IT leaders inundated with bimodal IT meme

Two Speed IT: Bimodal Interest Trends

Bimodal is the next big trend in IT, a dual speed model for enabling an effective mixture of stable, well-managed core systems and applications that change infrequently, while simultaneously unleashing agility and innovation along the edge of the organization via rapidly developed new digital solutions using the latest emerging platforms, technologies and processes.

Or bimodal is an overly-simplistic and practically flawed black-and-white template that doesn’t align with how IT systems actually need to be developed and managed in an increasingly complex and nuanced world.

Either way, IT executives and the teams they lead will soon be required to weigh in on a concept that is now breaking out well beyond technology departments.

Not sure how big the bimodal debate has become? The U.S. Federal CIO Tony Scott is currently pitching bimodal as the next big initiative to deal with the government’s vast hybrid portfolio of legacy and next-gen applications. “You have to have some way of managing the old stack and the new stack”, Scott said this week at an industry event.

The origin of bimodal IT is credited to Gartner, which has been developing perhaps the most sophisticated and detailed research around the way organizations are varying the speed and formality of IT enablement. The analyst firm has doubled down recently on the concept with its latest CIO Agenda Report for 2016, which is literally packed beginning-to-end with data and analysis on bimodal IT trends.

Here’s what Gartner’s oft-quoted IT glossary glossary entry for bimodal IT actually says:

Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed.

At first glance, it certainly seems to make sense, and from my perspective bimodal is intellectually useful as a concept in creating a dividing line between legacy technology efforts that change much more slowly and must be managed more carefully on one side and high velocity new digital projects that must more faithfully match the rate of exponential change of market conditions today, while also effectively applying the latest technologies and techniques.

Where the concept breaks down, as I explored in my original critique of bimodal, is in actual execution. The real world of technology and the activities that make it bear fruit cannot be neatly compartmentalized into a dual structure. Not only do the actual needs and demands of individual IT initiatives vary widely, the team skills and processes on the ground are unique for nearly every project as well.

Furthermore, hard-won experience has shown that just two modes don’t play that well together, generally requiring at least one intermediate layer. Simon Wardley, an industry colleague who maintains perhaps the sharpest perspective on the shortfalls of taking a basic mental model of bi-modal and using it for realization, notes that pioneers and town planners, the essential roles in bimodal, are essentially incompatible. Other well-known industry figures, like Jason Bloomberg, hold a similar opinion of bimodal.

To make the issue more uncertain — and perhaps nudging the debate a bit into the realm of farce — Gartner’ competitor Forrester, has gone on record saying that bimodal is a false promise and really only one speed of IT is appropriate: Fast.




Multimodal IT: Speed and Agility is a Continuum

So what are IT leaders to do and how should they respond to a growing chorus of discussion on dual speed IT? While I’ve been searching for examples of bimodal IT departments, I have not so far been fortunate enough to find one. Sidenote: Please do contact me if you have a bimodal adoption story to share. What I have encountered are IT leaders looking at what for lack of a standard phrase I’d call multispeed IT. One CIO I talked with recently even said they believe they actually have five speed IT, depending on the requirements.

A useful thought experiment then is to look at the diagram above of some of the typical practices of the different speeds of IT. This is far from exhaustive, but even this view shows the sheer combination of practices that are likely to be applied to a given IT development or implementation project within the same organization, depending on the skills, experience, and needs of those involved.

At this point, as it’s likely that bimodal IT will enter into IT department scorecards and bandied about as a best practice. To prepare, IT leaders should maintain a detailed accounting of their evaluation of the approach and how they adapted it to their organization, as a more granular set of multimodal practices or other similar set of constructs. As always with IT, education and communication are often one and same. Effective IT leaders will communicate how the requirements of the business dictate the specific portfolio of processes, from Kanban, agile, lean, and devops on one end of the spectrum to SDLC and six sigma on the other.

In short, as companies increasingly face the harsh realities of the needed scale and speed of digital transformation, establishing a IT playbook that allows the most flexibility and adaptation to market conditions and IT capabilities is the most practical solution. As my ZDNet colleague notes, today’s CIO must ‘push change at the right pace.’ Define the models for the pace of change on your own terms, using your own model, for your organizations range of needs, with best lessons learned from the industry is my current advice.

Additional Reading

Does it make sense to split IT into two entities?

The digital transformation conversation shifts to how

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Enterprise Web 2.0)

Exploring Microsoft’s vision for enterprise collaboration



When it comes to using technology to improve workforce collaboration, the discussion today almost always includes the company most associated with business productivity solutions, Microsoft. Outlook, SharePoint, Skype for Business, and Office 365 are some of the most widely used collaborative applications today.

The company’s vast and ubiquitous worldwide presence with its operating system and productivity tools on desktops, laptops, and now popular mobile devices including iOS and especially Android, has given it primacy of place in the collaboration conversation, despite arguably being one-upped by numerous nimbler competitors from a features and capabilities standpoint in recent years.

