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Business intelligence, meet bimodal IT. You two should get to know each other.

April 10, 2015
By Karsten Scherer

After several fascinating days spent last week at Gartner’s Business Intelligence and Analytics Summit in Las Vegas, I found myself with a mountain of notes and a voluminous grab-bag of takeaways. Given the promise inherent in mastering, aggregating and extracting real, forward-looking value from an ever-expanding pool of disparate data, much of the summit’s focus was on the edge of the blade. It’s worth noting, however, that next-gen BI analytics will remain a unicorn for IT organizations who don’t adopt a new approach to the ecosystem they exist in.

It isn’t news to anyone that agility in meeting customer and market demands is no longer always a real differentiator, but that it increasingly inches towards table stakes. Buyers of technology have never had more options for available services, as well as delivery and engagement models. Given that glut of choices, research firms like Gartner and Forrester have begun referring to customer experience, or CX, as “the new battlefield.”

With apologies to Oldsmobile, bimodal is not your father’s IT

Concretely, what does this mean for IT shops? Just as no one ever sets out to be a terrible dancer, CIOs have never wanted to react slowly or ungracefully to their organizations’ needs. The historical nature of most IT functions, however, has generally tended to be of a “keep the lights on” variety. Read: steady, methodical, error-free, consistent, predictable. In a word association game, “agility” isn’t likely to be paired with any of them.

To develop that agility, forward-thinking IT organizations have had to rethink their wiring. Gartner has termed this evolution “bimodal IT,” a relatively catchy phrase for what essentially means possessing several speeds of engagement toward any ”client,’” whether internal or external, in their ecosystem. Gartner’s official definition:

Bimodal IT refers to having two modes of IT, each designed to develop and deliver information- and technology-intensive services in its own way. Mode 1 is traditional, emphasizing scalability, efficiency, safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is nonsequential, emphasizing agility and speed.

In essence, it’s both a model and a philosophy for counteracting the inertia that IT is often criticized for by its partners in lines of business and marketing. IT thus becomes a partner to and enabler of the customer-facing parts of the organization instead of a potential inhibitor. These partnerships, if successful, push the entire organization forward.

Digitally, the devil remains in the details

As evidenced by the record number of attendees for a summit that has been around for decades, the shift toward bimodal BI has gained significant steam. Kurt Schlegel, one of three Gartner analysts giving what was a stellar keynote, noted that organizations of today want, but often still struggle to find, a way to bridge both modes. On one hand, security and governance leads them to desire centralized data. On the other, the brass ring of agility fuels the desire for decentralized, self-service analysis capabilities. Trying to do both would seem to lead towards something Kafkaesque. ”Centralized decentralization” doesn’t sound terribly effective.

What do firms like Gartner, then, advise today’s analytics leaders when they set out to build and operationalize a bimodal strategy? Adapt the wiring you have in place to handle the new reality:

  • Assemble the right team: There’s a reason speakers got so much mileage out of the word ”ecosystem” last week. Who has a stake in and can contribute to an organization’s ability to extract maximum value from IT? Procurement, finance, HR, sales, marketing, strategy, supply chain and other functions all hold a piece of the puzzle.
  • Ensure blended capabilities: What human APIs do you have on your team who can translate marketing demands to IT possibilities?
  • Rationalize the arsenal: While homogeneous standardization for BI is chimerical given its nature, standardizing tools in regards to capabilities and capabilities is not. A BI consumer usually won’t require more than an information portal, an analyst a robust workbench. The same goes for specific use cases.
  • Show the money … quickly: Given CX is the latest area of skirmish, Gartner advises IT to attack customer data to create more granular customer segments and personalize the customer experience. Gartner’s Doug Laney mentioned that, when respondents to a Big Data webinar survey were asked where they saw the biggest opportunity to monetize their efforts, “new products and services innovation” outranked all other options at 30 percent. His presentation “Innovating With Analytics: 40 Real World Examples in 40 Minutes” contained several fascinating examples of this.

A quote from Dan Sommer rounds this out the necessity for BI to move beyond glorified reporting and toward the predictive power we all want it to provide. “This is the end of power and the beginning of empowerment–BI needs to adapt to this new reality.”

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Karsten Scherer leads analyst relations globally for TEKsystems. He enjoys exploring the intersections between clients, the analyst community, technology and business analysis. You can reach him @TwoARGuys on Twitter.

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