Two-speed IT: Necessary, But Not Sufficient
The need for enterprise IT to become more agile and responsive to the business has given rise to new “bimodal” IT or “two-speed” models. These approaches are based on the premise that traditional IT models are unable to provide the speed, agility, and innovation needed to support business users, who now can easily turn to third-party service providers.
These models propose creating an IT organization comprising two separate, distinct units. Each of these organizational units would each have their own independent governance, processes, staffing, metrics, and tools:
- Traditional / Legacy IT. The first unit would focus on maintaining the stability and availability of mature, business-critical systems. The unit would be driven by legacy waterfall development models, and would have a strong focus on minimizing operational risk while driving industrialization of services. Think of this essentially as “status quo enterprise IT.”
- Fast / Agile IT. The second unit would focus on helping the business drive innovation through experimentation using a rapid, iterative development approach. This unit would provide the business with the ability to test and rapidly respond to market feedback through use of agile, DevOps, and lightweight governance models. Agile IT would focus in particular on new application development, as well as market-facing systems and services.
While extending traditional IT to embrace bimodal models is necessary, it is not sufficient to address the fundamental, eistential issues facing enterprise IT. Why?
- Delivery agility isn’t enough. Improving market responsiveness and speed of delivery is only part of the story—IT also needs to adopt a new service provider mindset and operating model. While new collaboration models, cloud platforms, and automation tools certainly enable more agility, so do things like standardized services and user self-service provisioning. In addition to doing things faster, IT needs to figure out how to anticipate, develop, and deliver standard services with costs and SLAs that are acceptable to the business—just as providers like Amazon have done. IT must deliver agility through new customer engagement models in addition to new delivery approaches.
- Customer service is a universal. While traditional IT may not have the same agility requirements as agile IT, it should absolutely have the same requirements with respect to customer service and satisfaction. CIOs should not create the perception that IT should not treat internal customers of traditional IT services any differently than they treat agile IT customers. While this isn’t what two-speed models explicitly suggest, it’s implicit in the idea that two promotes two separate operating models. While the back-office IT operations models should differ across differently platforms and technologies, the new front-office, customer-facing “sales” and support processes should not differ, especially in the ITaaS model.
- IT services aren’t always bimodal. As agile IT models become more pervasive, not all IT services cleanly fall in one camp or the other. The migration of enterprise applications to microservices architectures provides a perfect example. Many enterprises are using PaaS and DevOps models to rewrite monolithic legacy applications as a set of smaller, independent, composable services. Though these services are commonly made accessible via http and RESTful APIs, each service can also be separately delivered via the most appropriate technology platform, including mainframe, or second or third platform. With an increasing number of services provided in these mixed delivery models, the bimodal or two-speed approach quickly runs into challenges.
- The bimodal worlds will converge. Over time the majority of enterprise applications and systems will be delivered via an agile IT model. ERP systems provide a prime example of “traditional” IT services that are being disrupted by cloud services and agile models. SaaS alternatives are already leading to two-tier ERP models, with cloud-based models integrated with legacy ERP systems. Some enterprises are also already offering ERP services through consumption-based, transactional pricing as with third-party cloud providers. The bimodal approach implicitly suggests that a dual approach to managing IT operations is desirable and sustainable. It isn’t.
The new “agile IT” model has become table stakes for enterprise IT. While creating a separate, incubated standalone unit is a valid change management approach, CIOs need to recognize that bimodal is merely a stepping stone on the path towards broader ITaaS transformation—not an end, in and of itself.