Monday, March 23, 2015

Slow IT needs to modernize too

Writing about bimodal IT in CIO, ActiveState Software’s Bernard Golden wrote:

Bimodal IT echoes a presentation I saw several years ago from Will Forrest of McKinsey, who said that CEOs are so tired of how poorly their IT organizations are performing that they’re setting up separate organizations to pursue new opportunities. The implication is clear -- traditional IT is on borrowed time and faces a future where it is consigned to unimportance. It may, in fact, be too late for enterprise IT to do anything about this.

Keep calm and slow down resized 600

By way of background, bimodal IT [1] refers to the idea that, according to Gartner’s Daryl Plummer, "Forty-five percent of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation, and we believe that by 2017 75 percent of IT organizations will have gone bi-modal in some way… Traditional IT has focused on operational excellence. IT has been like rocks in a river. In contrast, the digital world is in continuous flow. In “business moments”, businesses can leverage some ‘digitalized' process to create new opportunities. Those moments are supported by more fluid form of IT, more flexible and ready for anything.” 

Of course, this is something of an oversimplification. Most IT organizations are complex and heterogeneous. They have many modes and types of infrastructure, applications, and operations. IT is multi-modal as another analyst put it to me. However, I find the binary lens useful because it helps to crystalize the opposing priorities of stability and speed—because it’s really pace of change that distinguishes the two modes.

But pace is not an absolute. It’s not zero and infinity. Which is where I quibble with Bernard’s piece that I quoted above and why I caution about equating slow or Mode 1 IT with terms like legacy, outdated, or old. (Even though it may be those things in some cases.) 

Instead, think of classic or traditional IT as simply more focused on stability and efficiency and operated at a more deliberate pace. But it’s not necessarily static. It’s an opportunity to modernize and refresh within a go slow paradigm. As another recent Gartner report noted: "Software evolution is driving the IT market rapidly toward new architectural models and implementation practices. The trend toward bimodal IT will accelerate this evolution, and increasingly expose legacy operating systems like Unix (and the workloads based on those operating systems) as classic 'Mode 1' technology that is suited to traditional data center modernization."

The distinction between doing nothing and modernizing is an important one and I suspect that not recognizing that distinction fuels some of the criticism I’ve heard and read about the multi-modal or bimodal view of modern IT. Doing nothing implies giving up. It suggests that there is no benefit to undertaking IT projects that aren’t all-in with respect to agile development practices and infrastructure architectures. It effectively provides an excuse for not using IT for any sort of incremental strategic business advantage.

While incrementalism can indeed sometimes be a poor alternative to making needed changes, so too can the perfect be the enemy of the good. So pursue game-changing IT initiatives that take fundamentally new approaches like OpenStack IaaS, OpenShift by Red Hat PaaS, containers, cloud management platforms (such as CloudForms), and more. But don’t miss out on opportunities to streamline your existing IT model as well.


[1] Bimodal IT is a “Gartner-ism.” However, a variety of others have expressed similar concepts using different terminology. For example, IDC refers to cloud/social/mobile/big data under the “3rd platform” moniker to distinguish it from the older-style “2nd platform."

No comments: