The “Bi-Modal” Dilemma


One of my favourite childhood books is “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. One particular passage that has become gospel to me –

Cat: Where are you going?

Alice: Which way should I go?

Cat: That depends on where you are going.

Alice: I don’t know.

Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go!

In my travels I find that many of us are so busy doing our “day job” that we seldom have time to think about our longer term plan. In some cases short-term tactical decisions can end up at odds with our strategic long term goals forcing our actions to lose touch with their intended outcomes. More on this topic here

A clear example of this exists in today’s IT world as “The journey to modern applications”.

There is no doubt about the potential for enterprises and government to drive a closer level of engagement with their stakeholders through the development of “systems of intimacy”. Organizations of all sizes across all industries need to seize the opportunity to leverage mobility, social media and most importantly analytics to drive differentiation, customer loyalty and new routes to market – For a great perspective on this click here 

With all of this potential, organizations have prioritized efforts to stand-up modern application teams  (i.e DevOps), modern application practices (i.e Agile), modern application platforms (i.e Cloud Foundry) and modern application infrastructure (i.e cloud, containers).

This instantiation of this new application mandate largely ties to a strategy coined by Gartner called “Bi-Modal IT”. Essentially the strategy encourages enterprises to bifurcate their application teams into 2 teams. “Team 1 – Mode 1 – Systems of Record” focused on availability and “Team 2 – Mode 2 – Systems of Innovation” focused on Speed and agility. For more on this click here.

Philosophically “Bi-Modal” makes a lot of sense but I have seen some major challenges across those that have attempted it –

To sum up my observations let me quote Peter Drucker who said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Ultimately while there are a wide swath of tools and technology that claim to deliver “Bi-Modal IT” the path to value largely depends on People and Process.

From my perspective some best practices have emerged in this space. For example –

  1. Building a culture of “cohesion and cooperation” between modern and traditional application teams. No matter how cool or innovative your modern application may be it needs solid ties to the “systems of record” to deliver a positive experience to the end-user. These solid ties can only exist when Mode 1 and Mode 2 teams are acting as one.
  2. Leveraging key constructs like “agile” in the modern world and “resiliency” in the traditional world to make both teams better. Remove the sigma of traditional applications being “bad” and modern applications being “good” and instead recognize the value they both bring to the table.
  3. Tying rewards to customer value. Measure the impact that these teams have to the top and bottom lines to reward the right behaviours. It’s not about whether the mode 1 teams met the SLA or the mode 2 teams launched x number of applications, it about whether or not we all accelerated revenue or reduced cost
  4. Recognizing the evolution of the traditional CIO role requiring MBOs are tied not just stability but to innovation. We are seeing many CIO positions being elevated to a direct report to the CEO reflecting their importance in driving the “innovation agenda”. This is an incredible opportunity for our current and future CIOs!
  5. Updating career ladders and Organizational charts to reflect end-to-end delivery of services (rather than applications) that span modern and traditional applications
  6. Recognizing the importance of standardized and well documented APIs to simplify the integration of modern micro-services with traditional applications.
  7. Adoption of a philosophy that the IT organizations mandate is to govern “all services” regardless of whether or not they operate them. To this end all application development efforts will see strong benefits from a centralized control plane for management, automation and security.

Many of these constructs come down to fundamental long-term planning. Now, more than ever, organizations are counting on IT Leadership to lead their teams through this change. Spending the time to map out this journey and clearly articulating the benefits across your teams is essential.

At the end of day if everyone knows where the organization is headed and why they are headed there then everyone can be accountable for making key decisions throughout the journey and everyone can share in the success!



Photo courtesy of

One thought on “The “Bi-Modal” Dilemma

  1. Pingback: What can a Paddle Board Teach us about Innovation? –

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s