I can’t help it.
Gartner has discovered the need for “Bimodal IT.”
What I can’t help: Pointing out that once again, Gartner has discovered something KJR’s subscribers (back then it was InfoWorld’s “IS Survival Guide”) read about a long time ago … in this case, 1996, when I wrote:
You can’t ignore the Web, and so, probably for the first time, you have to start thinking about serving your company’s RPCs (real paying customers). That will change everything.
Remember when you did feasibility studies, requirements analyses, external designs and internal designs before you got around to coding systems a few years later? Forget it. You’re going to start working in marketing time.
What’s marketing time? That’s how long your company takes to get new products, services, and pricing programs into the public awareness to beat your competition. Years? Forget it. You’re going to be working in months. Sometimes weeks. That means a whole different way of designing and building systems.
Well, better very, very late than never at all, and give Gartner credit for publicizing the concept.
So bimodal IT it is, and publishing precedence be damned.
What you care about is making bimodal IT happen. On that subject there’s a point neither Gartner nor I have explored: The challenge of culture.
Culture is loosely defined as “how we do things around here.” It’s a collection of informal, unwritten rules, enforced with iron discipline through the application of peer pressure.
IT started by automating a lot of the drudgery associated with core accounting. It had a batch-oriented culture which was fine: Accounting is a batch-oriented discipline. It had no tolerance for defects, which also was fine: Accounting balances the books to the penny.
Speed? Speed wasn’t all that important compared to making sure systems provided reports everyone could trust. And by the way, with punch-card-driven batch systems that provided accounting reports, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for ambiguity when the question was whether a system did what it was supposed to do.
For the most part, the mental habits IT acquired in learning to support accounting are still valid … when it comes to supporting accounting and other “systems of record.” Even if the underlying systems rely on overnight batch processing, they’re supporting a discipline that considers the end of the month and end of the year to have mystical properties.
Okay, that was mean. A more charitable view is that unlike most other departments, Accounting cares enough about the accuracy of its numbers to verify them on a regular basis.
And this emphasis on accuracy reinforces the traditional slow-and-steady culture that pervades so many IT organizations.
Enter bimodal IT. Systems of record don’t go away, and continue to rely on this slow and steady way of viewing the world. But now, coexisting with slow and steady is a need for an entirely different IT culture — one obsessed with speed; one that recognizes when systems have reached the exalted state of good enough and whose members are happy to put good-enough into production.
It’s a culture where late is just as serious a defect as a calculation error, and where poor aesthetics (the marketing buzzword is “ugly”) gets as much attention as overall functionality.
Want to make bimodal IT happen? We can talk methodologies and architectures until we’re blue in the face (speaking of aesthetics) and when we’re done we can’t escape the need for two radically different IT cultures coexisting in the same organization.
The question is whether this is feasible or fantasy.
It’s a good question. For guidance, look at differing cultures in the business as a whole. The view isn’t promising: Accountants talk about the bureaucrats in HR, who sneer at the bean-counters in Accounting in return. Marketing complains about the propeller-heads in IT, who make snide comments about the marketing crazies in return.
And so on. In the business at large, different cultures clash.
How about inside IT? Still not so promising. Among sysadmins members of the Unix and Windows subcultures tend to disrespect each other. Elsewhere, IT operations staff have been known to gripe about developer teams trying to push buggy code into production, while the developers in question gripe about the bureaucracy of the change control board (CCB).
Think that’s bad? Just imagine the resentment of slow-and-steady Accounting developers. While they still have to deal with the CCB, the DevOps teams supporting Marketing practice continuous integration and get to bypass the CCB altogether.
That’s your dilemma. You have to foster two very different IT cultures. And you know before you start that they’ll almost inevitability clash.
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What should you do about it? Great question. But it will have to wait until next week. With any luck I’ll come up with something between now and then.