Gartner analysts speak eloquently of bimodal IT, where IT organisations neatly segment their operations into two modes: mode one to keep the existing, or legacy, systems running smoothly; and mode two for the development of new and innovative systems that appeal to the modern, digitally-transformed user. But it might not be as simple as that, as Kathy Gibson found out when she caught up with VMware’s chief technology officer: EMEA Joe Baguley
The bimodal computing model has gained a lot of traction in organisations around the world. It’s a neat solution for a problem that has plagued CIOs since technology first became mainstream: how to keep the core systems running smoothly while finding the time and resources to build new and innovative solutions?
But is it really the solution to the problem? Joe Baguley, chief technology officer: EMEA at VMware thinks it might not be quite that simple.
“It’s not a bad model, actually,” he says. “The problem is that people take it too literally and oversimplify it. Even the folk at Gartner recognise that the bimodal concept has been oversold and is often not portrayed or understood properly.”
The main problem, Baguley says, is that you can’t compartmentalise IT that easily into “legacy” and “new” systems. “Things evolve, and technological activities evolve.”
What IT does is not about technology on its own, he adds, but the bimodal model is often applied to technology in isolation.
Solution development is about finding new ways of doing things – what Baguley describes as a series of activities – and these are constantly evolving. All applications will thus eventually become commoditised.
“Applications get cheaper as they move through the process,” Baguley says. “But if the application is tied to the hardware, then the compute, networking and storage need to become commoditised as well. They need to go from being tightly integrated to having the hardware separated from the app.”
Doing it this way, instead of separating new application development from “legacy” applications, gives IT organisations more choice as regards compute, storage and network providers and allows them to select commoditised solutions.
“Bimodal is an interesting talking point, but people are oversimplifying it. Yes, technology must be bimodal and move along the chain; but activities are not bimodal – they cannot be separate into new activities and old activities, but are a continually evolving thing.”
A blind adherence to the bimodal mantra, Baguley points out, is that it almost condemns the people running the “legacy” side of the technology to a boring life of maintaining “old” technology until it is no longer useful, at which point they will be at the end of their useful lives as well.
“For instance, there is no good reason why the people running the mainframe of today are not the same people running the x86 cloud. The technology may die, but their expertise is gold.
“We find that people hug the tin rather than the process. And it’s not a case of old or new: it’s the evolutionary process. You need to understand that there is a continuum – IT really needs to be x-modal.”
Baguley also takes exception to the concept of “legacy” systems. “It’s not legacy; it’s heritage,” he says.
“People try to put things in boxes, but there is no simple model for IT; it’s a continually evolving thing.”
At just 35 to 40 years old, IT is a very young industry, he adds.
“We are an incredibly young industry; and when we see there is a mew style we have to integrate and use we should be using it to augment the existing systems rather than rip and replace.”
The CIO’s role is to look at new technology as it becomes available, understand how it can be used, then build on to the organisation’s heritage.
“Understand that the new technology today will be replaced by something else tomorrow; that IT is very much a science and that art of being a scientist is the ability to change your mind in the face of new technology and new evidence.
“There will always be new things and new ways to do things.”
The reason for a lot of the conflict we see in IT, Baguley believes, is that there are so many people who are unwilling to accept new evidence.
“Just look at the Internet giants with their massive mega-clouds. How do we take what they have learnt and take it to the masses? Yes, we are pioneers; but also taking what they have done and turned it into products.”
Finding new ways of doing business is a very real challenge for organisations, Baguley points out, and it’s a global problem.
“So I don’t think South Africa, for instance, is behind or ahead of anywhere else. We are so global now it doesn’t happen like that. We are talking to the banks here about the same issues that face banks around the world.
“They all have the same challenges, and it’s an arms race to see who will solve them first.
“The challenge now is how to deploy solutions in infrastructure and people and processes that will help to increase agility. What companies need to do is to respond faster to business requests and the requests of end users.
“The danger that is other companies might change as fast as you or faster.
“We are seeing some innovative companies realise that it’s about improving their core business processes while enriching the end user experience.”
This means digitising the enterprise, and delivering any application to any device, Baguley says. “And this means focusing on delivering services as opposed to delivering technology.
“Companies have spent their lives thinking about data centres and technology, but they realise now that it’s about delivering a service.
“And if you make services easy to use, people will engage with them. What is the user’s need? If you can meet the need, the business will come off the back of that.
“There is a realisation that there is a better way of doing things.”
The new way of developing systems, Baguley says, needs to start with a focus on the user need. “You work out how to meet that, then work out how to evolve the apps to meet that need, and so on.
“Look at the business and the user holistically rather than focusing on the data centre and how to make it better.
“Most people think that technology is all about the stuff in the data centre; but actually, it’s about the apps,” Baguley adds.
“Unfortunately, we seem to have developed an IT industry that is about the building whereas it should be about being connected to the services.”