Bimodal IT

Definition of Bimodal IT

Bimodal IT is a type of strategy or setup where a single IT department is split up into two parts – one part addresses maintenance and support issues, while another part pursues innovation and expansion. Bimodal IT helps companies to keep up with these two very different responsibilities in a more direct way than by trying to delegate both within one IT department.[1]

The concept of Bimodal IT was introduced by the IT firm Gartner who defines Bimodal IT as "the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work: one focused on predictability; the other on exploration. Mode 1 is optimized for areas that are more predictable and well-understood. It focuses on exploiting what is known, while renovating the legacy environment into a state that is fit for a digital world. Mode 2 is exploratory, experimenting to solve new problems and optimized for areas of uncertainty. These initiatives often begin with a hypothesis that is tested and adapted during a process involving short iterations, potentially adopting a minimum viable product (MVP) approach. Both modes are essential to create substantial value and drive significant organizational change, and neither is static. Marrying a more predictable evolution of products and technologies (Mode 1) with the new and innovative (Mode 2) is the essence of an enterprise bimodal capability. Both play an essential role in digital transformation."[2]

Bimodal IT - Mode 1 and Mode 2[3]

Bimodal is the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work: one focused on predictability; the other on exploration. Marrying a more predictable evolution of products and technologies (Mode 1) with the new and innovative (Mode 2) is the essence of an enterprise bimodal capability.

Mode 1 and Mode 2 of Bimodal IT
source: Plutora

  • Mode 1 Is Predictable: The current mode, Mode 1, is optimized for predictability and well-defined areas. When doing software development using Mode 1, one needs a clear understanding of the requirements up front, as Mode 1 aims to deliver predictable and precise results. Many highly regulated industries rely on Mode 1 software development methodologies, such as waterfall or spiral. Systems supporting the finance, defense, and pharmaceutical industries operate in Mode 1 for most system development.
  • Mode 2 Handles Uncertainty: Mode 2 development is exploratory. It allows experimenting to solve new problems. It’s also optimized for areas of uncertainty. These initiatives often begin with a hypothesis that’s tested quickly. When the test results are good, they’re implemented in short iterations. Mode 2 is called agile because it allows for software requirements to change as the software development progresses. It’s a more fluid process that can respond quickly to pressures from the market and development efforts. This approach introduces additional risk and uncertainty, but it provides a quicker time to market.

Business IT Alignment and Bimodal IT[4]

Business IT Alignment is affected by Bimodal IT in two ways. First, unlike established alignment frameworks, bimodal IT implies the existence of two IT organizations instead of a single IT. Thus, bimodal IT leads to new alignment dimensions. On one hand, dependencies among systems and operations (“Bimodal IT Alignment”) produce a certain degree of alignment among IT modes. On the other, alignment between business and both IT delivery modes is also required (“Bimodal Business IT Alignment”). In the case of decentralizing parts of agile IT towards former nonIT business units, alignment with the respective business units becomes necessary (“Business Digital IT Alignment”). Second, the established alignment frameworks perceive business and IT as two separate units. As IT is becoming a major factor in value creation in the digital age, a shift towards the convergence of business and IT through, for example, merging business and IT strategy in a “Digital Business Strategy” [21] or “Digital Transformation Strategy” is proposed instead. Bimodal IT is assumed to be a concept for achieving a closer integration of business and IT.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Bimodal IT[5]

Benefits of Bimodal IT
Industry experts agree that this shift exists. It began several years ago, and it is amplified today. Detangling the two areas of IT does make sense in a lot of ways. Legacy systems often are responsible for the most critical business needs, like internal networks, and securing sensitive data as needed for accounting, HR, finance, etc. These areas rely on the safe environments of legacy systems. Trying something simply to be “new” or “innovative” – that may fail – is a risk that these business needs often can’t take. Bimodal IT, then, is an attempt to manage IT in a way that promotes rapid change while maintaining safety and security. These contrasting environments require different tools, processes, and skills. For many companies, the benefits of Bimodal IT make sense. And there are plenty of benefits to delineating two IT modes:

  • Speed. By defining and managing one IT area to focus wholly on delivering new solutions, they can produce rapidly, to meet business needs.
  • Innovation. Because Mode 2 isn’t focused on maintaining security and handling daily issues, they can stay focused on wider problems that require innovation to solve.
  • Agility. The goal for many enterprises is to disrupt a certain industry – and by defining which parts of IT focus on these disruptions, they can get there faster. Those in Mode 2 IT become adept at agile practices, so there’s less risk and overhead, and the effort is smoother, as time goes on.
  • Reduces “Shadow IT”. When users get the solutions they need quickly, they are much less likely to use unauthorized or unproved applications and software – they aren’t bypassing IT.

Drawbacks to Bimodal IT
As with any suggestion, Bimodal IT is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Industry experts and enterprises who have tried the approach point to a few drawbacks of Bimodal IT:

  • The separation can be discursive. By explicitly separating these groups, teams may battle for attention, resources, power, and influence. This can create a mentality of “us vs. them” within the larger IT sphere.
  • The separation can be too neat. Defining two IT modes in this way can seem that the modes won’t, or shouldn’t, rely on each other. For many enterprises, the reality is that an innovative, well-functioning application or software solution, the goal of Mode 2, often relies on well-oiled legacy systems that are inherent in Mode 1.
  • The separation can be confusing. Confusing teams simply for the sake of “innovation” often leads to confusion on roles and processes. This confusion can manifest as resistance to change, common when employees are told about changes that don’t make sense to them.
  • The separation doesn’t guarantee innovation. Simply defining one team as innovative doesn’t mean it will just happen – if it did, everyone would be innovators. In fact, some enterprises find that innovation comes from the blending of skills and tools, not from intentionally drawn lines.

Beyond specific issues that may arise in a Bimodal IT environment, some industry experts are concerned that formally ushering in Mode 2 effectively closes the door on Mode 1. If CIOs and CEOs continue spinning off agile teams to produce solutions, what happens to the secure environment of Mode 1, which is often still relied upon by Mode 2? In order to be successful, an IT company must continually deliver solutions that justify its success

See Also


  1. What Does Bimodal IT Mean? Techopedia
  2. Definition - What Does Bimodal IT Mean? Gartner
  3. Bimodal IT - Mode 1 and Mode 2 Plutora
  4. Business IT Alignment and Bimodal IT Bettina Horlach, Paul Drews, Ingrid Schirmer, Tilo Böhmann
  5. Benefits and Drawbacks of Bimodal IT BMC