The concept of bimodal IT has been around for a while. Gartner first introduced it a few years ago now, and it’s inspired lively discussion and plenty of metaphors since its debut. But even though it’s now a familiar idea, many organizations still haven’t mastered it.
So, for those who don’t know, what is bimodal IT? It’s a way to meet the growing demand for technological speed and agility without sacrificing fundamental stability and security, by having two teams dealing with IT challenges. One team focuses on moving fast with new initiatives; the other focuses on maintaining stable systems. Here’s the full definition straight from Gartner:
Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed.
The whole purpose of bimodal IT is to help companies keep pace with innovation, without disrupting the large stores of important legacy data or compromising the stability of systems. As Lydia Leong of Gartner puts it, “Agile IT is focused on ‘doing IT fast,’ supporting prototyping and iterative development, rapid delivery, continuous and process-based governance, and value to the business.” APIs are a common approach to the speedy side of bimodal IT. But unfortunately, because of their reliance on developers, focusing on APIs as an approach to bimodal IT risks re-creating the same problems inherent in legacy IT, slowing down operations and creating a focus on infrastructure over business value.
That’s because, unfortunately, APIs aren’t always as agile as they seem. They require careful documentation and significant upfront development time, as well as ongoing testing and troubleshooting. Any time an API changes, the applications that use it must adjust as well, meaning that using APIs can slow projects down as much as accelerate them. APIs can also introduce unnecessary bulk, because calling a single simple operation can bring other elements along with it, potentially slowing down your processes. Other issues with APIs, such as rate limits and performance problems, can hinder your business goals. And finally, using APIs can also cost you valuable security and analytics insights or require still more time to build the systems that will generate these benefits for your business.
Here’s a little more detail about the five API limitations that could slow down your organization’s efforts to implement bimodal IT in 2016, and why you should reconsider APIs as your only approach to bimodal IT:
1 – The care and feeding of developers.
No matter how “easy” APIs may seem, they’re ultimately still designed for developers. That means you’ll need to hire or contract a team of developers to create and use APIs to connect various systems – not to mention a team of people to manage those developers, and maybe a QA team to test the applications the developers create. This will require explaining business goals to those developers, and correcting any hitches in the development process. Although APIs certainly accelerate application development, using them is still a significant undertaking that requires technical expertise, and distracts your internal tech experts from your core business needs. (Learn more about the drawbacks of coding everything yourself in our Build vs Buy Whitepaper.)
2 – The maintenance never ends.
Much like an ephemeral social media post, seemingly as soon as an API is published, it’s obsolete. Popular cloud services may update their APIs monthly if not weekly or even more often. And though most updates shouldn’t cause problems, any API update does have the potential to break all of your operations that tap into it, setting back your business operations. So it’s not enough to “set it and forget it” – your developers will need to constantly maintain and update your systems that use APIs.
3 – The opportunities are not limitless.
Most APIs impose some sort of rate limit, or cap on the number of calls that can be made. While this is necessary to protect the systems involved from being overloaded with calls, it also limits what you can do with the API, and can force your developers to get creative with tricky workarounds or batching up requests and data. Ultimately, you just don’t get as much out of many APIs as you could due to rate limits.
4 – It’s all pull, no push.
There are a growing number of business scenarios that require pushing an update from one system to another, such as allowing IoT connected devices to push updates when new information is available. However, most APIs are designed to simply ping other services for updates repeatedly. This creates a lot of activity and can result in exceeding the API rate limits mentioned in the previous point. As more and more devices become connected, businesses need a way to allow those devices to push updates asynchronously when information is available, circumventing the need for an API to ping the device repeatedly.
5 – You don’t have enough insight into what’s going on.
Most APIs don’t have complete analytics built in. So if you want to know how your organization is using APIs (or how your organization’s APIs are being used by others), you’ll need to free up even more developer time to create a way to report on what you’re up to with every API. All that effort means your team of super-agile bimodal ninjas are becoming… well, not so agile anymore.
Bonus tip: API security.
API security is complex. And easy to screw up. Just ask Target, which recently exposed thousands of users’ email addresses and holiday wish lists through an improperly (read: not at all) secured API. So if you are trusting your applications’ and users’ security to other entities’ APIs, think again. You may want to invest in a platform that gives you more control.
These are some significant, but not insurmountable, problems with focusing on APIs as your approach to bimodal IT. If you’re seeking a solution, consider an integrated API orchestration platform like Jitterbit Harmony Live. The platform can help solve some of the API issues listed, and keep your business moving securely toward complete connectivity and agile yet stable bimodal IT. With Harmony Live, we’ve already done a lot of the heavy lifting for you and created an easy-to-use interface so that non-developers can actually create and manage APIs and keep operations moving fast.
Recent McKinsey research shows that agile businesses are more likely to succeed, so being able to adopt a truly bimodal approach to IT – and not just repeat previous mistakes – is more important than ever, especially as customers demand to access more information than ever at a greater speed. “Bimodal IT is necessary but not sufficient for what enterprise IT will look like going forward.” Bernard Golden writes in CIO. “I don’t just want to have a mobile application that lets me interact with a loan officer, I want to use it to submit my documents, track my loan progress, and even sign off on the loan,” he adds.
The need for comprehensive access to all kinds of data at top speed is exactly why modern businesses need integration and API management tools that move fast and manage complexity, rather than introducing additional complexity and increasing your developer workload. If you’re interested in achieving these and other goals related to bimodal IT in 2016, learn more about how Jitterbit helps with API management: