Last year, I attended Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland, where I participated in a panel to discuss this topic, concerning the impact consumer focused digital technology has on the industry of IT. The panel was part of Web Summit’s EnterpriseX session, which focused on leaders in more traditional enterprises, rather than start-ups. Earlier in October, I attended Gartner Symposium, where this topic was addressed through many Gartner analyst presentations. At Symposium, Gartner presented their annual CIO Insights, developed from an extensive survey of almost 2500 CIOs (Chief Information Officers) across the globe.

According to Gartner’s research, CIOs will need to focus on building Bimodal capability, or running a two-speed IT organization. This theme was raised repeatedly at my EnterpriseX panel. Consumer Digital Technology is highly fluid, and is in a constant state of change. For example, one of my fellow panelists was Chris Satchell, the Consumer Technology Officer for Nike. Chris is responsible for all Nike’s consumer technology, including things like Nike’s apps and Nike+. Chris’s team had almost 4000 releases in 2013. This is a much different way of working than most traditional IT organizations. Hence Gartner’s bimodal capability concept, or the advent of two-speed IT. The advent of consumer digital technology requires a very agile approach. After all, if there’s a problem with Nike’s app, the fix has to come fast – waiting months for a future release is simply not an option. On the other hand, Enterprise Resource Planning is going to be with us for a long time. We do have to run back office functions, and that’s not going to be handled by an app any time soon.

So how can we address the need to work in two different speeds? Gartner’s research suggests that CIOs have begun to do so by exploring some Agile methodologies to meet these challenges. My panelists at EnterpriseX had some interesting perspectives on Agile. In some cases, even Agile isn’t agile enough! And in other situations, applying Agile methodologies to a more traditional project has simply added an additional layer of management and oversight that hasn’t really helped. One of my co-panelists described this as “using Scrum as a weapon”. Other ideas included focusing on accuracy rather than precision. Traditionally, IT organizations have focused on the “perfect” solution at the expense of timeliness (and often never getting there). In the new digital world, perhaps we should focus on “good enough” where we can. As an aside, I find this concept of accuracy vs. precision to be highly applicable in the data world also. In traditional data warehousing, having exact data was highly prized and there was a real focus on data preparation, which naturally meant that it took time to provide that data to the enterprise. With big data, the focus is more on “good enough” – we’re really looking at large amounts of data for trend purposes, so accuracy, rather than precision, works.

Ultimately, though, the discussion at my panel turned to how we might use things like cloud solutions to more efficiently manage the traditional functions, freeing up resources to invest in the digital technologies, which are fundamentally different. The concept of skunkworks-type teams was floated, teams that can deliver solutions without the weight of governance and change management that is truly necessary for enterprise solutions. Gartner’s research suggests that business leaders want more growth and innovation, but IT budgets are not growing; so approaches like this seem like a realistic approach.

During his presentation at Web Summit, Lew Cirne, the CEO of NewRelic suggests using software to impact the top line of the business, and not just the bottom line as we traditionally have. “Use software on offense” was Lew’s advice. In considering all these thoughts, it seems to me that we are moving to a two-speed IT, the “bottom line” software speed and the “top line” software speed. Not only are they two different speeds, but they’re different approaches, and may require the introduction of new teams in the traditional IT organization.

So what does that mean for CIOs like myself? Most of us are where we are because we’ve been successful in at the bottom-line speed, with a focus on precision. Now we need to focus on the top-line speed focused on accuracy. In my opinion, most CIOs embrace this challenge. Reading Gartner’s research confirms that for me. CIOs recognize the need to renovate the IT core in order to make room for the new disruptive business models. According to Gartner, CIOs have big concerns around the availability of the talent required to execute these innovations, and I would agree that this is the major issue. As Gartner notes, there’s no substantial new funding, so we won’t be adding staff, and even if we were, these talents are in high demand and are expensive.

I don’t have any real answers to these hard questions, I wish I did! But I do know that if CIOs don’t find ways to optimize this bimodal approach, IT will become less and less relevant in our organizations.