For almost a decade the notion of two speed IT has been an article of faith. Whether it be management consultants like McKinsey and Company or research outfits like Gartner, the prevailing philosophy held that businesses needed two distinct approaches to technology. The first cared about issues such as stability and security and maintaining stable infrastructure. The second focused on newer digital technologies and was all about innovation and agility.

Now Boston Consulting Group – an early advocate of two speed IT says its time to ditch this idea and instead shift to an all agile approach to technology.

In a paper called “The End of Two Speed IT” the authors Hanno Ketterer, Benjamin Rehberg, Christian N. Schmid, and Djon Kleine argue that while two-speed IT made sense at the time now it should be viewed as a compromise that companies can no longer afford to make.

“The future of IT is one speed: all-agile. That’s not just because agile has proved itself at countless startups and major technology companies—and for all types of software development, digital and non-digital alike. It’s not just because agile’s footprint is expanding to industries like banking and insurance. And it’s not just because today’s companies can draw on fleshed-out playbooks when implementing agile. More than anything, it’s because two-speed IT creates—or will create—significant challenges for companies that continue to employ it.”

They say that two-speed IT was a great intermediate stage, but it is not a long-term solution.

“And its term is up.”

BCG identified three problems they say emerge from the two speed approach;

  • It’s harder to attract and retain talent: Two-speed IT, we are seeing, leads to talent drain. It also makes it harder to hire talent. Today’s digital generation looks for—and expects—a workplace that emphasizes the flexibility, cooperation, and adaptability that are hallmarks of agile.
  • It leads to “hurry up and wait:  In today’s IT environment, fast-moving agile initiatives increasingly rely on core and legacy systems. Consider, for example, a digital front end that links to a back-end platform. In such a case, two-speed IT means slamming on the brakes. Fast-moving projects will often run up against—and be delayed by—slow traditional test-and-release cycles.  This “slowest common denominator” issue is becoming increasingly problematic as digital applications become more central to business and must interact closely with core systems.
  • It keeps the larger organization from realizing the benefits of agile: Within many two-speed companies, there is a well-entrenched notion that, changed world or not, the more methodical waterfall approach is still better suited for legacy and very large projects. But it’s not. Large projects are particularly susceptible to delays and rising costs, and tend to have very low success rates. Part of the problem is that testing comes only at the end of the process, so errors are found late in the game, when fixes become time-consuming, difficult, and expensive. Agile, with its iterative cycles and continuous testing, finds and corrects errors as development progresses

The authors however also offer a cautionary note on an all-agile approach saying that while single speed can “spread the wealth” of agile throughout the IT organization—and beat back the challenges that two speeds create—the model won’t work without the support and commitment of senior leaders. “They can mobilize the troops and help steer—and, when necessary, push—the initiatives and changes that will ease the move to all-agile. ”

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