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The arbitrary division of IT functions into "slow" and "fast" or "agile" and "legacy" under a bimodal model misses the nuances that are the reality of most real-world IT organizations.

The myth of "bimodal" IT

During the keynote at the recent VMware CIO Leadership Forum in Singapore, CEO Pat Gelsinger called out several "myths" of modern IT management, the first of which was the oft-promoted concept of "bimodal IT." While this simple idea has intellectual appeal as it divides infrastructure, applications, and people into two neat categories, real-world organizations rarely work that way.

Innovation needs to happen throughout the IT organization – not just in the front-facing "digital citizen" applications. In fact, the organizations that are truly innovating and disrupting their delivery space are those where the transformation has occurred in underlying systems and business practices, rather than just the front end.

Ovum had previously identified that the true picture is far more nuanced than a black and white "bimodal" division between "fast" and "slow" IT approaches, with the reality more accurately characterized as a multispeed paradigm.

Words matter

With organizations utilizing a range of development and deployment strategies, a further challenge is to find appropriate terminology for the two ends of the spectrum without taking a pejorative view of either. With "slow" versus "fast," there is a clear implication that "fast" is better than "slow" – after all, who wants to volunteer to work in the slow lane in a modern IT organization?

Even worse is "innovative" versus "traditional" – with everyone wanting to jump on the innovation bandwagon, "traditional" sounds like a recipe for career suicide. Similarly, describing the alternatives as "stable" versus "risky" implies a negative in the opposite direction.

Some commentators have used more clinical descriptors, such as "type 1" and "type 2" development – but the trouble with such an approach is that the descriptors themselves then must be explained (e.g., "type 2 – that's the innovation stream"), which defeats the purpose.

By contrast, most people understand the construction concept of robust foundations on which to build, after which they have opportunities to enhance a building without worrying whether it will fall down.

The "foundational" and "enhancement" pairing can work well to describe different project types, but organizations are encouraged to use any non-pejorative pairing that works in their cultural context – the key issue is to actually consider the inherent cultural branding such terms imply – rather than use it without reflection.


Further reading

Multi-speed IT is not about immobilizing the back end, IT0007-000866 (January 2016)

Multi-Speed IT: Can We Have It All?, IT0007-000814, (May 2015)


Al Blake, Principal Analyst, Public Sector

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