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Author's profile photo Robert Straubinger

Mobile apps, the digitization and bimodal IT

Where is mobility today? It is not even on the hype cycle charts any more, pushed out by autonomous driving, machine learning and chat bots. Did it become mainstream or irrelevant? And by the way, how can we relate new trends, technologies and hypes to the existing old world? This seems always like a contradiction – keep the old or run something new.

I often ask myself ‘How can an IT strategy embrace both?’. Now I found the answer, I just didn’t see it. If I was looking at one or a few technologies or trends only, it was impossible to see it.

At a recent customer visit I struggled again to describe this, this was before I saw the light. I was with a long term SAP for Utilities customer who is running our meter to cash and sales and customer service solutions. The question was, ‘what can be done to improve customer engagement’? They were working on a new web site which would go-live in a few weeks. Would this investment be enough to lower costs and boost customer satisfaction? Can someone from SAP please review this strategy?

Here was my view, and this realization was not easy: The new web site will most likely not help much. It is not a strategy and not linked to one. Also, there is no mobile web or app. And looking at the end-to-end processes I see too many breaks. For example, during a move-in, the information for ‘real’ customer engagement (e-mail, mobile, web logon, preferences) is not properly captured and communicated. After the move-in, there is literally silence. No welcome e-mail, no text about the first bill, no confirmation of a manual payment, no offer for installment plans when I am past due. Just paperwork if something is wrong, which is outdated on arrival. In comparison, if I have coffee at my favorite place I would receive more information about that for days. Or just order something online and watch what happens.

How can this be explained better? And how about the web site project? This looked like a lot of additional work, beyond scope creep. Even if that was possible, how can it be funded? Days later we discussed the answer. It is the strategy and the cast is wider. Customer engagement, billing, finance, customer service, IVR, web site and mobile apps, all of that needs to fit into the business and IT strategy. IT strategies have changed or need to.

An IT strategy needs to put systems and projects into the right bucket, and there are only 2 (or 3) buckets. Analysts describe these types of systems as: systems of records, systems of differentiation and systems of innovation (Gartner 1) or systems of records and systems of engagement (Forrester).

What are the systems of records in this context? The meter-to-cash, energy data management, customer financial applications and such, containing all critical customer, account, billing and financial data. The goal of these systems is to run stable, for a long time, they are highly efficient, packaged, big, stable, standard and there is nothing special.

What is the web site and mobile app for customer self service? It is in the second bucket, it is a system of differentiation, it is unique, adapted, smaller, specialized and also short lived and ever changing. Maybe it is even a system of innovation, for example blending energy services and non-energy services and products. If it does not work out, then it disappears after a few months.

This means, IT has to run in 2 modes. Gartner (1) calls this the bimodal IT.

Mode 1 is for systems of records. Using more standard on systems of records, simplifying processes, removing enhancements, stopping new enhancements (!), will free up large amounts of operating costs, increase stability and lower risks.

Mode 2 is for systems of differentiation and innovation. Here is the bang for the buck. Developing custom special and ever changing apps is good, web, mobile, anything the business wants. These apps will connect to the systems of record. They are built in a different way, in an agile mode and with other tools.

Hear more about this in our mobile workshop during the International Utilities Conference 2,





1 Reference: Gartner webcast 9/2016,


2 IUC 2017, March 28 – 30, Lisbon,

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