Status Go: Ep. 237 – Becoming Ambidextrous…in Tech | Nabil Badr

Summary
In this compelling episode of “Status Go,” Jeff Ton welcomes expert guest, Nabil Badr, to delve deep into the critical role of ambidexterity in the tech sector. Badr vividly portrays the concept of bimodal IT and sheds light on how an organization’s stability and innovation can be balanced. They discuss how different roles within a tech organization require distinct thinking and skills, yet they are all interrelated and crucial for success. The dialogue is further enriched with case studies and Badr’s own experiences in digitalizing the Red Cross in the MENA region. Tune in to learn about enablement practices and key actions for promoting agility, breaking down silos, and fostering organizational learning within your IT team.

 

About Nabil Badr
NABIL GEORGES BADR is a Practitioner and a Scholar in information technology management.

Nabil holds a Doctorate of Business Administration from the Grenoble Graduate School of Business, a Master’s degree in Engineering from California State University. Nabil continues to collaborate with industry leaders as a Scopus indexed author in Digital Anthropology and Innovation Management. An engaged scholar.

Nabil has held key leadership positions in financial institutions and healthcare, currently holding the position of Chief Technology Officer at Medvantx focused on transforming organizational performance using technology.

In life, Nabil is a fine art enthusiast, artist and sculptor. He studied art with a fine arts professor from Ecole des Beaux Arts and has participated in several exhibitions in California receiving the Santa Clarita Artist’s Association Excellence in Art award in 2004 and other gold and silver medal awards in Bonze and Acrylic on Canvas in the following years since. Prolific in his work, Nabil has also given some art coaching lessons for starting artists and people with disabilities.

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Episode Highlights

[00:00:00]: Agile: Priorities and Communication

[00:00:16]: Bimodal IT = Ambidextrous IT

[00:03:03]: Nabil Badr’s Career Journey

[00:05:17]: Red Cross Digitization

[00:08:13]: Bimodal in the Digital Era

[00:12:06]: Bimodal. It’s Not Just for Service Companies

[00:16:11]: How to Create Ambidextrousness

[00:22:36]: The Four Quadrants

[00:25:03]: Enabling the Innovation Culture

[00:26:42]: Agile and agility

[00:30:00]: Bringing in the Customer

[00:32:17]: Actions to Start the Journey

[00:33:33]: Thank You and Close

 

Episode Transcript

Nabil Badr [00:00:00]:

Managing priorities and communication. That’s agility by definition. What’s important? Why is it important? When is it important? And then you can keep triaging.

Voice Over – Ben Miller [00:00:16]:

Technology is transforming how we think, how we lead, and how we win. From InterVision, this is Status Go, the show, helping IT leaders move beyond the status quo, master their craft, and propel their IT vision.

Jeff Ton [00:00:36]:

Welcome to Status Go, the podcast exploring tech and innovation transformation. I’m your host, Jeff Ton. Today, we’re diving into Bimodal IT, Navigating ambidexterity for innovation integration. Okay, now, many of you thought, “Gee, Jeff Gartner talked about bimodal years ago. Isn’t that the battle between legacy and cloud?” If you did, you may be surprised by today’s conversation. Bimodal is even more important in this age of digital. If you are being challenged to drive innovation in your organization, it is vitally important that you become ambidextrous.

Today’s guest is Nabil Badr. Nabil is the CTO for Medvantix, a medication management platform designed to help their partners achieve greater customer centricity while enabling a frictionless patient-provider experience. But he has also been studying IT organizations, specifically IT service organizations, for many years in this world of relentless digital change.

We’re joined by Nabil, the author of Enabling Bimodal IT. His paper unveils the secrets to embracing innovation and agility, and we’ll discuss how bimodal IT reframes IT’s value, shares insights from case studies in IT service companies, and uncover practical strategies for fostering ambidexterity.

Whether you are in an IT services company or not, get ready to learn how your IT organization can lead business model innovation, become change agents, and adapt to an ever-evolving digital landscape. We’ll also have some actionable insights and provide a glimpse of the future of IT and innovation. All of that on today’s episode of Status Go.

With that, Nabil, I would love to welcome you to Status Go, sir, welcome.

Nabil Badr [00:02:52]:

Thank you, Jeff. It’s good to be here. It’s good to be able to diffuse what I learned over the years—some of this.

Jeff Ton [00:03:03]:

I have been looking forward to this conversation since we were introduced, gosh, probably more than a month ago now. In our original conversation, because this concept of how does IT handle all the things thrown at it, depending on where they are in the organization and where their organization is, has been something that has been fascinating to me throughout my career.

Before we dive in, can you share a little bit about your background, your career journey?

Nabil Badr [00:03:40]:

Yeah. Thank you, Jeff. So I’ve been in IT and IT services since probably 35, 36 years. Right? And, I’ve seen a lot. And what you mentioned about Gartner, the picture comes to mind of a turtle and a rabbit. And for them, bimodal, it was a turtle and a rabbit. In that article, I think you’re talking about, and through my experience, I witnessed that speed is not the only concern. So, turtle…rabbit is the approach. Right? Of speed, and it’s not the only concern, for sure.

Ambidexterity has to be in many other angles, like you mentioned.

So, I learned through going from a service provider to a consumer at the side of enterprise IT back to a vendor supplier for the service provider that services consumed by enterprise IT to keep turning from financial services to IT services and to healthcare services. The problem is the same at the macro level. So here today, I’m happy to share what I feel and know from my studies what we could do well.

Jeff Ton [00:05:17]:

And in your paper, you talk about a couple of different case studies that underpin, sorry, not undermine, underpin your theories about this.

So one of the things that we talked about when we first were introduced, Nabil, is your experience in going back to your home country. You’re from Lebanon, and you served as a part of the Red Cross, but you had a technology bent to us. Could you share a little bit about what work you were doing and some of how that led you further into this work about IT organization?

Nabil Badr [00:06:00]:

Yeah. So the work that I did was before the Red Cross at time passed. Then, of course, there is a calling to say, how can I contribute more to this world? So I said, the Red Cross I saw, through an encounter with a friend of mine, I saw there is a need to digitalize the Red Cross in the MENA region in the Middle East, North Africa. So then I joined the Red Cross there as a part volunteer, part consultant, as the acting CTO for them and CTO/CIO. So first, I looked at all the operational work they’re doing, and nothing is documented in a digital fashion. Everything is on paper. Paper reporting was hard, and the ability to prove the merit of the mission was also camouflaged behind all the stack of papers. So I spent with the directors there.

I spent about a month or two trying to build a strategy. We came up with a ten-year strategy for digitalization. So, two five-year steps that would take it from all paper to completely digital, from the digital telephony to digital geographic information systems integrated with traceability and blood bank and psychosocial and first responder. So the key feature in the Red Cross in that area is that the first response responder. They’re the 911 of that country in Lebanon. So that put me in a place where I can make a big difference. So we can talk about that in detail if needed. But basically it was a good journey with very motivated humanitarians that I was able to make a mark in this world.

Jeff Ton [00:08:13]:

We love as technologists to tie our work to something bigger than ourselves. Right. I love that story that you were able to marry your passion for technology with your passion for giving back and part of humanitarian plus supporting your home country. I think that is fabulous.

Well, let’s dive into this concept of bimodal. It. Could you start by explaining the concept of bimodal and how it addresses the challenges that we’re all facing in this rapid change of the digital era?

Nabil Badr [00:09:01]:

Yeah. What I would like to start with is the context where my paper was based on, and then we can extrapolate from that. The context of the paper was IT services companies per se. The reason of that choice was that IT services companies use it for their own business model and also preach and maintain and install and implement and sell it for their customers. Yeah.

So, the resources are scarce in these companies in general, and they’re multitasked. Hence, sometimes bimodal, they’re going to look at the internal, how they drive the internal growth of the company and how they go and learn from what their audience or their customers want so they can align the business model to serve them.

So, my choice of that was those two companies that I compared, and I kind of developed the idea through that use case was one company had to get to offer cloud services, but they knew nothing about cloud. The other company wanted to transform from a probably analog telephony company to a digital click once you get DSL at your home kind of company. So the two are different perspectives.

One is I got to learn cloud to deploy cloud and support cloud, which supposed to be seven X 24 initiative. Then the second one was I got to go compete with who’s out there and gain market share. So I got to implement the whole infrastructure first. So I got to have this thinking of I’m implementing for my use, my management at the same time for the best case scenario for the customer. These are all conundrums that IT services companies go through.

Now, I do want to mention something, though. It is not a unique situation. Hospitals, banks go through the same thing because nowadays we consume IT and we sell an IT service. Everybody does that. Yeah.

Jeff Ton [00:11:32]:

Including a service, even if we don’t call it an IT service. Right.

Nabil Badr [00:11:37]:

Yes. Even in the surgical room, the operating room, they consume the IT services with all the digitalization and they apply, sometimes install a defibrillator or a pacemaker inside somebody’s chest. That’s another technology, too. Right? So I’m being a little out of context here, but there is always bimodality there.

Jeff Ton [00:12:06]:

Well, and I think that’s important because our listeners, we have many listeners that come from IT services companies. InterVision, who sponsors and publishes this podcast, is an IT services company. But we also have listeners that are in healthcare or in higher education or in some other industry that is not tech per se. Right. But as you say and say so well, they probably have a tech element to the product or service that they sell. I think this has gotten more and more urgent for IT departments. IT services companies to be able to handle this bimodal, this ambidextrousness that you talk about in your paper of how do you balance stability and keeping things up and operational with learning the new things and innovation and driving the customer needs. So when you think about it, we’ve been talking about IT alignment with the business for…gosh, probably 50 years.

Nabil, we’ve been talking about it: how does this bimodal IT concept reframe those traditional principles of alignment? What things do our listeners need to be thinking about?

Nabil Badr [00:13:45]:

Thank you, Jeff. Very, very well framed. Because exactly when you talk about the dynamics of IT organizations today and compare it to what IT organizations used to be in the past, definitely there is a 180-degree shift. IT organizations in the past were supposed to keep the lights on like you were saying, make sure things are happening and working. And doesn’t matter what anybody’s asking because the service has nothing to do with technology. At the old days. Yeah, so talk about mortgage, talk about bank account, everything was on paper. So really the old days was just fix the machine.

Today, you look at the IT organization to drive the business innovation layers in the company. So, from customer support, which is after the fact, to lead generation, before we get the customer on board, all of it has to do with how technology sells itself. That’s one side. The other side you got to turn around and say, oh my gosh, I got to go seven X 24 because I got to run that engine that keeps things going. Yeah.

Today, the bimodality of that organization, we call IT organizational dynamics. In the paper, I refer to it as capabilities of exploration and capabilities of exploitation. So, exploitation means I have something, I want to make it work for me. Meaning I do buy a certain cloud service from Azure let’s just say I want to make sure I exploit it right for my business, but then I might sell a certain software at some point that want to make sure I explore all the options that software and product development cycles and all that, that need to be in that software to make sure I am innovative enough to compete. Yeah. So one keeps the lights on still, right? We didn’t leave that behind. And the other one though, brings the gas to light the fire of the company.

Jeff Ton [00:16:11]:

No, I love how you talk about that, the exploration versus the exploitation. I think that’s a great way to keep this in mind as we’re talking about this.

In your paper, you mentioned the two companies that you explore in your case studies. What were some of the key takeaways that you saw in those organizations that helped them be successful? Either? You mentioned one was, “hey, we’re providing these IT services. We’re traditionally on-prem, and now we need to learn the cloud so that we can offer that service.” And the other one was phone systems.

How were they able to create this environment of ambidexterity within their organization?

Nabil Badr [00:17:09]:

Thank you. This is a good question because the contrast between them, I got to make sure I lay the foundation there, because there is a contrast, even though both are IT services companies. The first company you mentioned with the hosting and cloud had to learn how to be the consumer and the provider the same service. The second company had to learn digitalization and digital technology to provide a digital service. Different situation. So the digital service was totally different from a consumer perspective than what they expected to deploy in the back closet. Technologies are different, while in the first company, they had a clear expectation of how a user should be challenged or step up to learn. So the two are kind of complementary cases.

That’s why I chose them. And they have to do with how you make sure you are able to learn and apply a certain technology ambidextrously from outside looking in and from inside looking out. And also, how do you manage to learn one technology? Deploy it for the customer who’s consuming a different set of technology that needs that first technology to work. Yeah. This duality of thinking is what maybe technicians could be learning to be a little bit ambidextrous. But managers and above organizational leaders got to master the ambidexterity because they cannot lose sight of one side, which is the external side, from the internal side.

So, you get ambidextrous in technology suite, ambidextrous in customer. Who’s the customer? Is the business the customer, or is the business customer the customer, meaning the external audience.

And is the technology up to par to make sure that we don’t mix them up in their conditions? For example, let me clarify. I can always imagine a two by two in every company. You cannot just have one CTO, one CIO, one CDO, and whatever. And in the past, if we remember, in financial industry, they used to hide the CIO under IS umbrella under the CFO. And in some technology industries today, they hide the CIO under a CTO or vice versa. That is not a recommended practice. From my paper, I explain why we need to think in this two by two. So the four quadrants have a CIO role, CTO role, a CDO role. Right? Digital. And then the data science.

