The dot-com era taught us that change is necessary, but it is rarely absolute. Industries have been disrupted, but traditional brick-and-mortar businesses still survive and even thrive. The real-time digital enterprise of today and tomorrow is one that embraces the reality that two heads — each focused on its own goals — are better than one.
One is rational and careful, charged with maintaining legacy services and protecting comfortable revenue streams. The other is creative, risk-loving, and always ready to innovate, break new ground, stake new claims, and, yes, even fail from time to time.
Every successful business relies on data and information technology to establish credibility and seek a competitive edge. McKinsey agrees, reporting in December that a two-headed approach is essential for any business looking to compete in digital markets, provide multichannel service, leverage big data, and automate more processes. This approach provides a superior alternative to the IT fragmentation that characterized the first two decades of digital competition. This time around, instead of letting new agendas and pioneering developments stretch and tear the fabric of your IT organization, build the assumption of two distinct speeds of operation into your processes. Give each a voice, a clear set of priorities, and the freedom to operate independently.
Gartner predicts that within two years, three of every four IT departments will use a form of this two-headed model. But the tech research firm also anticipates that half of those organizations will struggle because they will not make sufficient investments in the new operating models, or commit fully to organizational change. Successfully shifting to the new approach means learning to balance aggressive, horizon-chasing agendas against safe, reliable mandates.
IT leaders might be uneasy with the idea of endorsing and embracing the two-headed model, because it’s more complex. The IT landscape is already fragmented by mergers, acquisitions, and the aftermath of technology trends. Yet, Gartner predicts that 70% of successful digital businesses will embrace this new model and experiment with new interfaces, channels, and lines of business that create future fortunes.
The legacy tier is more conservative and more comfortable and aligned with conventional IT priorities. Maintaining rock-solid systems with zero downtime is a familiar, safe mandate. But as real-time digital enterprises shift to a two-speed mindset, it quickly becomes clear that the majority of IT budgets is devoted to the care and feeding of the legacy tier. Data solutions that provide more efficient management of hot and cold data, with more point-of-sale applications and in-memory processing, can reduce costs in the reliable legacy tier. This frees resources both for high-speed innovation and the ongoing task of integrating new business initiatives into the rock-solid, mission-critical tier.
Although the pioneering spirit and moonshot initiatives belong in the innovative high-speed tier, the safe minds in the mission-critical tier must also think in terms of evolution, development, and growth. These systems are not just dumping grounds for databases, projects, and systems as they age. Entrenched business users and customers are constantly demanding new, enhanced, and faster access to data. This tier must be ready to meet the demand and add new functionality without losing focus on scale and reliability.
Embracing the two-headed approach to data management frees up real-time digital enterprises to maintain accurate, predictable services while also breaking new
ground. The organizations that successfully make the shift will be poised to succeed both as stable service providers and as innovators with a bright future.
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