How to Implement Bimodal IT Operations

CIOs embracing Bimodal IT want to do more with their data and do it faster, but they are struggling with two competing business priorities: the need to maintain business mission-critical systems and to deliver agile, innovative, technology-intensive services quickly. Gartner’s Bimodal IT (Gartner, 2016) provides a way to address both; however, many CIOs are unsure how to begin.

IntroductionHow to implement

Today’s IT department must cope with demands originating from two fundamentally different business needs. On the one hand, they must provide stable and reliable performance for the daily functioning of the organisation and on the other hand, address the need for flexibility and agility to deliver digitally innovative results to drive new business.

These two conflicting demands cause problems in the IT department and between IT and the rest of the organisation. The IT department must address both sets of demands in a sustainable way, without compromising the value or performance of either approach.

This is the fourth article in the Bimodal IT Operations series and discusses how to implement Bimodal IT . The first article defines Bimodal IT and is a good place to start if you want to understand more about Bimodal IT.

Starting With Bimodal IT

CIOs need to ensure that the current IT team is starting at what Gartner calls Mode 0, the current situation. This will be the foundation from where Bimodal will begin. The first step is to create a clear definition of Mode 1 and Mode 2, identifying the key traits and characteristics of each Mode, and setting obtainable goals and objectives.

It is advisable to start your bimodal initiative using a small group of specific projects in Mode 2. Typical selection criteria for these projects include: (1) they influence the customer via social and mobile technologies; (2) they are contained in scope; (3) they have a willing business partner, and (4) they do not substantially affect the legacy systems of the organisation.

First, focus on creating a fully functional Mode 2 approach. Thereafter, switch your focus back to Mode 1 to prepare it to receive the innovations created in Mode 2. Whatever you do, do not ignore Mode 1; doing so is a recipe for disaster. Remember, the goal of Bimodal IT is to have both modes working in harmony to achieve the organisations business objectives. (Adnams, Steenstrup, 2015) Gartner ”CIOs Must shape the Current IT Environment for Bimodal Success”.

Entry Points for Initial Mode 2 Project

According to Gartner, there are 3 points of entry for an initial Mode 2 project.

Starting in the IT Department and sanctioned by the CIO to create a Mode 2 capability.

Sanctioned by an executive, often the CEO, CDO or head of a transformation programme who nominates the IT Department or a separate part of the organisation to respond to an opportunity that requires a Mode 2 style of delivery.

In this instance, an opportunity is offered by a vendor, often a startup or smaller player.

Starting a Mode 2 Project

Entry points can and often do vary, but starting a Mode 2 Project follows the same pattern, and the initial projects normally have the following characteristics.

Start with a defined project that a Mode 2 team can manage.
It is most likely driven by the vendor, the CxO or the CIO and it includes the following characteristics: It requires short-term delivery, subject to uncertainty and may change quickly.

Initial projects are centred on learning and not traditional ROI.
The focus is on testing the new style under controlled and safe conditions, getting feedback quickly and establishing repeatable processes and controls.

Projects are focussed on the customer.
This creates value outside the organisation.

A business partner is available.
The business partner is ready and willing to commit resources to the project team.

No major changes, or no changes at all to legacy systems.
They have a contained scope and low risk.

Bimodal Traps

Be careful of the following five Bimodal traps to avoid when setting up the initial Mode 2 projects

The timid middle.
Successful CIOs avoid the “timid middle” at all costs and do not play down the risk of blending Mode 2 with more traditional linear or waterfall controls. Manage risk through the intelligent selection of Mode 2 projects.

Lack of equity between teams.
It is imperative that you see the starting point to Bimodal as Mode 0. Both Mode 1 and Mode 2 will experience a change. If the change is limited to Mode 2, a bottleneck will be experienced down the line in operations, and no real value will be achieved.

Disconnected Mode 1.
Both Mode 1 and Mode 2 teams need an open, collaborative and transparent style to ensure that innovation achieved in Mode 2, goes into production in Mode 1.

Ballooning technical debt.
Going faster can be done. The trick is to maintain the speed. Technical debt refers to loose ends that need to be resolved. Examples are; unused duplicate code, documentation debt and design debt.

Unrenovated core.
Maintaining a well architectured digital core is a long term objective because Agile, Mode 2 innovations cannot be layered onto an inflexible, monolithic legacy system.

Bimodal IT is Not The Following

It is important to understand what falls outside the scope of Bimodal IT.

Bimodal is not unique to the IT department.
As Bimodal matures and expands, change is not limited to the IT department. The change also takes place in all departments touched by Bimodal IT. It is important that the executives are coached in the value of Mode 2 and how it works especially with respect to risk and rigour.

Bimodal is not synonymous with iterative application development.
It is advisable that the CEO initiate Bimodal IT. If it is initiated by the IT Department, you run the risk of developing or expanding iterative development skills. The CIO must focus on Mode 2 development styles and reduce bottlenecks that surface downstream by including operations during the proof of concept stage. This is the beginning of DevOps.

Bimodal is not the same as pace layering.
Gartner’s Pace-Layered Application Framework classifies application systems into three categories or layers, depending on their innate rate of change. Bimodal is very different, it describes a style of work and is not a system classification framework. However, done correctly, the concepts of Pace Layering and Bimodal can be applied together, to leverage the benefits of Bimodal across the organisations systems.

Bimodal Mode 2 is not Shadow IT
Mode 2 is not a formalised version of shadow IT. Bimodal requires an open and collaborative relationship between Mode 1 and Mode 2. Additionally, it requires higher levels of organisational discipline. Providing a Mode 2 option, business leaders are less likely to initiate shadow IT.

Manage the Cultural Challenge of Bimodal IT

Managing chafing between the Mode 1 and Mode 2 teams, and creating a thriving culture for each mode is one of the main challenges facing the CIO. Any significant change in the working environment is bound to generate anxiety in the staff directly affected. The CIO plays a critical role in managing this cultural change and it is important that Mode 1 and Mode 2 capabilities are clearly defined, for Bimodal to succeed.  It is important that the CIO ensures that the existing IT environment does not get labelled as Mode 1. Bimodal consists of two high-performance Modes; the purpose of the exercise is not to add an Agile capability to the current Mode.

According to Gartner, the CIO needs to understand the three subcultures of the bimodal environment. This will assist him to maintain a cultural balance between Mode 1 and Mode 2. The three subcultures are:

The operator subculture.
This is for traditional Mode 1 systems

The innovator subculture.
Exclusive to nonlinear Mode 2.

The guardian subculture.
Exclusive to the office of the CIO, to keep everything scalable.

Managing cultural change begins by ensuring that members of the IT Department are confident that they still have a future with the organisation, and that they will continue to contribute to a growing and evolving IT Department.


Keeping up with business demand requires CIOs to introduce Bimodal IT into the organisation. However, it will have to be managed with care to avoid making a mess of the entire project. It is best to start small, with well-chosen Mode 2 projects, and then follow up by developing Mode 1 capabilities.


Adnams, Steenstrup, 2015. Gartner: CIOs Must Shape the Current IT Environment for Bimodal Success  ,[2016, April 28]

Gartner, 2016. Gartner: Bimodal IT , [2016, April 28]

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