Can two-speed IT bridge traditional and digital approaches?

Can two-speed IT bridge traditional and digital approaches?

Two-speed IT --  having two different methods for managing an organization’s IT needs  --  can be a useful way for governments to address today’s evolving digital landscape with their current technology systems.

In two-speed, or bimodal, IT, organizations have two separate IT units -- one standard IT model, often focused on cost optimization, and a second one for today’s mobile, digital technology, which requires faster installation and build out and greater flexibility than traditional IT structures. Developing a two-speed approach can require building “a standalone entity within IT that is devoted solely to digital initiatives,” according to BCG Perspectives.

“The ability to offer new products on a timely basis has become an important competitive factor,” according to a report from management consultant McKinsey & Company.  However, “that kind of speed can only be achieved with an inherently error-prone software-development approach of testing, failing, learning, adapting, and iterating rapidly.”

That kind of experimentation is not appropriate for traditional IT where “the demand for perfection is far higher in key back-end legacy systems,” the authors continued.

Besides keeping the organization up to speed with technology advances, this dual approach helps ensure the IT department’s involvement in all an organization’s technology initiatives. Today there is often a disconnect between an IT department’s methodology and practices and the business needs of the organization -- such as working with third-party platforms such as social media, BCG Perspectives authors said.

That disconnect makes it easier for the business side to fund, launch and manage digital efforts without consulting the internal IT organization. “Interactions are more fluid, and projects get completed more quickly (or get completed, period), when [the business side] opts for third parties over the company’s IT function,” BCG Perspectives said. “The downside of the business acting on its own can be sizable, however, and includes fragmented solutions, one-off efforts that are difficult to integrate throughout the company, unnecessary duplication of efforts and inconsistent branding.”

According to McKinsey analysts, agencies seeking to adopt a two-speed approach should:

  • Develop a high-level blueprint of the enterprise’s technology architecture, clearly defining major components and dividing them into “fast” (digital front-end) and “slow” (legacy back-end) parts.
  • Define practical rules for day-to-day development of all digital solutions.
  • Avoid major architecture changes or system replacements -- unless legacy systems pose critical risks or costs.

A two-speed IT organization may not provide enough flexibility, some experts say.

“IT leaders should set up their teams to operate at many speeds at once, not just two, and thrive in any environment, not just the environment for which the IT organizational structure was designed,” Raf Gelders from CEB, a best-practices solution firm, wrote in a blog. “An adaptive IT organization can rapidly reallocate resources as business needs change, it can operate at many speeds at once, and it enables IT staff to thrive in any environment.”

Analysts at Accenture concur. “Two-speed IT is what happens when CIOs cannot manage multiple speeds,” Nicholas Bayley and John Shacklady wrote in a report. “While most CIOs can resist the temptation of bolting new technology onto already complex systems, the smartest ones will go a step further and tackle legacy system complexity.” A simplified architecture can support digital technologies and still deliver total cost of ownership benefits, they said. “In turn, this allows the organization to invest in new technologies and is critical to delivering digital transformation.”

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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