As a result of consumer driven conveniences via applications ‘that just work’, employees are expecting more flexibility, capability and speed of delivery from their IT group than ever before. Enterprise IT can address these requirements with the cloud and the efficiencies it can bring to a business if they standardize and streamline processes. Never before has IT had a bigger chance to make an impact. With this new opportunity though, comes a lot of change.

IT needs to align with the business in a way they haven’t before and develop processes designed to enable agility and speed. This is evident from a recent CIO article called “What Gartner’s Bimodal IT Means to Enterprise CIOs,” which theorizes on what Gartner’s vision of the future of IT is. Supplement that with Kathleen Wilson’s “Enabling Azure Operations” session at Microsoft Ignite, and the story really starts to make an impact.

What is Bimodal IT?
Bimodal IT is a way to address the increased speed of solution delivery in an Enterprise brought on by the cloud. It posits that IT needs to be broken down into 2 groups to facilitate this, but also eliminates a 3rd IT group:

1. A traditional IT that deals with rack and stack installations and on-premises troubleshooting.
2. A new modern IT in which everyone is a generalist and they can quickly organize to deliver solutions that drive the business.
3. This has the benefit of eliminating (or lowering) shadow IT because now IT is equipped with the tools to move as quickly as someone with a credit card.

Traditional IT knows what the business needs from an IT strategy perspective (example: We need more storage for our designers), but modern IT understands the business strategy (example: If we had a more robust design environment, we could deliver designs 10 times faster to our customers, resulting in a quicker R&D return).

Is This the Death of Traditional IT?
Bimodal IT builds on the practices that some Enterprises have already been doing for years since the advent of virtualization and subsequently automation. The difference is that now, with the cloud, everything is sped up and even more immediate. Lydia Leong at Gartner wrote a great blog post that shows how the similarities between virtualization and public cloud aren’t close enough though, even through the software defined data center. Despite this assertion, Enterprise IT should already be on the way to towards a modern IT.

This phrase though is particularly troubling for traditional IT staff and shows that a mindset change is needed is staff are to survive.

The IT-centric individual who is a cautious guardian and enjoys meticulously following well-defined processes is unlikely going to turn into a business-centric individual who is a risk-taking innovator and enjoys improvising in an uncertain environment.

I’m not sure I agree completely as this does sound like a death knell for traditional IT. The software designed data center and Devops play a critical role in both and skills and processes likely can transfer. What I take from this quote is that communication between IT and the business units needs to be more immediate, but I don’t agree that you introduce risk by allowing the speed to delivery get in the way of due diligence and long-term planning. Doubt me? Check your data center for those legacy, yet critical applications still hosted on Windows 2003. We can’t let that type of development work continue without some amount of planning, certainly there must be a balance.

I’m hopeful that CIOs always understand the business needs, but historically, those needs haven’t been communicated to the IT managers and engineers. In an Enterprise where IT is split into traditional IT and modern IT, the issue can be exacerbated as both factions are fighting for power. Gartner seems to be suggesting that this model should be immediately implemented even if the CIO isn’t ready! Yikes! (check the Gartner agenda here).

Is that really what they are saying though? Well, likely there is little IT organizational movement now with still small IT budgets, so some IT departments are likely stuck with a structure put in place a decade ago. Certainly Gartner’s suggestion would be less than optimal because of the natural rift that it causes, unless they are building on the efficiencies that Enterprise IT groups might already have in place – infrastructure and business applications teams that work well together, taking the best of both worlds to move into the bimodal model. Traditional IT can offer standards and best practices while modern IT has the agility to deliver quickly.

For traditional IT, this doesn’t represent a death knell, but an opportunity to move into a more agile way of working.

The CIO Needs to Change Too!
Effective Enterprises should be on their way to solving this problem with tight communication between both traditional IT, modern IT and the business. The CIO (or some leader) needs to facilitate this relationship.

With the speed at which cloud moves, the CIO can no longer afford to sit back and be a funnel of business information any more to only one group, ie. the business applications teams. They need to facilitate that deep understanding between IT and the business to enable agile movement and not maintain ‘at arms length’ traditional IT projects. For those businesses that remain with fragmented communication levels, they’ll likely find competitors with an efficient edge squeezing them out over time.

There are hints that this is what Gartner is saying, but it also seems like they are just encouraging 2 nearly separate ITs just to deal with innovation. I don’t believe that the cloud is so transformative that existing processes and standards knowledge can’t be built upon to deal with this new agility. Certainly, communication can help bridge the gap.

A Surprising Way to Get There
If you are in an Enterprise and can spare staff to move into modern IT, you will likely want to pull from those with the broadest skillsets so that they can understand the complexities of a cloud based solution. Generalists that can understand an entire application’s stack are better than someone troubleshooting just one component.

If you don’t have the staff or if your IT group remains highly fragmented without effective communication with the business and you don’t know how to address it, an IT Partner can often help bridge the gap. Think about it, a good IT Partner has experience in talking to different levels of the organization and getting to the real requirements and the results. Their job depends on this skill!

CIOs should not fear bringing an IT Partner into business conversations. Partners have the added advantage of seeing industry trends specific to your vertical and can perhaps facilitate external references for large initiatives. Traditional IT should also embrace a partner as they can have two effective means to get your IT group where it needs to be:

1. A Partner can focus on traditional IT, allowing existing IT staff to start develop processes and skillsets around modern IT practices.
2. A Partner can be the modern IT practice, interacting with the business while existing staff deal with traditional IT issues.

Not all businesses are Enterprise class, and a Partner can also help smaller businesses understand and make this transition as well. Not everything is about the big players, there are cloud efficiencies for everyone!

Regardless of how you get there though, shadow IT can still come into play if you’re not careful, proving that communication is the key to this transition. Peter Sondergaard, VP and Global Head of Research for Gartner, wrote a great blog article about bimodal IT and mentions that companies ignoring this trend risk shadow IT, but I think he misses how shadow IT might crop up when applying the Gartner model.

If traditional IT is kept out of the business conversation, shadow IT moves from the end users into modern IT and the solutions implemented will ultimately become unsupportable and fragmented themselves (harken back to the Windows 2003 example). Just because the cloud makes it easy doesn’t mean you move at a breakneck speed towards it. This balance is the value traditional IT can bring. The CIO, on the other hand, must ensure communication is tight throughout the business and keep the bleeding edge reigned in just enough to be secure, while being agile.

The cloud journey is very complex and getting it started right is key if IT is going to shift from cost center to enabler of business agility. IT staff need to embrace the change too. From the engineer up to the CIO, each level now has new roles that can be exciting, but you have to embrace the change!