10 things you need to know about bi-modal IT

Far from being the buzzword du jour, bi-modal IT is a real thing now. In this organizational setup, one group is tasked with the keep-the-lights-on functions and the other on more innovative, forward-looking projects. That sounds all well and good on paper, but what does it mean in the real world?

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7. Bi-modal doesn’t have to mean bifurcated

Even infrastructure and operations workers do tend to have some interaction with innovation projects. A data center worker, for example, might install a large server array for a new analytics program. Davidson sees that setup continuing – he doesn’t see his company many moving to a fully bifurcated IT department.

Davidson also says that piece of innovation work added to operations positions can add “spice to their jobs,” and that that balance really helps morale.

Just as important, Davidson says, is that that intersection helps everyone stay up to date; Davidson says having staff working on a mix of operational and innovative work in the end helps projects be more successful, too, “because the infrastructure people who do the keep-it-running work can plan better, they’re aware of the resource requirement, they may know and often do know about performance issues – for example, there may be need to increase network bandwidth, something that the other team might not be aware of – and those are the hidden landmines.”

8. Two teams = twice the management headaches?

Quarterman says he’s moving carefully down the path to a fully bifurcated IT team. “There’s a cultural implication, which we don’t fully comprehend yet,” he says, noting that “if we don’t get that right it would be extremely damaging.”

Making the move without thoughtful communication and attention could alienate some workers, particularly those on the operations side. Quarterman points out, like others do, that operational work remains essential – after all, if the engines aren’t humming along, the business cannot operate at all, let alone focus on the next big thing.

“We don’t want to alienate a whole group of people so that they feel their contribution is diminished because they’re operations,” he says. “Leadership can’t build a wall. It has to be viewed as two equal parts for the same purpose: the same purpose is the delivery of the product and the service. And I don’t mean just delivering innovation; it’s also delivering operations on a daily basis.”

[Related: How CIOs can create the IT workforce of the future]

“One of the cool things about [his] model [where everyone does some operations and some innovation] is the teamwork is incredible,” Denham says. Of course, disagreements come up, “but everybody is pulling for the same goal.” It comes down to knowing your people. “The people who are more operational are better suited to that and that’s where they want to go, they prefer that. So they’re already self-motivated because it’s what they enjoy,” he says.

Quarterman agrees. “That’s why we’re proceeding with caution. It’s a very tricky thing to get right. There are some people who are suited to operations and that’s what they want to do, and identifying who they are and then who has the skills and aptitude for innovation is tricky. I’m not sure everyone is going to sort out in it, so we’re proceeding with caution and we’re being very clear to why we’re doing it.” But he also points out that professionals on both sides will find challenges and advancement opportunities. For example, Quarterman says those on the operations side will have the chance to dive deep into the guts of operations, and “that’s very challenging and there are a lot of people who get excited about that.”

9. Bi-modal IT can give you a competitive edge

Hunter Douglas’ Meilen thinks it’s possible that companies with a decentralized IT department could have an advantage. “If you formally bifurcated and took the teams on the innovation side out of IT and put them into business units, you’re going to drive a much closer connection between the technology folks. It’s probably easier to rapidly innovate and that can lead to some competitive edge,” noting that the approach might mean that you also give up control around architecture and infrastructure.

Quarterman adds: “For us, it’s all about agility and flexibility for speed to market.”

10. Bi-modal IT has career implications, both good and bad

Within a two-speed IT organization, some professionals are finding themselves on one path or the other. Sethi says that once on a specific path, IT workers stay on it as they develop specialization in certain areas, progressing along their own division’s path but not necessarily moving over and up on the other.

Sethi says each path has its merits and its steps to senior levels. Operational professionals can move into senior technical roles, CTOs jobs and into positions with hardware and software vendors. Those on the innovation side become CIOs. “In the past it was people from the ranks, developers, who used to grow up and become CIOs. What I see now is the business analyst, those are the folks who grow up to be CIOs. We already see that trend,” he says.

Luftman adds that job opportunities are going to be there, and more so in the next 10 to 20 years, but they’ll be in new places – with more operational folks coming from third-party providers and innovation folks belonging to business units. “The infrastructure is essential. You can’t run a business without the infrastructure, like you can’t run without telephones and electricity,” Luftman says. “But the strategic value comes from those in IT who can work with the business partners.”

But even as more IT departments segregate their operational and innovation teams, IT professionals will still have great job prospects, Luftman says.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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