In many companies, the constant transition and the rapid change cycles in the business areas and the company environment present the IT department in particular with major challenges.
The current business of a company must remain stable. At the same time it needs to be innovative, to try out and integrate new things. This applies even more in times of digitisation. It’s a balancing act with consequences – and not only for IT.
Stability puts the brakes on innovation
IT is responsible for the reliability and security of company data. The stable operation of IT is the lifeblood of the company, and any disruption can easily lead to a major collapse.
This is why IT is often viewed as an innovation blocker, standing in the way of Internet-based innovative services or new software, or at least making things more difficult. Digitisation and innovation are comparable to change or transformations: applications, cost/benefit, feasibility and much more need to be investigated and often also tested.
This puts two different IT worlds in competition with each other. On the one hand, there is the part of IT that focuses on efficiency, safety, process compliance and cost reduction. On the other hand, it is the driving force behind IT that is keen to establish the ideas and requirements from the departments in new services and applications quickly. It is a trade-off, which is not easy to solve and requires highly qualified personnel.
Some companies set up ‘Digitisation LLCs’ for this purpose, while others establish departments and teams to deal with the issue and the necessary implementation projects within the company. However, the focus of all these approaches is usually only on digitisation itself and the related technologies.
Bimodal IT brings two IT worlds together
In larger companies, this requires two types of IT that run parallel to each other. One approach is offered by the research and consulting firm Gartner with their concept of bimodal IT. With bimodal IT a company operates in two different modes.
Gartner’s bimodal IT distinguishes between the IT organisation in mode 1, the traditional IT planning and working mode, which includes most of the important core tasks, and mode 2, the so-called agile mode. The teams in mode 2 develop innovative products using agile methods and the latest technologies. The higher fault tolerance makes it possible to work more quickly and effectively on innovations.
It is in mode 2, the part of IT that uses techniques such as prototyping, design thinking, iterative approaches and proximity to the customer (even for customers within their own company), where the uniqueness of the company is also reflected in IT. This is also where the competitive advantages arise.
The two modes need to be closely coordinated; you could compare it with the left and right brain hemispheres. Time to market is, in this case, a decisive factor.
Harmonizing these two, very different, requirements is hard enough. Many IT organisations already fail at the first hurdle – defining the IT processes and responsibilities in the transition from traditional and agile IT toward bimodal IT.
Challenges for the bimodal manager
The concept is simple, but the implementation raises questions: how to transform an organisation into a bimodal business? Where should one begin? Which employees fit in an agile environment?
How do I manage a bimodal construct?
The bimodal manager of a major company is faced with the challenge of merging these two worlds. This new bimodal IT architecture has consequences for the entire IT organisation itself.
The bimodal manager must not only be able to recognize innovations, but also to understand and implement transformations and changes. To this end, project management skills, among other things, are indispensable.
What is more, the manager must be enthusiastic and communicative and able to adapt to the most diverse human character traits. This can be both the ‘revolutionary’ and inventive young guns be and the classic IT personalities with decades of experience. The bimodal manager must be able to moderate between the two profiles to create a cohesive IT unit at the end of the day.
He or she also has to make quick decisions and set priorities, such as: What is trivial? How do we deal with large volumes of data? What steps are indispensable? How do we treat redundancies in the system? What does the customer of tomorrow want? Via what platforms will we offer our products to the next technological generation?
The bimodal manager must master quite a few challenges and have the appropriate skills to succeed. Here is a selection of just a few of the required competencies:
- Project management skills
- Ability to make changes within the company
- Ability to moderate
- Compatibility with different processes and methods
- Innovative thinking
- Technological understanding & imagination
- Create links between interpersonal differences
Accordingly, the greatest requirement is rather in the personality related skills. It has much less to do with computer center administration, software programming and in-depth computer science skills. In the context of digitisation, the bimodal manager will be an innovation leader whose influence extends beyond that of the company.