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Bimodal: To be or not to be

Sanjay Srivastava SVP, Chief Digital Officer
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March 7, 2017 - I find business executives increasingly divided on the question of whether or not to pursue a bimodal IT or dual-speed approach to transformation for innovating at scale. From my experience with some of the largest corporations and institutions in the world that we serve, this is a foregone conclusion. Going bimodal isn't merely the right choice; it's the only sustainable, long-term option.

To be sure, bimodal, or a dual-speed approach, has risks. Goals end up differing, resources get split, and methodologies can become radically divergent. If not managed carefully, the risk — that the mothership gets left behind with the burden of the legacy business, without harvesting the benefits of the satellite that takes off for beckoning exotic lands — is very real.

But as Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, "Whether to concentrate or divide troops must be decided by circumstances." And the circumstances today couldn't be clearer for the modern CEO. The global digital economy is here to stay and radical transformation is the need of the hour. Unlike today's adolescent digital enterprises, the grown-ups in the industry must simultaneously run and change the business.

A new study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services has identified the single largest obstacle to accelerating digital transformation: the inability to experiment quickly. To confront this barrier, the organizational DNA of “first time right" must co-exist with the design principles of “fail fast"—high-velocity engineering and minimal viable product (MVP) builds. Highly secure and regulated enterprise IT standards must also enable rapid experimentation on evolving tech-stacks. And stable, lights-out operations must provide the space for agile and rapid experimentation projects.

This is a difficult mix to achieve in the best of circumstances, let alone in today's global digital economy that is radically transforming entire industries. So, aspirational thinking aside, the duality of bimodal becomes a must-have. And the discussion shifts from whether or not to adopt bimodal, to how to make it work.

Best practices have taught us by now that for bimodal to work, a “two tracks, one enterprise" mantra is key. And the human mind provides a perfect mirror for this dual-track approach. The two halves of the brain deliver the proverbial left-brain and right-brain bimodal thinking — and yet allow for synapse-fast switchover exchanges: the intersection of the heart and the mind, of efficiency and innovation, of logic and creativity.

In the end, the two halves are not difficult to achieve by themselves, but keeping them connected through the right medium is the real challenge. And this medium that provides the electrochemical signaling for that synaptic exchange is the key for the forward-thinking CEO to unlock organizationally. That medium is a unique combination of talent and culture, and getting that right is the key to successful bimodal transformation.

First, though, there is the need for conviction to a single-minded commitment to it.

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