Bimodal IT, coined by Gartner, is a term which the technology sector has become well accustomed to.

However, the emergence of more than two modes of IT for the most progressive and forward-looking businesses.

Most organisations today still struggle with the definition and adoption of operating models to leverage more agile programme and service delivery. This is just to keep up with the development and digital organisation in their business.

While the bimodal IT organisation continues to evolve, the emergence of platform businesses have a wider effect and even more profound shift in the organisations operational model.

I would argue that becoming a true platform business drives an even faster mode of delivering IT. This therefore requires a different approach to managing your business and protecting your reputation.

The benefit of adopting and being successful with your digital business platform leapfrogs you to becoming a digital leader and enables you to disrupt your industry.

First off, what is a platform business?

Platform businesses provide exactly that: a platform which enables people and/or machines to create and consume services, data, or infrastructure/applications typically delivered from a marketplace.

One example is services being commoditised and sold as goods in places such as Amazon’s marketplace. Another is the unstructured or ill-defined services offered by TaskRabbit, or the structured well-defined services such as those offered by Uber and AirBnb.

Data in the context of a business platform is more powerful and valuable, given the digitalisation of everything and the importance of driving ever more personalised experiences.

The obvious examples of data platforms are YouTube and Facebook’s original business model. However, Facebook has now broadened into a wider breadth of platform capabilities, with applications and services soon to be integrated into its messenger application.

Why is delivery of bi-modal IT different for a platform business?

Delivery of bi-modal IT requires recognition of new processes, cultural shifts in style and changes in working styles.

Bi-modal IT also likely includes different technologies and toolsets to enable the management of cloud, the internet of things (IoT), or new systems of engagement in a highly automated and efficient way.

In my experience, Mode 1 and Mode 2 (robust and fast IT) delivery styles still centre on accelerating the business while empowering and enabling individuals to work in a more productive fashion.

Platform-scale businesses effectively operate in a third mode, introducing the concept of tri-modal IT.

What are the tri-modal considerations placed on your operating model?

The impact this new delivery mode inevitably means you have to adjust or enhance your operating model with new thinking.

To give you an example, the throbbing heart of your platform will rely on APIs and exposing the value of your data to the outside world.

An important concept is the shaping of your operational construct to manage each business system and its new value via an API.

This means shaping your organisation into product teams that manage the lifecycle from ‘definition to success’ and ‘evolution to demise’ over time.

Also consider the importance of driving the community. The community and its moderation (by itself or supported through moderation employed by the organisation or likely both) will require passionate and highly active individuals operating with clear objectives and in different capture groups.

Growth of your community is the most important aspect early on, until word of mouth and exponential scale naturally occurs. You need critical mass to get to this point. Instagram’s employee number one was a community manager as a result of this.

The effort placed on developing and then co-creating new value for your consumers is just as important. Partnerships and mutually beneficial commercial models are essential. These require focused teams, new processes, and an appetite for risk for the business to be successful.

Consider the extent which rapid and unforeseen demands from the outside world place on your previously well-understood performance thresholds in your back-end services. This impacts the traditional IT department as well.

Operationally, the infrastructure and applications must be considered as well as have an appreciation of their role in the end-to-end business.

The use of multiple cloud services is inevitable over time. Therefore this will require consideration in your operating model and product team interactions.

How you provide service and support needs to be externally focused. The impetus is magnified beyond the importance it has in the digital ‘Mode 2’ organisation.

This sees a move to always being the public domain, as well as having a business that scales beyond your direct ability to control the user base.

What else should I be thinking about?

The security in most organisations is not ready for the digital world. Managing policy and risk while also controlling data (not infrastructure) in this open domain is a real challenge.

An exponentially increasing cyber threat will have to result in a new way of thinking for the platform-mode business.

Threats such as botnets and denial of service attacks, whilst not new, become far more impactful to a business. These don’t just attack a website but hit the heart of a platform through the APIs.

Forecasting, investment planning, business management and sales are also impacted as a result of this shift to true digitalisation and the development of your digital business platform.

Where do I start?

Platforms require a level of different thinking. Ultimately it’s the business that has to drive and own the value the platform creates for the organisation.

This new ‘Mode 3’ organisation will scale at unprecedented scale and pace, so you must consider the impact across all aspects of your operating model.

The place to start is by educating and identifying a sponsor in the business. This could be the CIO but could also be any C-Suite member.

The first step is often defining a working group from across the business and IT, along with experienced partners or experts to ideate the ‘art of the possible’. This is to work towards a defined objective or business outcome.

The reality will require focused effort and experience alongside ongoing executive sponsorship. A small start-up like team may be one solution, but this depends on how empowered your existing digital ‘Mode 2’ organisation is already.

It’s worth making the point that most organisations are at different stages and paths of their digitalisation and modernisation agenda.

Wherever you might be, you can be sure this model requires consideration. Co-creation will be an essential part in the learning exercise. Mistakes will be made, so developing a culture of rapid adaptability is essential to success.

I believe in the concept of tri-modal IT. Platforms are at the extreme end of a difficult shift to ‘Mode 2’of digital operations that many are struggling with already.

Hyperscale ‘Mode 3’ operations, and the focus of platforms in a completely different customer base than the status quo, is why I believe tri-modal requires recognition as the new people-centric delivery model.

Now is the time to think differently about your future business and its relevance in tomorrow’s world. The year 2020 will soon be upon us, and mainstream adoption of digital platform business models will be here before you know it.

Don’t be left behind. Consider how you build and disrupt your industry now before someone else does.

In my next article, I will explore in more detail considerations for building a platform driven business.

Brad Mallard

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An innovative and influential leader with over 20 years in a wide variety of technology roles working with and for some of the largest organisations in the UK, Brad is currently CTO End User Services, Digital Workplace, Cloud & Hybrid IT, Fujitsu EMEIA.

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