Dealing with Darwin helps resolve Bi-Modal IT Issues

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Also posted on: IT Infrastructure

My attention was caught last week by an article in It highlighted disagreements between two IT analyst heavyweights, Gartner and Forrester, about Gartner’s view on what it calls “Bi-modal IT”.

If you haven’t heard of this, then in simple terms, it highlights the very different skills, behaviours and organisation needed to develop and deploy new cloud based systems of engagement, from those required to develop and deploy older, more traditional enterprise systems of record. Without going into detail, Gartner suggest that two teams be set up in IT organisations; Mode 1 teams to look after the old stuff and Mode 2 teams to get involved in the new, exciting stuff.

To be fair to Gartner this is not new. As early as 2011 Deutsche Bank was reorganising its IT resources and structures around two distinct groupings… “Develop the Bank” and “Run the Bank”. Gartner it seems was merely responding to what it saw out in the market. However the argument is now that this approach, which effectively creates a divide between the old and the new, is detrimental to building collaboration and co-operation and could actively disenfranchise and demoralise Mode 1 teams.

As I read the Computer Weekly article I was reminded more and more of Geoffrey Moore’s book “Dealing with Darwin”. His focus is on how great companies innovate in every phase of their evolution. In particular it is the chapter on what Moore calls “Re-purposing for the Core” that seemed to have the most relevance to the debate around Bi-Modal IT. Try imagining for a minute taking Cobol programmers in their 60s and even 70s, still working today and trying to retrain and them into new coders used to the world of Java, Containers and a hundred and one other technologies I haven’t even heard of. Despite the fact that you and I probably know one or two who could, and would love to do this, evidence shows that, practically, the gap in knowledge and culture is too big to bridge for most.

As products or services move clockwise through a cycle of innovation, deployment, optimisation and finally decommissioning, Geoffrey Moore shows why it has become hard to release staff tied up in the deployment and optimisation phase back into innovation. By the time decommissioning comes along there appears to be just two options for the staff tied to those solutions, or in this case systems…retraining to move to new innovations or redundancy. Unfortunately the gap is usually too large, so redundancy and loss of skilled resources is often the outcome.

The answer, Geoffrey Moore believes, is to continually look to shift the people resources anti-clockwise, for example from operations about to be decommissioned back into operations in an optimisation phase; from optimisation back into deployment and from deployment back into innovation. He shows how this makes continued use of the people’s key skills and frees up resources to innovate.

Just as Bi-modal suggests a one or the other answer, so the argument seems to be drifting the same way with both sides digging in with opposing views. If you are challenged with resolving the resourcing issues around new systems of engagement and older systems of record I urge you to find a copy of Geoffrey Moore’s book and if nothing else, read Chapter 10 on “Re-purposing for the Core”. You may not end up with 60 year old Cobol programmers in your cloud based development teams, but you are less likely to lose their skills completely and keep them fully engaged. At the same time you will be able to keep recycling the innovators back into new developments where they want to be.

This post first appeared on the old Cassini Reviews website.