The Tortoise or The Hare? How CIOs Balance Stability with Agility

“IT today has to be both a marathoner and sprinter, at the same time” says Arun Chandrasekaran, Research Vice President at Gartner. In other words, IT organizations have to be able to respond in two parallel and different ways: one focused on stability and the other on business agility.

Chandrasekaran was speaking at the Gartner Data Center, Infrastructure & Operations Management Conference held in Las Vegas this week.  Referencing a recent Gartner CIO survey that indicated that digitalization, the process of moving a business digital, was a key priority for CIOs, he says that to make this transition successfully, 40% of those CIOs are putting in place strategies to build a bimodal IT foundation.

What’s bimodal IT? This means the ability to run two different models of IT at the same time: The first, mode one, is around stability and reliability-focused applications. These are often functions we think of as traditional IT – infrastructure-focused, utilize a scale-up architecture, and are often looked at through the ever-important RAS and performance lenses. The second type, mode two, focuses on business agility. This model is information-centric, focuses on scale-out architectures, and key measurements are around scale and adaptability. With mode two, the mantra is often “fail fast, learn fast”, and, Chandrasekaran points out, stating that a solution is good enough truly means that it’s good enough – for now. Mode two development revolves around next practices, not best practices.

Innovation often begins at the periphery, so look for those use cases that present a new or changing challenge.

For most organizations, it isn’t a question of which mode is the right choice. Both modes need to exist simultaneously, says Gartner, and different use cases will more naturally fit one or the other. The use cases where traditional storage (like SAN or NAS) is employed, such as for financial data, will more easily lend themselves to mode one, because the key focus is on reliability and performance. On the other hand, Chandrasekaran points out, rapidly developing areas like big data or the Internet of Things are just not geared toward those SAN/NAS environments.

Stanley Zaffos, Gartner Research Vice President, explains that to understand which mode is right for a use case, you have to understand where the data is, the velocity at which that data is increasing, and the different types of data you’re dealing with. He adds that IT organizations have to look at the problems they need to solve which are important to their business, and if they can solve that problem in a way that’s more impactful, they need to start to incorporate that into their strategy.  Innovation often begins at the periphery, so look for those use cases that present a new or changing challenge (like governing end-user data) and renovate there.

Of course, organizations can’t change how they do business overnight. Culture is critical when shifting to bimodal IT – instead of thinking inwardly and focusing on safety, reliability, etc., IT has focus externally on their audience and concentrate on flexibility, speed to development, and scalability. Says Chandrasekaran, “Shadow IT is not bimodal IT,” because with mode two, the speed of development and external focus addresses the needs and demands that might otherwise lead users to sidestep IT.  He adds though that a successful transition to bimodal IT cannot happen without three things: support, recognition, and funding. There must be tight and constant communication between the development and operations teams – teams that traditionally are not inclined to work together closely.  Executive embrace of bimodal IT is necessary to encourage this close collaboration.

“Not taking a risk is taking a risk” says Stanley Zaffos, Gartner Research Vice President.

IT organizations today can’t simply sit back and continue to do things as they always have. According to Zaffos, the IT environment today is in a rapid state of flux – there is chaos in technology, in vendors, and in the marketplace, and end-user expectations continue to rise rapidly. He says, “Not taking a risk is taking a risk” and points out that with so many emerging vendors, organizations have a great opportunity to think differently about how they work.

Finally, once a decision has been made to move to a bimodal foundation, commit. Says Chandrasekaran, organizations that fail when they move to a bimodal model do so because they don’t push enough. There is no middle ground and there is no room for compromise between the two modes. Once you make the decision to add a parallel track to meet agility concerns, move there aggressively.

Is your organization embracing a bimodal approach? What lessons have you learned? Share your comments below.

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