Why digital disruption leaves no room for bimodal IT

Why digital disruption leaves no room for bimodal ITSaying bimodal IT is dead may be a tad premature. But as digital disruption continues to sweep across sectors -- driven by companies such as, Uber and Airbnb -- two-speed IT is beginning to look and feel antiquated. Some CIOs and consultants argue that the operating model hinders innovation at a time when companies must accelerate their digital initiatives.

Introduced by Gartner in 2014, bimodal IT splits technology departments into two groups: a stable mode (Mode 1) where the bulk of technology is carefully cultivated and refined and a second mode (Mode 2) that espouses experimentation, free-thinking and agility. Forking IT into separate tracks made sense a few years ago, as many CIOs worked to plug gaps in talent, process and technology, Forrester Research analyst Matthew Guarini told

Marketing, sales and other departments consumed cloud software in the shadows, sending CIOs scrambling to accommodate them. But CIOs also recognized that they needed to move faster to counter digital rivals and incumbent competitors. CIOs paced development of ERP and other systems of record deliberately while fast-tracking innovation. The fast track ran in parallel to the slow track. Many companies have embraced and enjoyed success with bimodal IT. Gartner said in its 2017 CIO survey that 71% of top performing companies report that bimodal IT improves innovation.

Why bimodal no longer works

But bimodal is proving untenable at a time when CIOs are overhauling their technology operating models to move at the speed of the customer. A major reason for the disconnect is that bimodal bifurcates the IT department, pitting cool kids focused on cutting-edge technologies and innovation, (such as mobile apps and voice recognition), against developers grinding their way through ERP implementations or supply chain revamps.

The slow versus fast teams creates competing cultures, posing operational challenges, Guarini said. "If you continue to do bimodal, the gap [between the IT departments] is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger and cause more and more problems," Guarini said. “At some point you have to throw the reins off and accelerate and it's a lot easier with a common culture."

Guarini said CIOs need to adopt cohesive business technology models, which include modern technology platforms and processes. Key ingredients include cloud software, microservices and APIs. Agile and DevOps, which includes continuous integration, testing and deployment, are the preferred development models. Code that previously took weeks or months to update was updated in minutes or days.