Why Gartner’s Mode 1 / Mode 2 is Dangerous Thinking

It’s safe to say that no keynote speech in the past year has generated more conversation and controversy as Donna Scott’s keynote address before a record-breaking crowd of 7,500+ at the OpenStack Summit in Austin.

To be sure, Donna has cred. She’s a Vice President and Distinguished Analyst at Gartner. She’s covered private cloud and OpenStack almost from the beginning. She has a following. People listen to her. Donna and other Gartner analysts (including Alan Waite of Gartner for Technical Professionals) have a balanced, pros-and-cons take on OpenStack.

Donna’s talk was met with raised eyebrows and objections. If you’re interested in reading up on those objections, there are some great threads on Twitter, and Gartner analyst Alan Waite even wrote a blog post in response. OpenStack Foundation exec Lauren Sell also addressed the kerfuffle in a post-Summit wrap up blog.

But I want to focus on Bimodal IT. It’s Gartner’s map of how it advises enterprise IT leadership to think about transformation from legacy infrastructure and app dev models (sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy) to agile, cloud-first models (exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed). Operationally, it can be thought of as the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery: mode one is focused on stability and mode two on agility. If you know nothing about agile, and your entire world revolves around supporting legacy apps on legacy infrastructure, the concept of Bimodal IT can be useful.

Unfortunately, that’s the only place it’s useful. Here’s why.

Bimodal IT essentially segregates the “good” technology, processes and skill sets (mode 1) from the “experimental” (mode 2). If competitors are out-innovating you with new products and value delivered from agile methodologies, then mode 2 is where you must go. Embrace mode 2 when you have no other alternative.

However, if you’re talking about “bet the company” applications, then mode 1 is where serious IT leaders go to do serious work. Gartner will disagree emphatically with this assessment, but any rational observer must conclude that, regardless of the intent, bimodal IT reads as the difference between serious IT (mode 1) and play time (mode 2).

The result? Bimodal IT alienates people in enterprise IT who see cloud and agile as nothing short of the next generational IT wave. Mainframes,  client/server, e-commerce…. Bimodal IT bills itself as a roadmap for technology adoption, but in reality, the concept picks winners and losers, causing confusion on priorities and strategies.

Yes, some legacy environments will take time to go away, like low-latency trading systems. However, this doesn’t mean that all aspects of mode 1 remain as they are – for example, cycle times can get shorter, approach can move to agile (remember, you don’t need “cloud” to go agile) etc.

But innovation and speed shouldn’t just happen in an isolated environment, in order for enterprises to succeed in today’s competitive environment, they MUST move towards agile deployment of services, they must foster innovation across the organization, they should move IT decisions closer to the business and developers – leaving a decaying group within the enterprise will only slow it down.

Think about what their definition of modes 1 and 2 are, the first focuses on safety and accuracy, the second on agility and speed. Last time I checked with a customer, all the new services they are rolling out that require agility and speed also require to be safe and accurate.

We work with many global 1000 organizations to enable them to adopt Open Infrastructure solutions. In fact, we recently postulated that today we are in an Open Infrastructure 2.0 world, where organizations are leveraging new processes, skills and technologies to enable agility and efficiency in the enterprise.

When it comes to adoption of these new and fast changing pieces, we recommend that the organization incubate the concept, drawing from multiple disciplines within the existing organization, leveraging outside experts to accelerate the knowledge gathering, building quick and iterative pilots to demonstrate the success of these concepts/technologies, defining metrics (KPI’s) that show executives hard, tangible improvements, and then roll out the iterated, proven concepts to the rest of the organization. This will take months, it will not happen overnight.

This approach helps enterprises move towards “mode 2” and also takes “mode 1” along, without leaving it behind, in Gartner parlance. Our opinion—and indeed, that of anyone who has successfully guided an enterprise to agile—is that dividing IT into one bucket labeled “stuff that works” and another labeled “stuff that might be better one day” is dangerous.

I’m not alone in my opinion about the dangers of Bimodal IT. Bernard Golden, Jason Bloomberg, and Mark Campbell each have instructive views on the topic, all of which precede Donna’s keynote in Austin.

While mine is an opinion forged in the furnace of building agile infrastructures and teaching organizations how to use it, you might have a different take. Would love to hear your take on Bimodal IT.


Author: Francesco Paola, CEO, Solinea