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10 things you need to know about bi-modal IT

Mary K. Pratt | July 16, 2015
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?

4. Bi-modal IT isn't exactly new

Greg Davidson, a consultant with AlixPartners, says IT departments have always had some aspects of a bimodal approach. "There has always been the IT staff that works on the keep-it-running side of the business. When you're looking at things like desktop support, data center monitoring, application maintenance those kinds of things have been around for a long time," he says.

Like other CIOs, Meilen says it's the work itself that often falls into one of two camps, with one focused on new technology-enabled business initiatives and the second focused on keeping everything up and running smoothly. IT workers, too, seem to fall into these two buckets, Meilen says, although like the work itself, there's usually some overlap.

5. Bi-modal IT can coexist with outsourcing

Given the commoditized nature of the operational work, many CIOs are turning to third-parties to handle a large chunk of the operational tasks, Sethi says typically the very standard parts, such as low-level programming. They keep high-value skills in-house, skills such as high-level architecture because internal workers have the skills and organizational knowledge needed to help define the CIO's overall infrastructure strategy.

CIOs can make this move to more outsourcing, he says, in large part because they've spent a lot of energy in moving IT toward "a more standardized and more predictable stack, all the way from the hardware to their application layer. And the moment it becomes more standardized and predictable and the level of customization is low, they lend themselves very well to a hosted or managed service environment, and then it becomes easier for a third party to run them."

6. Bi-modal IT doesn't have to mean two separate teams

Dale Denham, CIO of Geiger in Lewiston, Maine, has a 25-member IT department that supports 750 workers (300 staffers and 450 independent contractors). Denham recognizes the inherent value of a bi-modal IT philosophy. "It's absolutely true in a lot of places, and there's no doubt that both functions exist," says Denham, adding "I handle it differently than most places" by mixing operations and innovation within a single team.

While Denham acknowledges that a handful of help desk folks and networking staff are straight operations, he still feels they support innovation by, for example, spinning up a server when needed.

But overall, he 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 then support them when they move to operations."

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.


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