Each one has a different thinking, each role has a different way to think. The weight of ambidexterity is different from role to role. And that’s why now we have to develop these organizations in that way. I know it’s hard for some of us because we are in startups, small organizations, we have to play those different roles at different time. Yeah.

Jeff Ton [00:21:03]:

Sometimes there’s one person that does all four, right?

Nabil Badr [00:21:06]:

Yeah. So that emphasizes how ambidextrous we have to be. So, just to highlight a little bit more detail on this. So, I see the CIO keep the lights on, make sure that I use information, and I use all the informatics and the components of IT to run the business. The interesting thing is that you can take someone who it in the hospital or CIO Hospital and put them in the banking. They should be the same skills.

Then you take the technology side, what I call it, the operating technology. Those are two different fields. And every industry is a different field. The operating technology in hospitals has to do with patient side devices, they have to do with operating room devices, how to integrate those different uptimes, different resiliency, different quality. When you go to banking, you have the back end, the banking back end. ATMs, banking is so those are specialty now. So if you are one person doing the two jobs now, you got to be ambidextrous.

Jeff Ton [00:22:33]:

Yes.

Nabil Badr [00:22:36]:

Then you go to what I call them, the other two quadrants, or I call them the lower layer. Right. Is the data management. Now, data is needed for all the others. Right. What data is protected data? What data I can use? What data is not useful in this context. That context again, and with dexterity. Then you go to the digital, we use the digital systems in the company and we have some facing the customer.

What is that boundary? The person managing the digital world has to understand the boundary working with the operating technology and the information technology arms so that ambidexterity is no longer two, it is multifaceted.

Jeff Ton [00:23:26]:

Multifaceted, yeah. If you are in a larger organization where those are four different individuals, those four, they have to be attached at the hip. Right? Because they are all so interrelated.

Nabil Badr [00:23:46]:

Yeah. In larger companies, there’s all C level in general. They are peers who may be set up to compete by some management styles or collaborate, depending on the situation is. Or they might have different customers out there that they take care of. Right. So keeping in mind that capabilities of exploitation are important, so are capabilities of exploration and exploitation for example will be. I know the technology, I am up to speed on training, I am aware of what the customer wants, I’m aware of how to keep skilling myself and my organization to take care of that. But then the exploration is, I want to make sure I add value from an external extra.

For example, if I’m doing now, maybe identity management in a certain internal context, and I want to add some identity management features into my product to compete. I have to go out there, explore what’s out there and add the value into the company. So, these two capabilities are also ambidextrous.

Jeff Ton [00:25:03]:

Because you have varying priorities within each one of those areas. What are some things organizationally? You talked about organizational dynamics a little bit ago. What are some enablement practices that technology organizations can adopt to embrace this innovation based on it?

Nabil Badr [00:25:32]:

I don’t think anybody can succeed with that collaboration at all these four levels and a mutual understanding of the challenges at each level and the value of each level. So this C level, imagine if this C level quadrant is the multiple people. You got to always understand what makes the other one or the other organization successful and then interact with it. So that’s a complex scenario. And if you are one person handling the four, then you’re lucky that you don’t have to collaborate or be aware, but then you’re encumbered with the priorities, as you said. Yeah. So managing priorities and communication, that’s agility by definition. Yeah.

What’s important? Why is it important? When is it important? And then you can keep triaging. Yeah.

Jeff Ton [00:26:42]:

Nabil, you talk about agility and what strikes me is that organizations need agile with a capital A, the agile methodology, but also the soft skill of being agile and the ability to pivot from one priority to another.

Do both of those play into what you’re talking about here with being ambidextrous?

Nabil Badr [00:27:13]:

Well, yes, in some way. So let me give you an example. For instance, let’s say we are launching a product and the product owner is developing some features of the product and the product owner is sheltered from the customer conversation with sales. You might end up with something different than what the sales needs. So, for me, agility requires or best practice there. When you have the ambidexterity in there, the product owner who is not necessarily customer-facing or not in the habit of being customer-facing, will also join sales and presentations.

So simple moves like that where the sales team is not blocking them off, say these guys are backroom guys, and I don’t want to talk to them and let them do whatever they need to do best. And then the client will be ashamed. No, bring them forward and ask the client to bring one of their backroom people forward.