Consequently, as innovation in collaboration tools continues at an astounding pace, as I observed in last year’s summary of recent events in the industry, Microsoft has sometimes been perceived as slow to add the latest concepts and ideas to its solutions. Yet that now seems to be changing, as I learned when I sat down recently with the company to learn about its current vision for enterprise collaboration.

In a discussion earlier this week, I received an overview of what Microsoft is currently thinking about in digital collaboration during the course of a wide-ranging discussion with Bryan Goode, Senior Director, Office 365, and Christophe Fiessinger, Product Manager, Office 365.

Bryan, who is a relative newcomer to Microsoft, has been offering up an intriguing new vision for the future of digital teamwork over the last year, including concepts like dynamic teams, the enablement of “swarm intelligence”, and building a common intelligent fabric for collaboration across the company’s various productivity tools, particularly with what I consider to be the company’s flagship new capabilities, Office 365 Groups and Office 365 Graph. The former allows teams to be assembled and managed on the fly while the latter is an SDK that opens up the platform to create powerful new applications like Microsoft’s search and discovery tool, Delve.

Vision: Dynamic, Team-Centered Collaboration Spaces

Bryan has previously noted that these capabilities are now at the core of a more evolved, integrated, and connected model for collaboration, which puts people and teams in the center of a new, holistic digital team-based canvas, accessing the array of productivity tools the company offers — together with their documents, conversations, and data — to bring to bear the right tool for the job on-demand:

“This belief in a common intelligent fabric is why we’ve introduced Office 365 Groups and Office Graph, two technologies that span Office 365 and beyond, helping teams self-organize, work together and build upon the expertise of others–ringing to life the inherent power of your network and powering personalized discovery experiences.”




In my conversation with Bryan, he noted that today’s workplace has evolved and “workers now expect to collaborate early and often.” What’s more, “all work now is teamwork” and requires solutions that specifically take this into account.

Bryan also explored the four major elements of Microsoft’s vision for digital teamwork, which is about producing results in terms of productivity, though the realization of four planks: a) Capabilities that directly enable collaboration, b) intelligence, namely analytics that produces insight to support collaboration, c) mobility, and d) trust. While the first three elements are common in most collaborative visions these days, trust is a little unusual to see here. Bryan says it entails everything from cybersecurity to knowing that the tools will work as advertised and be available, both key points as Microsoft’s vision here is almost entirely cloud-based. Delivering on trust will be essential to addressing long-standing concerns in the CIO’s office about control, service levels, and governance of cloud-based applications like Office 365.

While digital productivity itself used to center around a specific desktop application and the documents it could manage, the company’s collaboration focus has shifted away from individual solutions to broadly enabling groups of people in digital spaces around a central goal or objective using a diverse yet connected toolset. These groups can come together quickly, picking and choosing among an array of Microsoft applications within a common collaborative construct — Office 365 Groups in this case — that keeps their documents, files, and content — including both structured documents and unstructured conversations — in a single managed space.


Microsoft's Collaboration Strategy Centered Around Office 365 Groups


In a previous era, a common collaborative area consisted of a file share, an e-mail thread, or a team site. No more. With Office 365 Groups, Microsoft has shifted its vision for collaboration into a hub and spoke model, with the hub being the team, and the spokes connected to applications and business documents/data along with vital supporting functions like storage, search, and discovery.

These days, Bryan said to me, the reality is that “collaboration isn’t one tool. It’s no longer about giving people a single tool and telling them that it’s collaboration.” While enabling choice is likely to be received well, it underscores a key issue: The ongoing tension between general purpose collaborative suites and specific apps highly tuned to address a particular collaborative scenario, the reconciling of which has long been an issue in the industry and has led to the so-called “collaboration paradox.”

Microsoft’s hub and spoke model for collaboration enables a more connected experience that might address the challenge of fragmentation by separating the structure and operation of the team from the toolset, potentially addressing the concerns that bulky suites or single function app proliferation bring to the table, while avoiding an all-or-nothing kitchen sink approach. Instead, teams can use whatever tools they prefer in their space.

Will Microsoft enable apps like Slack did?

I pressed this point, asking if Microsoft will open up Office 365 Groups to other applications. Fiessinger jumped in at this point, saying “we do believe in openness and extensibility. For example we have APIs to create groups and connect to groups that already exist. Apps can interact with the Office 365 graph capability” and provide additional features. After our conversation, I made an examination of the Graph SDK and it’s clear that new 3rd party applications can in fact be built that fully interact with Office 365 Groups. This almost certainly means that Microsoft will not be the only company building integrations between teams working in Groups and other collaborative or productivity applications.

In addition, I asked about mobile support for Microsoft’s collaboration solutions, which I’ve noted before haven’t always been that capable, especially given the company’s position in the market. Bryan indicated this is very much in the process of changing and that going forward the company will be “mobile-first, cloud-first, and will support iOS or Android in a very first class way.”

