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CIO's Guide to Understanding Bimodal IT

CIO's Guide to Understanding Bimodal IT

Bimodal IT is a term coined recently by various IT analysts and media that describes a new paradigm for CIOs and for IT as a whole. This proposed mixture of old and new development processes and techniques does have a certain logic behind it, but then so did the Betamax video cassette recorder, and we know how that ended up. This article will look into the meat behind the bimodal sizzle to ascertain whether bimodal IT has a future in corporate IT shops or if it's just another great idea that's never really going to take off.

The History of Agile Development as We Know It
Agile software development methodologies were introduced more than a decade ago, though the real emphasis on agile techniques really only began to gain traction in enterprise corporate IT departments in the last five years or so. Yes, there were some high-profile agile IT implementations before that, but agile development processes have only become something for most IT organizations to consider or pursue in the last few years.

Agile development was a reaction to the "structure-ization" of IT development teams, where more structure and processes were introduced to the development cycle over time in order to assure stable, documented, supportable application releases. The only drawback to all that structure and process-oriented development is that it takes a lot of time and resources. Yet there are still many software companies and IT organizations using traditional software development methods who release major versions of their software only once or twice a year. Then along came the Internet and (particularly) mobile apps, and they changed everything.

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To the Agile Go the Spoils
Many corporate IT departments are in the process of shifting—or have already made the leap—to agile application development processes in order to better support the speed of all things Internet. Spurred by such high-profile app developers as Uber, which releases new iterations of its titular app on an almost daily basis, many companies are looking for ways to speed up their software development cycle, particularly for mobile apps. In other words, if your company competes directly with a company that is continually releasing iterative software updates, your dev teams may struggle to compete in that market. And yet, it might still be a mistake to assume that ditching your established development processes that have served you well in the past will automatically make your applications best-of-breed compared to your competitors. There must be a way to offer a shortened development cycle to your users or customers, while still delivering well-tested, stable application releases.

Have Your Development Cake and Eat It Too
For CIOs leading their organizations through the development gauntlet, bimodal IT offers the best of both worlds by instituting two development tracks within IT: the traditional software development cycle, typically called Mode 1; and the agile development process that delivers faster, iterative software releases, typically called Mode 2. Obviously, if Mode 1 meets your development cycle needs, you can ignore the bimodal hype and keep using it. But if you need to compete in the agile development world and in the traditional development cycle world, bimodal IT may be just the ticket. With bimodal IT, you split development efforts into Mode 1 projects and Mode 2 projects and run both development methodologies simultaneously.

While there are definite advantages to both the Mode 1 and Mode 2 development models, the jury is still out on whether bimodal IT is a feasible solution. The answer may be that bimodal IT will work in some IT shops but not in others. Its success may depend on intangibles such as developer buy-in to bimodal processes, the ability of your IT organization to run two vastly different development methodologies simultaneously, and the need to have the right staff skillsets to allow each approach to flourish.

One Other Development Option
Another fairly recent option for software development is the movement to DevOps currently underway at many enterprise and midsize companies. The DevOps approach puts software developers on the same teams as IT operations personnel, the true experts on how an application behaves and performs once it's in production. The idea here is to prevent the old bad habit of developers coding their applications in a relatively isolated bubble, only to discover that once they throw the application over the fence to production, they then must start coding the next release or bug fixes based on IT operations as well as end-user and customer feedback. By moving developers onto the same team as operations, the feedback loop becomes much shorter and faster, so that bugs and other issues discovered in production can be addressed by developers in a timely fashion.

Bimodal IT is certainly an interesting and potentially revolutionary approach to software development, though only time will tell if or how well two concurrent development processes can run within one IT organization. If you've already considered and ruled out DevOps as an effective tool to help speed up your development processes, your next step may be to investigate the bimodal IT model. Continuing to follow traditional development processes (Mode 1) for apps that absolutely require specific security, performance or stability features is likely a wise path.

On the other hand, mobile apps or smaller, less mission-critical applications may show a real benefit from a Mode 2 approach. If you decide to try bimodal IT, start small with one or two Mode 2 projects as a proof of concept for the process, and then make your decision on fully implementing bimodal IT based on your results.

The success of your IT team hangs in the balance, so consider starting with a small Mode 2 development project and then expanding your bimodal efforts if that approach bears fruit.