Bimodal IT, or ‘Organizations with Two Speeds’

by Daniel Pelke |
Jul 6, 2017 |

In my last blog post, ‘Digital Transformation Is About More than Just IT,’ I wrote about a fortunate trend, whereby more and more companies are taking a more holistic approach to the digital transformation. We know that IT alone is not the solution to the challenges posed by the digital transformation. More and more companies are slowly realizing that the digital transformation affects not only the IT department but also all other areas of the company.
But training courses and consulting services that are currently being offered give a different impression. Discussions revolving around the digital transformation primarily address the challenges in today’s business world, and terms such as ‘agility’ and ‘new business models’ crop up as the important key terms. Well-known companies that were once successful are mentioned as examples of organizations that did not manage to get on the right path towards digitalization. The training courses and consulting services then frequently put forward new IT procedures and technologies – such as cloud computing, microservices, DevOps, and big data – as solutions to the challenges of our time. However, IT departments are often not trusted to successfully introduce such modern solutions.

Bimodality as the ideal solution for the IT department

‘Bimodal IT’ – which entails operating the IT organization at two different speeds – is the ideal model for IT departments to adopt.
Specifically, this model entails splitting the IT organization into two groups:

  1. One group that uses traditional methods to handle enterprise applications such as ERP and the corporate IT infrastructure, among other things.
  2. Another group that uses agile methods to handle customer apps, among other things, while drawing on data and services provided by enterprise applications as well as the Internet.

At the same time, if bimodality is the ideal solution for IT departments, it is clear that other organizations and departments would also do well to take this approach. This is why we shall now talk about bimodal organizations – organizations that operate at two different speeds.

Bimodal structures beyond the IT department

It is clear that marketing departments operate in two different modes. On the one hand, they deal with conventional channels such as print media and trade fairs that are aimed at a wide range of interested parties. This is how they establish their brands over the years and ensure that their brands are not used improperly. At the same time, they can analyze a wide range of touchpoints as well as Internet usage in order to discover new customer groups that could not be identified in the past. Many marketing departments are currently also investigating whether growth hacking would be an option for them.

We see a similar mode of operation when we look at the human resources department. The department deals with payroll accounting. They ensure that salaries are paid punctually and in full and that statutory deductions are made correctly. At the same time, some members of the human resources department use social media in order to make the company known as an innovative and modern employer. They maintain not only the vacancies page on the appropriate portals, but also search for cloud architects, DevOps specialists, and data scientists in relevant social networks in a targeted manner or organize hackathons in order to find talented software developers.

The finance department also has a similar dual character. On the one hand, the department handles the revenue generated from selling products, and on the other, they deal with what are called pay-per-use concepts or app-based auxiliary services provided on a micropayment basis.

Correctly managing bimodal organizations

If it is the job of a CIO to hold together an IT department that operates at two different speeds, the same holds true for the CMO, CHRO, and CFO. They need to manage and coordinate the two constitutive parts of their bimodal organizations. As such, managers will need to demonstrate two key competencies in the future in order to successfully maintain the right balance between the two modes of operation.

They need to have technical expertise as well as social skills. Strong social skills are required in order to lead and shape a bimodal organization. It is not a matter of good or bad, or fast or slow, when it comes to a department that operates at two speeds. Managers need to have up-to-date knowledge as well as experience – one or the other is not enough. Technical expertise encompasses not only knowledge of recent technological trends but also many years of experience in managing customer relationships, internal procedures, and production processes, for example.

Furthermore, managers need to take the appropriate measures to ensure diversity within their organizations. The more diverse an organization, the greater the potential for finding solutions to what appear to be unsolvable problems. Smaller organizations can foster greater diversity by using what are called open innovation platforms. Such platforms provide access to thousands of idea providers from a wide range of cultural and age groups – an opportunity that is otherwise only available to large corporations. In the book ‘Wicked Problems and Social Complexity,’ Jeff Conklin explains in great detail that diversity is the key to finding solutions for what are called ‘wicked problems’ – such as the challenges that the digital transformation brings.


Finally, we need to say two things very clearly:
Diversity and social skills are not the only tools that are needed. Rather, these two factors merely complement the skills that Peter Hinssen refers to with the term ‘VACINE’ in his book ‘The Network Always Wins.’
Moreover, the bimodal organizational structure is not a temporary phenomenon – it is not merely a transitional state as one organizational form evolves into another. The bimodal organization is here to stay, since what is considered to be the fast area of an organization today may be seen as slow tomorrow. The purpose of bimodality is to ensure agility even as such changes take place. A bimodal organization is capable of adapting to continuously changing conditions. After all, the fact that conditions are constantly changing is the one constant in today’s business world.

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