Samurais and ninjas: the two worlds of today’s IT

lan619 samurais and ninjas the two worlds of today s it

Are you a samurai CIO or a ninja CIO? Gartner says you need to be both. What does it mean by that?

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For the past three years or so Gartner has been promoting a concept it calls “Bimodal IT”. It’s Gartner’s view of how IT departments need to change to handle the forces of digital disruption that demand nimbleness: the ability to respond quickly to new challenges. In other words, the ninja.

At the same time IT must maintain legacy applications that are fundamental to the day-to-day operations of business: ERP systems, accounting systems, CRM systems etc. Changes to these cannot be made without careful consideration, testing and validation because the business depends on them. A rigid and disciplined approach is required. Hence the samurai.

In a presentation to journalists at a recent Tech Leaders forum, Gartner research director, Michael Warrilow, elaborated on the characteristics of these two approaches.

The goal of the samurai, he said, was reliability; that of the ninja, agility. Where the samurai values price for performance, the ninja is more concerned about revenue, brand and customer experience.

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The samurai approach to IT governance is plan-driven and approvals-based; that of the ninja, empirical and continuous. Whereas the samurai CIO sources by setting up long-term deals with enterprise scale suppliers, the ninja will seek short-term deals, often with small, new vendors offering innovative solutions.

The samurai CIO is IT-centric, at arms-length from the customer. The ninja is business-centric and close to the customer. Cycle times for the samurai run to months, for the ninja, days or weeks.

Gartner is not alone in its view. Other major consultancies McKinsey and Co and the Boston Consulting Group have been talking about two speed IT for several years. It seems to make sense, but not everybody is a convert.

A Forbes article headed Bimodal IT: Gartner's Recipe For Disaster suggested that Gartner’s approach discouraged IT management from attempting the challenging, but difficult, shift away from the slow, mode one IT.  “Transforming traditional IT is difficult, Gartner would seem to imply, so don’t bother,” the author said. “Gartner may be telling CIOs what they want to hear, but not what they need to hear.”

The article continued: “What many organisations are finding is that for digital transformation to be successful, it must be end-to-end – with customers at one end and systems of record at the other.”

The samurai versus ninja metaphor could be applied to some of the comments in the Forbes article, but the comparison does nothing for the samurai.

Samurais might be highly skilled, highly disciplined, but they are old world, an interesting historical curiosity. Few people today aspire to be samurais, and the same might be true for their IT counterparts.  “One of the greatest challenges to the bimodal IT approach is the impact it would have on recruiting and morale,” one doubter argues.  “This goes to the heart of the bimodal IT issue, as recruitment of the smartest and most dynamic brains into mode one could well be a challenge going forward.”

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