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Internet of Things

Here's why bimodal IT is so powerful

With bimodal IT, new projects can be developed more quickly and efficiently. But how does Gartner's task division concept really work?

20 Oct. 2016 Olga Annenko
Projects built on a bimodal approach promise significant efficiency gains. (Photo: Grisha Bruev /

The concept of bimodal IT that has been so massively promoted by Gartner has split the IT community into two camps: some have not yet formed a clear image of this concept, while others make fun of it and predict its rapid demise. But what does this approach really mean?

Definition of bimodal IT: It comes down to the details

Bimodal IT, as conceived by Gartner, is based on a structure in two modes or styles. The focus of Mode 1 is on predictability and stability. This is the best mode to use when requirements are known in advance and can be clearly identified in an analysis process. Mode 2, on the other hand, is perfect for areas in which the company is not yet able to achieve detailed planning.

So Mode 1 would be appropriate, for example, when the goal is to replace an old ERP megasuite with a post-modern ERP system, or to disassemble a monolithic proprietary software application into manageable parts that are easy to maintain. The requirements and desired results of such projects are generally very clearly defined and applicable over a long period of time.

Mode 2 would be suitable for short-term IoT pilot projects, in which only general development orientations are known and plenty of latitude is needed.

Gartner also has a very clear opinion concerning the agility of bimodal IT. The study Deliver on the Promise of Bimodal explicitly states that the concept of agility should be pursued with both modes.

Innovative initiatives exist, but implementation is lacking

In practice, IT departments rarely know what exactly they want to achieve when developing IoT, mobile and chatbot solutions. The desired goal is defined, but how to get there is very vague: What requirements need to be set for such projects? What tools are best suited for them? What does the ideal result actually look like?

The status quo is familiar, but many businesses are entering completely new territory in these areas. And in most scenarios, these are extremely individualized projects that are unlikely to be replicated horizontally.

Advantages of bimodal IT in practice

If we look at the digital transformation and disruptive IT initiatives against this background, it is fairly easy to see Gartner's point. Integration projects are one area where it clearly appears. For example, there are development teams outside the IT department that work on proprietary software applications or internal enterprise chatbots.

Then there are business users who want recently acquired applications to be integrated as quickly as possible into the existing IT systems, and some are even doing this themselves using third-party tools.

And then there are the ad hoc integrators. They are not really specialized in application and system integration, but sometimes they have to implement integrations as part of their own projects, whether for the development of a proprietary mobile application or an internal database.

When such projects are left to central IT alone, they can take months or even years to be completed. This is understandable, because central IT easily has its hands full with other, mission-critical tasks. But it is precisely these small integration projects that drive digital transformation forward.

Central IT should support the division of labor

To keep digital initiatives from being lost at sea, ways must therefore be found to transfer certain tasks from central IT to other, more flexible teams.

Some large companies have already made this allocation: SAP for example has founded its Co-Innovation Lab for employees, partners and customers as a platform for innovation projects. This is where business-centered chatbots for certain SAP software products are developed, among other things.

RWE has also created an internal platform for innovations, its Innovation Hub, for exploring various concepts and testing them for large-scale feasibility. Even if the bimodal concept is not limited to outsourcing certain IT-related tasks, the parallels are obvious.

Bimodal IT in practice

In practice, integrating an application using the bimodal concept might look like this: A Mode 1 team (central IT) is responsible for generating snippets of code, integration adapters or even entire integration solutions for the cloud or on-prem. These results can be directly adopted by a Mode 2 team and integrated into smaller projects, which are then added to internal IT once they have been successfully completed.

With this approach, problems are identified earlier and at a much lower level of investment. The user value of these digital initiatives can also be assessed further upstream, which lowers costs and reduces risk. In addition, ramp-up times are significantly shortened, and IT can respond faster to real business needs.

So with bimodal IT, companies are not making an either-or choice between the different modes. True bimodal IT exists when both modes work together effectively, contribute to innovation and agility on both sides, and equally support and drive forward the company's digital transformation.