emerging consensus that IT departments must learn to adopt two speeds of delivery, to address the requirements of two sides of every business.

Their studies culminated in July 2014 into a special report that has become a seminal work in the field of business analysis, and has coined the phrase that adorns the agendas of business conferences worldwide: bimodal IT.

It is the promise of a real formula for truly having IT both ways. And like every great idea since the wheel, it is open to interpretation.

The Git ‘n’ Split

“Bimodal IT involves having a ‘traditional’ Mode 1 and a ‘sprinter’ Mode 2 which maintains standardized IT elements to keep businesses going, while deploying parallel experimental communication and collaboration solutions,” wrote Redbooth CEO Dan Schoenbaum for CMSWire last April.

“Everything in Mode 1 is what I would call ‘traditional IT,’” explained Marcus Schmidt, senior director of product management at hosted communications provider West IP Communications, “where your existing IT resources in your organization tend to be the ones responsible for things like unified communications.”

A UC system, Schmidt continued, is comprised of the types of hardware and services that have become facts of our lives: telephones on desks, PCs on desks, and more recently, instant messaging systems and points of presence on desks. These are Mode 1 things, he said.

“Mode 2 tends to be these things that were traditionally known as ‘shadow IT,’ where it ends up being the end users themselves that take that challenge on. They say, ‘The things the corporation is giving me to do my job isn’t exactly fitting my needs. So I need to do something else to fill a gap.’”

Joe Fitzgerald is general manager for cloud management at Red Hat. During a recent interview with CMSWire where Red Hat unveiled its Cloud Suite for Applications, Fitzgerald explained how his company’s management portfolio supports bimodal IT, as a way of reconciling applications created for a client/server world and apps written for the cloud.

“We can handle your traditional applications, which are not going away. A lot of them are going to be around for years,” he said. “Then there’s this sort of new, cloud-native applications that people are building. And there’s a desire for people not to have to have completely disjointed sets of tools and technologies.”

Most people within organizations will still prefer the existing IT infrastructure, Fitzgerald continued. A unified management tool should effectively give these people visibility into Mode 1 and Mode 2, through a “single pane of glass,” without making people move to separate tools whenever they switch modes from slow to fast, or old to new.

“The traditional IT stuff is not going away,” he said. “We see two different things going on: people trying to modernize and optimize their traditional IT — Mode 1, as Gartner calls it — while they’re trying to build out their Mode 2 environments.”

In an essay published last month, West IP’s Schmidt helps delineate between the classes of communications applications that would fit in each mode.

The types of software that employees find themselves downloading, installing, and using on their own without IT’s help, thus contributing to the Shadow IT phenomenon — tools like Yammer, Jabber, Skype, Slack, Dropbox, OneDrive, and SlideShare “could be classified as Mode Two,” he wrote.

But to make sure Mode 2 tools have the support and infrastructure they need, he advised, Mode 1 departments should closely align with Mode 2, otherwise it may become difficult to ensure that Mode 2’s architecture is reliable, secure, and compliant.

Rethought

The picture of bimodal IT that emerges from the public discussion has a certain rationality to it. Technology, especially in communications devices, appears to be changing more rapidly than the IT department’s ability to keep up with it.

Rather than have employees force new modes of operation onto IT, or IT force employees to work with outdated technology, the bimodal approach seems to offer a feasible compromise: a way of integrating both systems of operation into the same business process, with synchronization and some concerted effort.

bimodal is not

This way, Mode 2 people get the Mode 2 technology they want, and Mode 1 people can stay comfortable with the Mode 1 technology that’s already in place. Everybody’s happy. At least, that seems to be the plan.

In an interview with CMSWire, Gartner’s Mary Mesaglio stated that was never the plan at all.

“The current IT environment should not really be equated with Mode 1 the way we mean it,” Mesaglio said.

“The current IT environment is whatever it is, but Mode 1 the way we mean it is focusing on things that are relatively more predictable and sequential. It emphasizes safety and accuracy, but it undergoes deep changes to be able to absorb all the innovation happening in Mode 2.”

The changes in information technology, Mesaglio explained, are fundamental. They impact business processes, methodologies, technologies, infrastructure, and even the belief systems of organizations: “what good actually looks like, and how you define that,” she said.

The goal of the bimodal process is not to devise a pocket for older parts of the organization to continue with older technology. Mode 1 must actually absorb the change; it represents the parts of companies most impacted by change.

What’s more:  The modality is about the people. Technologies don’t get divvied up.

“It’s really about platform thinking in Mode 1. We’re creating a platform on which you can innovate more easily and more rapidly,” Mesaglio told CMSWire.

“So to me, if you look at how this is going to evolve, and what do you say to people who are creating parallel infrastructures — first of all, we did not find that. We did not find anybody going out and trying to create a whole new parallel infrastructure.

“So to the degree that it’s happening, I would say that it’s a total misinterpretation of the concept,” she continued, “but also a bad idea.”

Not only is Mode 1 not the “old speed” or the “old way,” as Mesaglio describes it now, but Mode 2 is neither the “new speed” nor (and this has become a sore spot with her) is it Agile.

“There’s lots of organizations that have lots of experience with Agile,” she told us, “that are using it in Mode 1. It’s totally fine.”

Then she gave what is perhaps the most nuanced, evolved vision of bimodal IT we’ve seen thus far: one that transcends technology. It offers hope that one team can wear both hats.

“There’s always going to be a need for a mode that can react more elegantly to uncertainty and advance, and a mode that can industrialize and optimize what is already in existence. But the tools, which reside in each of those modes, those are going to change dramatically.

For lots of clients, Agile is the way into Mode 2, and that’s as it should be for them. But for a lot of other clients, Agile is something that they’ve been doing for years, and it’s one more software methodology that they may use in lots of different spheres.

“So we are against the notion of Mode 2 equaling Agile.  ‘As long as I have a few developers doing Agile, I’m good,’” she remarked mockingly.

Mary Mesaglio and I dove very deeply into the subject of bimodal IT as she perceives it now.

She repeated declines to take any credit for it. She admits the concept is evolving, especially as more organizations attempt to put it to use. She concedes that implementing the concept has been difficult for organizations, and at times even painful.

Even now, she’s learning lessons she believes can be shared with other companies that may enlighten them in ways they were not enlightened last year — ways that may further contradict the popular interpretations of bimodal IT, and may compel others to rethink their positions.

We’ll share more of Mesaglio’s insights with you in Part 2 of this series.

Simpler Media Group, 2015