Bi-modal is the new normal, but the best way to approach this is to blend operations, not create separate groups.
There’s been much ado lately about the transition of enterprise IT from traditional, steady operations to a highly agile and services-based operation. Companies of all sizes are moving to the cloud and adopting DevOps, yet many must maintain legacy systems for years to come. Pundits and analysts such as Gartner suggest that CIOs need to split their organizations into two: the Mode 1 group (traditional, “lights on” operations) and Mode 2 (the business-innovating group). In fact, Gartner is so bullish on this idea that the research firm is predicting that 72 percent of enterprises will be operating in a bimodal structure by 2017.
Yet dividing and conquering won’t work. By creating two separate groups, with likely two different leaders, there’s bound to be tension and turf wars. Overlap of duties will happen, and higher costs may result. Regardless, the two groups will still need to work together—but may have little incentive to do so.
Let’s take a step back. Bimodal is just another name for transitions that IT organizations have been through many times in the past: analog vs. digital, mainframe vs. client/server, batch vs. interactive, native vs. web-based, on-premises vs. cloud and so on. Creating walls between existing and emerging processes and technologies doesn’t make much sense. It’s possible to manage “old” and the “new” requirements and projects in tangent.
Instead of creating walls, Mode 1 and Mode 2 processes can coexist and employees with different perspectives can help each other as the company transitions to its next phase of innovation. Over time, the entire organization will shift to the most progressive, efficient and business-aligned way of delivering IT.
IT organizations should think more holistically about building cross-functional teams made up of the best members to serve that team’s particular purpose. Those teams may have mobile app developers and DevOps managers sitting side by side with network engineers and system architects who have developed deep specialties in enterprise databases and data center infrastructure over many years. There may be Waterfall teams and DevOps teams, and individuals managing cloud providers working closely with data center managers implementing converged infrastructure. It all begins with the business requirements and designing a strategy that is inclusive of both required legacy systems and future, cloud-based initiatives.
But wait, aren’t the most progressive companies Mode 2 from top to bottom? The answer is no. Companies such as Amazon, Google, Netflix, Facebook, Apple and LinkedIn are IT innovators that also manage solid and stable internal environments.
It was only in mid-2015 that Apple announced its migration of the Siri application platform to the Apache Mesos platform. This didn’t happen overnight. The team responsible for Siri realized that it could cut costs and increase flexibility for ongoing support and development. It was an evolutionary move focused on front-end scalability and allowing a clustered approach for scale and management—arguably a very Mode 2 approach. That said, it’s also widely known that the data sources for Siri are a mix of traditional RDBMS and No-SQL—massive data repositories handling millions of transactions 24/7. These platforms require Mode 1, utility-grade availability constructs.
LinkedIn is another innovator running a distributed architecture that blends Mode 1 technologies (data layer and business engines) with Mode 2 clusters focused on presentation of new and existing initiatives.
Ways to Blend Effectively
Here are some ways to approach a blended IT organization that incorporate both Mode 1 and 2 technologies and processes without building walls:
- Create a best-of-breed environment. Evaluate your applications and create an architecture plan. Identify existing applications that require modernization. Create a clear picture of the gap between current and desired state. Build an architecture for your applications that leverages one or more platforms that can adapt to your application architecture goals, both present and future.
- Balance out your weakness. Most large companies in traditional industries will be heavier on the Mode 1 orientation regarding skill sets, tools and processes. To jump-start a transition toward Mode 2 operations, consider hiring people from software startups with ample experience developing, scaling and maintaining cloud-based systems under rapid time frames. These are the people whose failures bring the perspective necessary to empathize with your Mode 1 teams. They might even appreciate the Mode 1 team’s experience.
Conversely, if your organization is already a strong Mode 2 operation, know that scaling your business will require you to embrace Mode 1 skills to maintain reliability and consistent user experience as demand grows unpredictably. Ideally, find someone with a large enterprise background that has experience delivering reliability for new, web-scale applications.
- Don’t force new methods. DevOps, a technique for infrastructure management in support of rapid delivery of applications services that is generally considered to be well-suited for Mode 2 applications, may not retrofit to every situation. For example, one can write code to manage infrastructure systems that expand and contract with the proliferation of application containers. While well-suited for the container-based application model, many of the coding concepts associated can be too complex for scripting the deployment of a multi-tier Mode 1 application. The layers and complexities of the scripting don’t provide enough return on the time invested to justify the upfront efforts. Leveraging a purpose-built automation engine or simply deploying manually likely makes more sense today. Choose the technique that best serves the initiative, not the one that seems the newest and coolest.
Rather than getting hung up on how to reorganize IT departments, a better use of time is to determine how to blend the best of the old and the new. IT organizations today are frequently in a state of transition, given the pace of new technological developments. By merging tried-and-true tools and practices that deliver stability with the latest innovations for web-scale business models, companies can move quickly in their respective markets without sacrificing business longevity.
About the Author/Steve McDonald
Steve McDonald is Vice President of Product at StrataCloud, developer of a platform for software-defining enterprise data centers. Over the past 15-plus years, McDonald has led cross-functional teams in the delivery of innovative business initiatives, most recently at Softchoice, where he a managed a team of business development and pre-sales professionals in the United States and Canada focused on the profitable growth of the entire Cisco portfolio as well the networking category overall.