What is Bimodal IT – and Do You Need It?
By Michael T. Critelli/
December 15, 2017

A well-known IT research company comes out with yearly rankings of the top business technologies on the market. In a way, they are the Yelp of the IT systems world. They do an excellent job of rating technologies. But unlike Yelp, every five years the IT research company tries to step out of its comfort zone and advise companies on different IT management strategies and processes.

That would be like Yelp creating a new business strategy for your restaurant. Yelp is great for helping restaurant owners understand their customers’ feedback on service and food. However, Yelp does not help a restaurant owner manage, hire, or increase profits. Over the years, IT research company has introduced various terms and concepts to manage an IT department, but most, if not all, have fizzled out after two to three years.

“Bimodal IT” is another one of these strategies and is defined as “the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility.” Huh? Does this mean two different IT departments? Sort of.

Mode 1

This can be called the “slow, safe mode.” This is the traditional way of managing IT. Emphasizing safety and accuracy when handling problems, projects, fixes, or patches, this mode focuses on managing “systems of record,” such as accounting, banking, human resources, and payroll.

Mode 2

This is more of a “fast, risky mode.” This is a non-traditional way of approaching IT problems. In this mode, IT is supposed to employ agility and speed when approaching problems, projects, fixes, or patches. This mode is focused on managing “systems of engagement,” such as websites, platforms, vendor portals, and CRM.

Imagine if Yelp advised restaurants to split their menu and kitchen into two divisions: Good Food that Takes a Long Time and Weird New Food that Comes Out Quickly, allowing for a customer to decide which irritant they would rather experience. At first, this does not sound so bad because, with a split kitchen, your new staff can focus on getting their food out quickly while the experienced staff can focus more on food quality and not have to rush. Unfortunately, the customers will suffer, as no customer should have to sacrifice one good thing for another.

For some of the older and larger companies, IT is becoming naturally divided between traditional systems of record and new “quick to implement” systems of engagement. These new systems are implemented applied in quick rapid spurts and emphasize low maintenance while the older, larger systems tend to take years to be applied and an entire group of specialized IT to manage them.

The Bimodal IT model recommends that instead of wasting time trying to combine the two ideas or throwing the old way of IT out, they should be run as separate groups with completely opposite objectives. Implementing a Bimodal IT model could, in the worst case, double IT staff with one half of personnel to maintain the current systems, and the other half to implement systems of engagement. Costly. But is it necessary?

The IT research firm argues that leading IT organizations follow this model, but what does this really mean? While it may be true that some very large organizations have evolved into a model that is close to Bimodal IT, it is not the best practice. In reality, it is more common for large organizations to keep their older systems, or “legacy systems,” and simply bolt on additional software as needed.

True market leaders do not compromise agility for stability, but rather are constantly improving and setting the standard for speed, safety, and quality. These leaders take the agility part of Bimodal IT and implement it companywide by using collaboration and prototyping. With technology having a bigger and bigger impact on all functions of the business world, it is important for executives to understand their IT group and how to maximize performance while minimizing costs.

Bimodal IT is not an optimal goal for most companies, yet key concepts can be used as stepping stone toward achieving a high-performing IT group.


This article has been adapted from a chapter from Trenegy’s book: Jar(gone)

Trenegy is a non-traditional consulting firm, dedicated to help companies clarify the latest business jargon into useful terms and solutions that actually benefit your company. Find out more: info@trenegy.com.