In a recent article in this column, I proposed that we disrupt the notion of Bimodal IT. Now I will explore how we might put this into practice.

The following is a set of actions to take. They are in a prioritised order, but you may need to reorder, based on your circumstances.

Clarify your deliverables

Unless you are also the CEO, you will need to periodically report on progress. Metrics such as uptime, spend and breach avoidance typically drive the 'discussion'. I suggest the key metric is the 'lean to run' ratio. This is the IT function spend allocated to creating and supporting lean start-up businesses divided by the spend associated with running the existing business.

The aim of course is to pursue as high a quotient as possible. With near-infinity being a stretch goal.

By way of recap. As detailed in the previous article, the organisation needs to create at least one parallel business to the current operation. If you are playing 'offensive', then the aim is to take out your competitors, with your own primary business being collateral damage. But here you are trading short term pain for long term gain.

Most companies will play defensive, and so will look to maintain the existing business model until the Grim Reaper or upstart unicorn turns up to reception. Having parallel business models up and running will enable the crew to simply move across to one or more of the new businesses (escape pods).

Should your metrics review inculcate a state of bewilderment in your boss, then there are two possible reasons:

  • Your boss is oblivious to the market realities. They are probably sticking to last year's strategy like a limpet, believing that is their primary role, and yours. You have a choice in this situation. Leave the room immediately, and leave organisation permanently. Or embark on an evangelical campaign to wake up your board to the post-industrial world. This is probably not your strong suit/passion, so I would recommend leaving.
  • Your boss is very aware of the market realities, but simply doesn't see you as a significant player in respect of navigating the organisation through the tempest. Evidence of this might come in the form of how your boss perceives you. For example, asking you what anti-virus software her son should put on his Android phone. Or how to get Amazon Prime on her newly purchased TV. So you have some fundamental issues to address in respect of your branding before poly-modal matters can be discussed. Move straight to the next recommendation.

Build trust

Not all CIOs consider trust to be of primary importance. I am not suggesting that they perceive trustworthiness as foolish, but that getting the job done is deemed more important that building and maintaining trust.

Spending too much time looking at a Gantt chart can do that to a person.

I am advocating that job number one is to build trust, and that means allocating time to building and maintaining relationships with all your professional stakeholders. But even that is not enough. You may well be trusted as an IT manager. But, if you are up for it, you need to establish trust in respect of you being a strategic influencer. This is a significant exercise, but once that trust is established you can return to the previous action.

Repurpose the team

Changing the lean to run ratio will require changing the structure of your team. One way to grow the ratio is to move the 'run the business' activities to a utility-based model delivered via third party specialists. So you will need more service brokers than developers and administrators.

Growing the 'lean the business' (no doubt there is a better way of expressing this) numerator will require business-oriented talent who can engage with the users to prototype or co-create new business models. Architectural skills with rudimentary prototyping capability will be required. Deep programming can be purchased, as needed.

You will also need analysts to continuously trawl the market looking for the next big thing, and how current big things are being used in an innovative manner.

Open the lab

Create an environment that will make users aware of what new technologies can do, while stimulating them into thinking how they can be applied to potential business models. Remember the aim here is not for the IT function to own these business models, but to empower and support the business in respect of their nurturing.

Some of these users will become your customers. In other words, they will pay you to take a concept to the next stage, or support the model once it has gone live. So no more charity handouts from the CFO, you are now running a business within a business that sells businesses (sort of).


Organisations are transitioning from a factory format to a portfolio of experiments.

Don't try to be Uber, or your leading competitor, because by the time you achieve that, they will be something else. This requires bold thinking. Some will call it radical innovation. Given that there is so much potential in respect of data-driven innovation, I think it makes sense for the CIO to be a driving force in business going forward.

I encourage you to 'lean in' to this opportunity.