Observing to Bryan that a lot of companies are not yet fully migrated over to Microsoft’s latest cloud services, I asked him what the best way to catch up is, so they can access this new collaborative vision. He confirmed what Microsoft watchers like Mary Joe Foley have recently observed, that put simply, customers will have to do what’s needed to “get to the cloud”, as that’s the center of gravity for the company’s innovation and development, as well as the primary future for Microsoft’s products and services.

What about Yammer?

Finally, I asked about the future of Yammer, Microsoft’s main enterprise social network offering yet a solution that has sometimes seemed inclined to languish. Bryan had a different view and was quite bullish on the platform, which is Microsoft’s most native social capability:

“We have a great roadmap for Yammer. We’ve made a lot of progress a lot of the years. Yammer is now by default for every Office 365 user. We are investing in mobile clients, trust, security, and compliance. We have recently added EU user privacy clauses and HIPPA compliance. 85% of the Fortune 500 now uses Yammer. Certainly it’s something that we’re fully committed to, including maintaining a large and dedicated development team.”

All in all, it’s clear that Microsoft has a more comprehensive, mature, and connected vision for collaboration than we’ve seen before, and one that stands to resonate with many businesses, by providing more solution choices, resolving some of the fragmentation across its offerings, and giving teams a more holistic and integrated canvas upon which to work together. Open questions include whether the Graph SDK is anything close to sufficient to compete with vibrant application integration ecosystems like the one Slack has created, or where how the company intends to respond to the key emerging trends like intelligent chatbots or cognitive supported collaboration.

As I indicated in my latest round-up of top enterprise intranet and collaboration tools, where I put SharePoint first and Yammer in the top 10, Microsoft still remains the 800 pound gorilla in the industry when it comes to collaboration. With this more advanced and contemporary vision for collaboration, it’s likely to stay that way for now, though there still remains plenty of room for competition.

Additional Reading

Microsoft Vice President Teper: What’s next for OneDrive and SharePoint

Enterprises confront the reality of ‘multilayered’ collaboration

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Enterprise Web 2.0)

An upbeat PowerPlex


I spent a few days at Plex’s user conference in Detroit this week. For me, the backdrop was the invigorated city as I describe here. That amplified the many upbeat conversations and presentations I witnessed at the event.

Jason Blessing, CEO invoked the WEF meeting in Davos earlier this year where the theme was ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. While the world’s movers and shakers may just be coming to grips with that concept, Blessing nicely pointed out against a backdrop of smartwatches and digital calipers “These are all things Plex customers are doing TODAY”. On the show floor, there were smart glasses from Google and others and smart helmets from Daqri.

I heard the term Mittelstandt mentioned a couple of times during the event. That is the legendary backbone of German small manufacturers and the PowerPlex audience of 1,200 at Cobo Hall, home of the annual North American International Auto Show, reflected the American equivalent of our manufacturing Renaissance.

Plex organized conversations with two customers, Quatro Composites and Polamer Precision who play in the aerospace sector. (Quatro also services medical and other markets). They both talked about explosive capacity growth in their businesses. The sky appears to be no limit for the industry as commercial aviation spreads globally, and as next-gen autonomous and space vehicles take off with a broad range of new applications.

Plex organized a visit to a plant of MFC Netform, a metalformer of components used for powertrains in automotive and agriculture. The squeaky clean plant emphasizes 5S manufacturing, and blends “operator led” autonomy with several Fanuc robots which do many of the dirty and dangerous tasks and proudly has a giant “Made in Detroit” sign above the floor. General Manager, Tim Cripsey, humorously described innovation and value creation as a tier supplier in the cutthroat automotive sector.

In those conversations and during the plant visit you could see Plex used widely across shop floor and logistics functions. It is so different from countless other ERP implementations which stay at the headquarters and barely register with the manufacturing staff.

Beyond aerospace and automotive, in a humorous twist Blessing invited a food and beverage customer, Green Flash Brewery on stage and had Genze, a Mahindra (from India) company drive up in their electric scooter and deliver some Green Flash beer. Genze is aiming for the last mile commute market with an all-aluminum frame and portable battery.

Plex is benefitting from the vibrancy and diversity of these customers. It is also expanding its market share in the manufacturing sector. The image below summarizes the impressive metrics Blessing and his team are delivering.

Plex is also growing up as a company. It has transitioned from a mostly customer funded model to a Plex funded one and is more modern cloud vendor than systems integrator. Some of the early customers miss the development support they used to get, but none complains about the growing functionality they are getting as part of their annual subscription. The opportunities for Plex’s services partners to step up into extension roles are pretty clear.

Overall, an enjoyable and educational couple of days. Plex is evolving nicely, and the city of Detroit is enjoying yet another Renaissance.



(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)