One of the biggest issues facing many IT departments in 2016 is the need to make radical change to meet the increasingly dynamic digital agenda but to continue to deliver the basic utility IT that every organisation needs to function. There is an inherent tension between these two needs as one requires traditional, sequential, risk averse activities and the other demands an exploratory, non-linear and agile approach. It would seem that the challenge is integrating these two approaches within a single unified IT department.

The simpler option is to avoid the battle of integrating two diverse approaches and deliberately operate with two distinct modes and highlight this fact rather than attempt to conceal it under a veneer of standard operational practices. Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Adopting a bimodal approach allows organisations to both deliver the core functions required whilst simultaneously reacting to the new disruptive digital agenda and delivering the competitive advantages required by the business.

The majority of organisations are already able to deliver a Mode 1 approach as this is the more traditional method by which IT is delivered: sequential and process oriented with an emphasis on safety and accuracy.  

Mode 2 requires a different approach. It requires an agile approach where people should be able to unlearn what is not working, eager to learn new things, willing and be able to communicate and collaborate and have passion for the outcome of their actions. There is a fundamental shift from a focus on technology to a people centric approach and that is a big challenge to many IT Departments.

If people are at the heart of the digital age then IT needs to empower and motivate their staff to not only embrace change but to be a fundamental element of the change itself but, certainly at the adoption stage, this needs to be deliberately isolated from the need to continue Mode 1 operations.  Although people are at the heart of Mode 2 operations, they also need a technology platform that allows the new behaviour to flourish whilst protecting the organisation’s ability to function effectively as the Mode 2 approach evolves.

Mode 2 also removes the traditional walls between IT and the rest of the organisation by creating teams that connect the two and this requires the ability to manage change as it evolves across the organisation rather than implementing new solutions into the organisation as neat, pre-created packages from IT.

Many analysts are citing 2016 as the year when bimodal IT gains real traction and the year when those organisations that embrace the digital disruption agenda will outpace their less agile competitors. The evolution of cloud computing, software as a service, the internet of things and big data have already initiated changes in how IT departments operate. In many organisations Mode 2 IT is already emerging but not as a structured, conscious approach but rather as a tactical response to the need to examine emerging digital technologies. As with any change, for the adoption of Mode 2 working to be effective and to embrace the entire organisation, it needs to be envisioned, communicated and effectively implemented and not simply allowed to organically emerge in unstructured pockets.

Establishing a bimodal approach to IT is a significant challenge to many IT Departments as it requires the adoption of two distinct approaches across a single departmental entity and this requires not only two separate methods of working but two different technology platforms in the majority of organisations. Mode 2 operations, the adoption of an agile, people-centric approach that comprises a high volume of small iterations and allows for failure as part of the process is the mode that very few established organisations have the ability to execute simply. Mode 2 is also the approach that is being used by many of the new disruptive organisations to develop their offerings and to continuously evolve them and, therefore, the more established players in many markets must adopt a Mode 2 approach or accept that they will suffer at the hands of the new disruptive market players.

Mode 2 is predominantly about agility and creativity, two words that are not traditionally associated with the IT Department. This need for a radical shift in the approach within IT is likely to require not only a very different approach to recruitment but also a very different approach to the leadership and management of the people. Many organisations have attempted to embrace Mode 2 operations by modifying their existing talent management approach but many of these attempts have failed because the leadership and management approach within the organisation has not changed.

There needs to be fundamental changes not only in the approach of the people who operate within a Mode 2 environment but also in how those people are rewarded and recognised as Mode 2 has a higher dependency on teamwork than Mode 1. The people-centric changes need to be embraced across the whole of the human resourcing aspect of the IT Department. Reports suggest that many organisations have attempted to recruit a different staff profile but have not succeeded in implementing all of the other elements required to drive cultural and behavioural change within an organisation.

For an agile, Mode 2 approach to work, IT needs to integrate closely with the business. There has been a mantra over many years about a successful IT Department aligning itself with business requirements but alignment is no longer sufficient. IT and the business must integrate and work together without one leading the other. Where there is a need for one to lead the other there is already a delay in the delivery process and delays even of this nature are sufficient to result in an organisation being left behind.

There are lots of tools and techniques available that allow IT Departments and business leaders to communicate effectively in digital terms without introducing delays because one side or the other is not understanding. There are also options for introducing external consultancies for an initial period to broker the new relationships and ensure that both parties are having their needs met by the other in a Mode 2 operation.

Mode 2 requires a people-centric change methodology to be implemented across the IT organisation to reinforce the change that is needed. People can be resistant to change and the most common reason is an avoidance of being taken out of their comfort zone. Organisations need to develop a programme of change that embraces these fears, and to not only develop the programme, but also execute it effectively to reduce or eliminate the fear of change inherent in many organisations.


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