Dual Operating Model – Why one operating model can’t rule them all

In the previous blog in our series, we saw how heritage services have often played a key role in an organisation’s success, but have a high cost of change. 

The thought of a digital transformation aiming for high-frequency releases can seem unsettling to those charged with the stewardship of heritage services. How can we bring these modern practices to our existing services? Surely this is going to be a recipe for disaster!

Here we explain why a dual-operating model is required to protect and improve heritage services while enabling innovation via digital services.

Why is it difficult to innovate with Heritage services?

The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed

In our last blog post we defined heritage services as those with a high cost of change and can only support low demand for change – it is not viable for heritage services to support high demand for change. Digital services however have a low cost of change and can support both high and low demand for change.

Heritage services have typically been a victim of their own success, growing beyond their original scope or usage. They are central to the organisation and hence any issues with heritage services can lead to significant reputational or financial problems. Many processes are in place to slow things down and attempt to prevent trouble.

Eventually, however, an organisation will need to move faster than heritage services allow and innovate, either in a particular area or across wider functionality. This duality juxtaposes the protection of heritage services against innovation through digital services.

When trying to innovate in an organisation with heritage services, we see the following issues if the right operating model for the right service type is not used.

Running heritage services in a digital operating model

Even if you have well-maintained heritage services running on a good platform, you will still not be able to build and run these services in the same way as a modern digital platform. 

  • The heritage services will not permit frequent enough releases. 
  • It will be unusual compared to the development and operation of digital services. The platform will have to change to accommodate and this accommodation will put the rest of the platform at risk.

With all the will in the world, it’s not practical to have heritage services released on demand. There simply isn’t the infrastructure or risk appetite to support it.

Running digital services in a heritage operating model

Similarly running a digital service on your heritage platforms will not give you the speed or the innovation you need. 

  • The release management and testing procedures on the heritage platform will not bend to accommodate a high-frequency release service. This will make it hard to innovate and iteratively release value to your users. 
  • Different tools will be needed and technology experiments made. This risk will not be tolerated in a heritage estate.

And so if we want to bring fast innovation underpinned by modern engineering excellence to an organisation with established heritage services, then we need to do this through a dual operating model.

Create a dual-operating model to cover Heritage AND Digital services separately

In order to balance the demands of digital and heritage services, we recommend that organisations adopt a dual-operating model. The high level is presented in the diagram below.

The dual-operating model shows different capabilities being provided by the different platforms. 

The digital platform:

  • Is focused on self-service paved roads
  • Is Opinionated
  • Expects frequent releases 
  • Enables build-it run-it models of operation.

The heritage platform:

  • Focuses on migration pathways.
  • Provides a variety of stable run times
  • Provides excellent operability with cloud ops squads providing 24/7 support.

Having dual operating models allows organisations to protect and improve their heritage services while allowing innovation with digital services.

There is a more detailed discussion of the dual operating model here, But we’ve captured the core differences in the table below.