So now you’ll have a handshake at a different level than the sales environment. The technical people love to work together and then you have a success of this ambidextrous call. Even so, the call has become, I’m not selling anymore. I am now implementing before I even sell. That’s one way of creating this one. The product owner now is familiar with the featured requirements are so you improve the exploration capability and then the salesperson now is familiar with what the technicians are talking about. Now the salesperson’s exploitation capabilities have improved. These are the dynamic capabilities back and forth that are exchanged inside the company that will improve the overall agility.

Because now the salesperson at the next call is much more improved and the product owner on the next project is much more improved. And it keeps going where the tie between them is learning.

Jeff Ton [00:29:30]:

Yeah, learning from each other.

Nabil Badr [00:29:33]:

Yes. And from the customer. And then if the technical side and the sales side are in any conversation with customer service, for example, which is the third potentially component in every company, they’re going to say, oh, customer service, come on over, let’s onboard you to what the experience is. And the three of them now become agile in serving the customer and learning from each other.

Jeff Ton [00:30:00]:

Yeah, I love that you brought in customer service, customer support into this as well, because from an IT practitioner perspective, that could be supporting the other associates in the business, but it also could have an element of supporting the external customer and understanding the needs of the external customer and bringing that into your mindset as well.

So, I know, Nabil, we’re running out of time here and I know we’ve barely scratched the surface on your paper. Is there another point that you’re really wanting to let our listeners know about this concept before we kind of wrap things up?

Nabil Badr [00:30:53]:

Well, one key contributor to all this picture is making sure we know the customer and who is the customer and what the customer wants. I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s harder done than said.

Jeff Ton [00:31:09]:

Yes.

Nabil Badr [00:31:10]:

What I see is I would recommend that everybody out there, when you have a challenge, have the technicians listen to the customer calls, have the salesmen listen to customer calls, because that’s where everything has to materialize after at the end. And we do shadowing programs here. And I sponsored that at all levels to make sure we import all the customer view and the experience and wrap it up with tech talk. So then internally, customer service teams, technology teams, and sales teams are now looking at each other to learn from each other. Yeah. Then you have the same with the other four quadrants I talked about where they also have tech talks. Learn from each other. See, learning is a dynamic capability.

So that’s the underlayment of everything. If we don’t know how to learn from each other, we’re not agile, we’re not nimble, we’re not ambidextrous.

Jeff Ton [00:32:17]:

Yeah, I love that. That kind of summarizes it, learning, but learning from each other and understanding the challenges each other has, whether you’re one of the four quadrants, whether you’re outside the four quadrants, or whether you’re the customer, being able to understand those challenges.

Well, Nabil, I warned you that on Status Go, we’re all about action. So, what are one or two things that our listeners should do tomorrow? Because they listened to our conversation today.

Nabil Badr [00:32:52]:

Okay. Start shadowing the customer. And everybody is everybody’s customer, right? So, internally, you can define the customer and shadow them. Shadow their calls start learning from each other. I don’t think silos work, and it never worked. Make sure every mission has a plan and be accepting to do different missions at the same time. So that’s the ambidexterity. And organizational learning is primordial.

So tech talks, huddles, are all important for maturity in the organization.

Jeff Ton [00:33:33]:

I’m a huge proponent of shadowing. We used to do those when I was in the CIO role. We called them ride-alongs because we were a very distributed organization. We were in a retail setting, so we would do ride-alongs to go visit the retail stores and see that.

Nabil, thank you so much for being on status go. I really appreciate it. I loved the paper, and of course, we will provide a link in our show notes to that paper. But thank you for being on the program today.

I really appreciate it.

Nabil Badr [00:34:08]:

Thank you, Jeff, for the opportunity and for everybody out there. We’re in it together. So, thank you.

Jeff Ton [00:34:14]:

That’s right. We are in it together, learning from each other.

To our listeners, if you happen to have a question or want to learn more, visit intervision.com. The show notes will provide links and contact information. And as I mentioned, we will link to Nabil’s white paper that is available online. This is Jeff Ton for Nabil Badr. Thank you very much for listening.

Nabil Badr [00:34:39]:

Thank you, Jeff.

Voice Over – Ben Miller [00:34:42]:

You’ve been listening to the Status Go podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or get more information at intervision.com. If you’d like to contribute to the conversation, find InterVision on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Thank you for listening. Until next time.

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