There’s been a lot of talk about ‘bimodal IT’ over the past twelve months, with Gartner heralding it as the surest path to enterprise agility. A bimodal approach requires businesses to run IT in two separate streams: a fast lane for modern, digital innovation, and a slow lane for stable, legacy IT systems. Proponents of the approach claim that new and innovative customer-facing services, like mobile apps and online self-service portals, can be brought to market more quickly, using agile development and DevOps practices; while legacy IT systems, often mainframe-based, are left ticking away quietly in the background. These systems, while they will still support the business, will not take an active role in innovation.
Whilst some businesses are already employing this strategy without realising it, the reality is that encouraging bimodal IT is a recipe for disaster. Dividing the IT function into fast vs. slow, or agile vs. waterfall, is extremely short-sighted and creates a number of other major pitfalls. Companies have decades of high value IP wrapped up in their legacy IT and mainframe applications making it critical for them to become more agile to remain relevant in today’s digital world. Those that don’t adopt a widespread agile approach will miss a major opportunity to fully enrich the customer experience and drive unprecedented value for the business.
Steven Murray, solution sales director at Compuware
Why Bimodal IT is just plain wrong
It’s important to remember that the IT stack is fully symbiotic, with each element reliant upon the infrastructure above and below it in the service delivery chain. For example, a whizzy new mobile banking app built in agile development sprints doesn’t work in isolation. To allow customers to access statements or process transactions, the app has to call on the bank’s mainframe, where customer account details reside. As such, the mainframe team needs to be as agile as the distributed team to ensure the process is integrated seamlessly.
IT managers must realise that bi-modal IT risks cultivating disconnect between their teams by setting them at odds with one another. Legacy systems teams will see agile developers as being rash and slapdash in their approach, whilst agile developers will see their legacy counterparts as a roadblock. Rather than working their teams towards diverse goals and different standards of best practice, IT managers should create a single, omni-channel platform for enterprise DevOps to avoid restricting their digital revolution. By encouraging teams to work together, IT departments will be better aligned to deliver services at the speed necessary to meet the needs of the business and its customers effectively.
Three steps to IT heaven
As with anything in life, delivering a unified approach to IT management is of course easier said than done, but there are three basic steps that will help businesses along the path.
– Step One: Strategize and strike – first, it’s important to realise the adoption of agile development and DevOps can’t be half-hearted, or success will be much more elusive. IT leaders must also bear in mind that "going agile" requires a major cultural shift for the teams operating in the traditional ‘slow’ lane of legacy IT.
As such, it’s vital to have a clear plan in place from the start. The leadership needs to understand the methodology behind agile, get the guidelines in place and educate their staff. Once these foundations have been laid, it’s important not to dawdle; the shift to a single, omni-channel platform for enterprise DevOps needs to be driven deliberately and with clear commitment from above, or IT teams will lose confidence.
– Step two: Realign and reequip – as IT departments move away from diverse project teams, they’ll need to be restructured into a single talent pool with shared resources. As well as creating a single, omni-channel platform for enterprise DevOps to break down the siloes between teams, IT leaders will need to give next-gen developers next-gen tools that insulate them from the idiosyncrasies of the mainframe.
This will give rise to a new generation of polyglot programmers, who are able to work interchangeably on projects regardless of the platform. As such, legacy systems like the mainframe will lose their air of exclusivity and complexity; they will only be different in programming syntax. Bringing teams together in this way is crucial to encouraging them to gel effectively and serve the needs of the business better.
– Step three: Open the channels – clear communications between internal teams and customers is crucial to the successful implementation of a single, omni-channel platform for enterprise DevOps. It’s therefore important to encourage teams to share successes and lessons learned from failures. Daily stand-ups and scrum teams provide a great opportunity for mutual feedback, showing everyone’s efforts are noticed and appreciated.
Customer feedback can also help to validate ideas and find out whether IT efforts are having the desired effect. As well as improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the IT department, open communications further enable developers to see the fruits of their labour, providing far more motivation than they would get working in the myopia of their traditional siloes.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all IT strategy, but going down the bi-modal IT route introduces significant risks. Having a ‘fast lane’ and a ‘slow lane’ means legacy systems’ developers will be seen as holding the business back, rather than advancing it forward. This will only foster resentment between IT teams and reduce business agility, leaving it stuck in IT hell.
Introducing a single, omni-channel platform for enterprise DevOps is a far better alternative. By unifying their teams and bringing the mainframe into the fold of mainstream of IT, businesses will create an IT utopia that enables them to become truly agile and responsive – allowing them to thrive in today’s digital economy.
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