Innovation is the cornerstone for sustained business success, and given how much innovation relies on technology these days, IT has to play a vital role in making it happen. Even so, Brocade's 2015 Global CIO Study found that more than half of CIO respondents spent around 1,000 hours a year reacting to unexpected problems such as data loss, network downtime and application access. With that much time spent fighting fires, how is the average CIO supposed to find the time to innovate?

If you've been busy with the typical day-to-day IT matters, you might have missed a concept that hasn't received the attention it deserves, considering it has the power to transform the way we manage IT. I’m talking about Bimodal IT, a term first coined by Gartner in 2014. Not only can Bimodal IT help businesses resolve time-consuming challenges, it can help IT departments fulfill their role as innovation and business transformation leaders.

Let's start with a quick recap of what Bimodal IT looks like. According to Gartner, Bimodal IT separates the IT function into two groups:

Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasizing reliability and performance.  This team of professionals focuses primarily on the mission-critical applications that run the business. Their main objective is to ensure the business has what it needs to function properly, but managing costs is typically a strong secondary objective.

These individuals are responsible for much of the firefighting that consumes the CIO's time. However, as I'll explain in a moment, Bimodal IT has the power to make this group even more effective, freeing up the CIO and other IT leaders to lead transformational change.

Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed.This team is focused on delivering new applications, especially customer-facing apps. Innovation, velocity, and agility are more critical to this group than cutting costs. “The innovators” are also more comfortable taking risks and often use the motto if you're going to fail, fail fast, and then retool.

Notice that these two modes are groups of people, not technologies. Inspiring and accelerating innovation doesn't start with investing in the right technologies. It starts with hiring and investing in the right people, and then maximizing their ability to contribute based on their unique skills. Here are four ways we believe instituting a Bimodal IT approach can help.

1. Better hires. Unless you're narrowing your focus to a specific job function, e.g., a SQL DBA, it can be difficult to write a thorough job description for an IT professional. While your IT personnel may still wear many hats, targeting new hires for a specific mode will help you home in on candidates with the right characteristics and qualifications.

2. Higher retention. It's not uncommon to hear an IT professional say, "This job isn't what I thought it would be." Employees who are more comfortable taking risks are not going to be happy in a job that doesn't allow them time to explore new technologies. Conversely, those who like to manage and maintain systems aren't going to be content in a role that requires them to also be visionaries. No one likes to be the square peg stuffed in the round hole. When people are doing what they signed on for, job satisfaction rises and they stay longer.

3. Empowering innovation.  Technology is advancing faster than ever. To keep up, the IT department needs to stay one step ahead of the trends and the competition. IT managers can put employees who thrive in a fast-paced work environment into a Mode 2 role to maximize their contribution to the business.

4. Faster alignment-to-objectives. With any initiative, a certain amount of time is spent getting everyone's buy-in on the objectives. When IT has applied a bimodal methodology, Mode 1 managers don't need to spend time convincing innovators of the importance of focusing on details like costs. And, Mode 2 managers don't need to spend time explaining the importance of taking a few risks to employees who are more comfortable with certainty.

When implementing Bimodal IT, you may have to fight the perception that one group is "better" than the other. Some may see Mode 1 (the reliable group) as more important to the business and Mode 2 (the innovators) as a waste of valuable resources. Both are vital to the current and future success of the business.

Just as likely, Mode 2 may be seen as a cut above the rest since only the brightest people can be innovators. In reality, Mode 1 requires inspired, talented people with unique skills and a certain aptitude for creative problem-solving.

The most successful organizations we've worked with have been instinctively following a Bimodal IT strategy, even if they didn't recognize it as such. For others, Bimodal IT represents an opportunity for a real step forward. Either way, we see Bimodal IT as an IT best practice that will transform the way the IT functions contribute to the success of the organization.

Cosentry is the leading Midwest IT Solutions Provider, offering solutions that allow clients to focus on their core business. Cosentry has over a decade of experience providing data center services including Colocation, Cloud, Managed Hosting, and Managed Services.