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Bimodal IT: A two-pronged approach to delivering innovation and maintenance

Mary K. Pratt | Sept. 22, 2015
One group is tasked with keep-the-lights-on functions, the other on business-advancing tasks. Is this new setup the answer to IT’s dual responsibilities?

"When you get to the guts of operations, that kind of support, that's very challenging work and there are a lot of people who get excited about that," says Quarterman.

"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," he says. "And I don't mean just delivering innovation; it's also delivering operations on a daily basis. For us, it's all about agility and flexibility for speed to market."

Not a one-size-fits-all solution

Rob Meilen, vice president and CIO at Hunter Douglas North America, is starting to review how resources are budgeted and allocated for both IT innovation and operations at his company but doesn't anticipate creating a truly bimodal IT department. He oversees an IT team of 120, supplemented by another 30 to 40 workers in outsourced or contract positions.

"We are moving toward a harder-line distinction in how we budget for costs and allocate costs to business unit customers," he says. "We believe we can get a pretty clear picture on how these two spheres are operating without drawing an artificial line on an org chart."

Greg Davidson, a consultant at AlixPartners, says innovation work folded into operations positions adds spice to those jobs and inspires workers to keep current, which in turn helps employee morale.

Just as important, when staffers work on a mix of operational and innovative tasks, projects tend to be more successful, Davidson says. "The infrastructure people who do the keep-it-running work can plan better, they're aware of the resource requirement," says Davidson. "They may know and often do know about performance issues -- something that the other team might not be aware of -- and those are the hidden land mines."

Others see staffing challenges in a bimodal IT department. Dale Denham, CIO at Geiger, has a 25-member IT department that supports 750 workers. He worries that a bimodal IT department could easily develop a "throw it over the wall mentality" -- that is, once the innovation team is done, it tosses the completed project to operations without adequate transition and concern moving forward.

Dale Denham
Dale Denham

Denham says nearly everyone on his team is responsible for both operations and innovation. A handful of help desk folks and networking staff are straight operations, he says, although they do help support strategic initiatives by, for example, spinning up a server when needed.

But overall, Denham explains, "when we launch new projects and new tools, the same people who support old tools are creating the plans and executing the plans for the new tools. And they support the new tools when they move to operations."

 

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