Agile Operation IT, we need to work in bimodal mode

Digital Transformation requires bimodal IT operations: while in the first mode IT is in its comfort zone, because it is used to working on stability and efficiency, the second one requires an effort to change.  We need to switch from traditional IT to Agile Operations to combine the stability they have always featured with agility, which is essential to compete in the application economy.

By looking to a relatively recent past, those with a few years of experience will easily remember rather stable corporate environments that were definitely less complex than current ones. Environments inside which IT operations were mainly focused on maintaining stability and where the most complex criticalities emerged when faced with internationalization pathways and merger/acquisition processes. Not that similar issues can be minimized nowadays, though one can undeniably see how global competitiveness scenarios have changed in very few years, to the point of speaking of Business Technology, App Economy and Digital Transformation as development trends that show how corporate environments and IT’s role/power have changed (and are changing).

With the appearance of the Application Economy, all companies have started producing software and competitive pressure mainly revolves around how quickly innovation can be offered on the market [if we take the App Economy concepts to an extreme, if not all of them ‘produce’ software in the actual sense of the word, let’s say that now the ones that intend to ‘survive’ have started Digital Transformation pathways through which they offer innovative products and services – Ed.].

In the main, companies are trying to ‘innervate’ with ‘software intelligence’ processes and their offer ability, by adding digital components to products and services. This is visible, for instance, in mobile and multi-channel strategies, as well as in Big Data Analytics, which nowadays are increasingly essential to reach out to and ‘engage’ customers, as well as in Internet of Things (IoT) or 3D Manufacturing projects, whose potential often radically changes even well-established business models.

IT at two speeds

In all this, IT needs to change its modus operandi: operations must be more agile to be able to quickly respond to business, at the same time without giving up the stability and reliability which marked them up until now. This is the very simplified concept of bimodal IT introduced in 2014 by Gartner, according to whom corporate IT departments will be increasingly ‘forced’ to move at two different speeds/modes: the first one is the traditional ‘marathon runner’ speed and emphasizes scalability, efficiency, safety and precision, while the second one sees IT as a ‘sprinter’ and emphasizes the ability to innovate through agile and fast routes. They are both essential to develop and provide services using information and technology intensively.

While the first mode expresses what IT has always been about (working on stability and efficiency is the minimum requirement of most team operations), the second one highlights the need for an ‘overhaul’, especially the need to introduce new tactics and processes in terms of investment management, governance and project management, collaboration… In both cases, success supposes the adoption of smarter and more flexible instruments to support IT operations that are definitely more complex compared to the past.

Agile operations: a business issue, not an IT one

Bimodal IT is imposed by the business that requires new competitive abilities, which can only be achieved with technology and, ever more increasingly, with software. Physical interactions – especially at an operational level – have by now been replaced by ‘digital connections’ that permeate the company environment both internally and externally, first of all in relationships with customers, but also with all the other stakeholders (one just needs to think of ‘corporate network’ models that after years of theories are finally materialising thanks to the availability of technology).

This way, the delivery chain of applications and digital services becomes increasingly complex, yet this criticality cannot be perceived by users (whether they are employees, customers or partners) and not just because they are now used to having data, information, services and applications available always and everywhere, on any device and in any place regardless of space/time limits, but because the ability to do business increasingly depends on said availability.

In other words, applications are no longer an ‘issue’ for IT, but for the entire company: software has become the primary point of contact between the company and its ecosystem. Therefore, a user experience is becoming a decisive business indicator on which user engagement increasingly depends in its broadest meaning of interaction, involvement and collaboration.

However, IT is well aware that a user experience is ‘built’ not just by focusing efforts on front-end (where there is a demand for constant innovation and therefore agile operations), but also back-end efforts, where requirements in terms of stability, reliability, performance, quality and safety are key to ensure the front-end is able to meet and exceed users’ expectations.

And since innovative digital services must now be released at a constantly higher speed, IT operations ‘must run’ and be agile also at back-end level. Here the challenges to overcome:

1) identifying the issues of a complex IT infrastructure: decade-old systems and legacy mainframes coexisting with virtual servers, cloud resources (on-site and off-site) and as-a-service offers lead to creating mazes inside companies which IT operations must navigate in their attempt to monitor performance. Therefore reviewing Application Performance Management (APM) projects in an end-to-end logic becomes a priority to efficiently track transactions from client-side systems (front-end) to back-end logging systems to be able to identify any possible cause affecting customer experience;

2) consolidation of monitoring in silos and creation of a single source of safe information: the variety of current IT environments has also led to as much complexity on the monitoring front (in many cases each component or IT resource has a specific instrument, or requires one, to monitor performance). When there is a problem, there are multiple sources of information, the effects of which on intervention and resolution times are not compatible with the speed of the new digital business. To ensure IT operations teams can therefore act quickly (in real time or even pre-emptively), monitoring processes must be reviewed and consolidated by integrating data sources so that performance can then be managed from a single point;

3) interruption of the technical debt cycle: the race towards digitalisation might push towards ‘non-optimal’ IT projects, thereby causing some ‘infrastructural fragility’, i.e. technical debt. Just think of technological solutions purchased directly by LOBs with subsequent complex integration work to ‘secure’ them or the continuous delivery of services that, if not controlled, forces IT to forgo stability and governance in favour of innovation and speed. Interrupting the technical debt cycle does not mean going back to traditional IT, but developing governance of processes and IT operations that can assure the right balance of agility and control.