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The pros and cons of Bimodal IT

EducationSummary: Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. But, while it sounds good in theory, is it good in practice? In this article, we explore the topic from both sides. What are the pros and cons of Bimodal IT? In what ways might Bimodal IT help a company? In what ways might it be risky or harmful to a company? Read more to find out.

photo credit: mintchipdesigns via pixabay cc
photo credit: mintchipdesigns via pixabay cc

The modern IT department finds themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, they’re expected to keep the lights on. This is the traditional IT focus. They keep the technology running so the business can operate efficiently.

But, on the other hand, many are now expected to drive technology innovation. As tech plays a larger role in business, the role of the IT department is shifting. The IT department moves from a back-office function to a business partner. They become the technology drivers.

The problem: Generally speaking, the traditional IT department doesn’t move fast enough to handle the rapid pace of changing technology. Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course. But, the traditional IT department focuses on stability–not speed.

Why is this a problem? Here are two big reasons.

First, the modern business demands speed. With the rapid rate at which technology evolves, they can no longer afford to wait months for new solutions.

As explained in this article, “The fact is that digital business will disrupt all industries and business executives, CIOs and technology providers will need to think differently to help their businesses avoid disruption. This is a new world that makes the prior ones obsolete while creating massive opportunities for those who can visualize the opportunity.” In short, if the modern business wants to keep running, they need to move quickly.

Second, technology is more accessible than ever before. With 5 minutes and a credit card, anyone can get up and running on cloud-based software.

What happens when you combine those two facts? Do you really think business users will wait months for new solutions, when they can get it themselves in minutes? Of course not.

As a result, we get the “Shadow IT” problem–a growing issue plaguing many organizations. End users bypass the IT department and use third-party software behind their backs. How bad is it? A recent report finds that most IT leaders underestimate its usage. The use of Shadow IT is 15-20 times higher than CIOs predict.

So, what’s the answer? How can IT continue to “keep the lights on,” while taking on a new role as technology innovators? How can they move fast enough to meet the demands of the modern business? For many, this feels like an impossible task.

The rise of Bimodal IT

photo credit: fancycrave1 via pixabay cc
photo credit: fancycrave1 via pixabay cc

To address this issue, some IT leaders are moving towards the “Bimodal IT” approach. A concept introduced by Gartner, this approach is defined on their site as such: “Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility.”

In short, Bimodal IT aims to address the growing problem described above. It effectively breaks the IT department up into two separate groups. One handles stability while the other handles innovation.

Mode 1 is more traditional, and targets back end systems. It ensures that your core business applications stay up and running. Mode 2 is agile for new development projects. It ensures that new business applications are delivered quickly.

What does this mean for business? Why would a business want to implement Bimodal IT? Why might they want to avoid it? Today, let’s explore the concept from all angles.

The advantages of Bimodal IT

photo credit: geralt via pixabay cc
photo credit: geralt via pixabay cc

What are the pros of the Bimodal approach? While you’ll find that Bimodal IT claims to offer many advantages, here are some of the biggest:

Speed: With one part of IT focused solely on delivering solutions quickly, the business as a whole can move faster. Rather than spending their time keeping the business technology running, part of the IT department can focus on meeting the business user’s needs as they arise.

Reduces “Shadow IT”: Going one step further, Bimodal IT helps curb the use of unauthorized applications and software. When the business users get the applications they need quickly, they don’t need to bypass IT.

Innovation: It’s much easier to focus on moving forward when you’re not bogged down with maintaining the status quo. With one mode of IT focused entirely on speed and innovation, the IT department can truly drive technology forward.

Flexibility: Disruption is a growing trend across all industries these days. New businesses step into a stagnant industry and shake things up on a regular basis. Too slow to change, many businesses just can’t keep up with their new, agile rivals. However, with one section of your IT team focused on technology innovation, your business is in a far better position to adapt.

“Bimodal IT increases agility to react on market changes and business needs as it speeds up the go-to-market process and IT delivery service,” says Eric Brabänder, Chief Marketing Officer at FNT. “It supports well-documented standardized IT delivery processes as well as disruptive technology innovations.”

The disadvantages of Bimodal IT

In theory, Bimodal IT sounds like a great concept. You get to keep the lights on and innovate–all at the same time. But, what are the potential drawbacks? What issues might you encounter? Here are a few risks of Bimodal IT:

Lost communication: When you create two separate teams, with two separate goals, communication between both teams often suffers. When this happens, you create a disjointed IT department, not working towards a common goal. To be successful, both sides must collaborate with each other and keep the lines of communication open.

Resistance to change: Any time a business tries to change the way they’ve operated for years, you’ll find some employees who want no part of it. Proper education on the purpose and benefits of the change is essential if you want to avoid massive pushback.

Confusion: While “innovation” sounds good in theory, some businesses have no idea how to proceed. They’ve been stuck in a rut for so long, they can’t just flip a switch and suddenly start innovating. If you don’t put the right people in the “innovation role”, you’re unlikely to succeed.

“Us vs. them” mentality: When the IT department gets split into two separate teams, you’ll find it can create an “us vs. them” mentality. This stems as a result of management giving more favorable treatment, and focusing their attention on the innovation side. It’s easy to focus on the new, shiny tools, but don’t ignore the people who are keeping the business running. The two teams are more likely to cooperate if they feel they are being treated in an equitable way.

“One of the other potential traps that many organizations have to avoid is alienation of the current workforce,” says John Picciotto, Senior Principal at Accenture Strategy. “For companies that implement unmanaged Bimodal IT, they also unintentionally segregate their workforce. There are those that are being invested in and are getting to work on the cool new stuff, and those relegated to the back office tasked with keeping the lights on with ever decreasing funding. This unintended class system can have very real consequences for CIO’s resulting in decreased employee engagement and increased turnover and labor costs.”

Implementation: A newer concept, you’ll struggle to find any clear implementation strategies. Those who adopt Bimodal IT face uncharted territory.

“The implementation of Bimodal IT is still unclear as there is no methodology communicated,” says Brabänder. “Clear methodology is needed for successful production planning of IT services and IT products when using Bimodal IT. There is currently no clarity on how to align the approach with standards like ITIL or tools like service catalogs.”

Tips for getting started

If you’re considering a move to Bimodal IT, how can you get started? How can you shift your strategy while avoiding disruption? Here are two tips:

Get the right tools: As mentioned above, you can’t just flip a switch and start innovating. How can you shift to a fast-moving IT department that delivers solutions quickly? You need the right tools. You need development platforms that let you create and deliver business applications when the business needs them. You need to constantly explore new tools that might help your business.

Shift some responsibility to the users: If the business users demand solutions quickly, what can you do? One option: Find a tool that improves your productivity (as explained above). Another option: Give users the ability to create their own solutions. A growing trend, self-service tools let end users meet their own needs. IT departments are increasingly giving users the tools they need to create their own applications and reports. It’s the best of both worlds. The users get the solutions they need quickly, and the IT department still controls data and user access.


While this list could certainly go on, the points listed above are just a few of the pros and cons of Bimodal IT. What do you think? Would you add anything to the list? If so, please feel free to share in the comments.