The concept of operating at two speeds (“bi-modal” thinking), is spilling over from the from IT world into general business science.
John Kotter’s latest work, Accelerate, discusses a ‘dual operating system’, where a fast-paced and loosely-governed spinoff organisation operates in tandem with the classical core of the enterprise. But we could go as far back as the mid-90s, to Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, to perhaps see the origins of this bi-modal thinking within the business context.
Bi-modal, two-speed IT has captured the imagination of organisations large and small – hailed as a framework in which organisations can retain resilience and efficiency in their infrastructure, while simultaneously being nimble and adaptive to new technology trends.
But while frameworks like this sound simple at a strategic level, bringing them into reality at an operational level is often very difficult. Just how does an organisation transition to a two-speed, stable-but-agile, business?
The starting point is to understand the layers of infrastructure, services and applications powering your business. Work out which functions are volatile, prone to continual change, or easily affected by external forces like market dynamics and competition. Then consider which aspects are more static, stable, standard, or commoditised – these are often the core support functions on which organisations do not look to generate competitive advantage.
As you divide these into two spheres, a clear ‘cut-line’ emerges. This marks the distinction between your stable mode 1, and your agile mode 2.
Too many organisations misunderstand the true concept of bi-modal – and fail to achieve the transformational business benefits. They look at their architecture in a classic, layered way, drawing the cut-line between the front-end interfaces, and the middleware that then plugs into the back-end infrastructure.
This has some very negative consequences: as you try to change your configurations within mode 2, you often need to make various changes further down the stack (into the middleware, Enterprise Services [ESB], core systems, data repositories and analytics engines etc).
Digital transformation requires changes that reverberate through the entire stack. So if everything below the front-end is demarcated to be mode 1, then changes made in your mode 2 will come to a sputtering halt, as you wait for the lengthy lead times to make changes in mode 1.
Architecting for the future means enabling key components, at every layer, to be adaptable and flexible. By redefining your architectural approach, and moving towards smaller microservices, combined with function-rich APIs, it becomes possible to have pockets of mode 2 within the heart of the organisation’s core – ready for fast-paced change whenever needed.
Over the years we’ve been led to believe that we have to confront a tradeoff: The theory goes that if you want speed, you cannot have scalability, security or high availability. And if you want enterprise-grade services, you cannot refresh your technology or software quickly or frequently.
But recent advancements in enterprise technology have invalidated this theory. No longer must we choose between the lesser of two evils. In fact, to compete against disruptive entrants – the ‘digital natives’ – in your industry, this tradeoff becomes a dangerous fallacy.
Bi-modal is not simply analogous to ‘front-end vs back-end’… a true bi-modal IT estate is a far more complex. We began to address this challenge with the introduction of service oriented architecture (SOA) some years ago. This concept has more recently re-emerged as micro-services, fueled by Saas and cloud services.
Replacing key legacy infrastructure with more modern systems ultimately enables the realisation of improved customer experience – the notion of being able to serve customers on their own terms.
For legacy IT environments, the goal should be to understand what are the priority micro-services that their business stakeholders will need, so they can provide them on demand.
The alternative is that traditional IT departments become redundant, as these micro-services are consumed and paid for ‘per use’ or ‘as a service’. With the ease of buying micro-services via a corporate credit card, business executives can now take matters into their own hands, to solve the bi-modal challenges.
Progressive IT Departments are engaging with business to carve out the micro-services that will unlock customer value so that these can be connected into new processes, including fresh information available at more convenient times, meeting customer, rather than company objectives first.