Secrets of bimodal IT success: Tiger teams, skunkworks and the camel’s nose

How IT departments are keeping the lights on while creating innovative development teams.

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For such a seemingly obvious idea, Gartner ignited quite a firestorm with its proposition that, to remain relevant, IT must be broken into two distinct realms: one focused on keeping the lights on, or, in Gartner parlance, Mode 1, and one devoted to the cool stuff that business people want, or Mode 2.

Gartner introduced the concept of bimodal IT in 2013. “Originally, it was meant as a way to deal with agile development,” explained Daryl Plummer, managing vice president and Gartner Fellow. At the time, Plummer made this prediction: “Forty-five percent of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation, and we believe that by 2017 75 percent of IT organizations will have gone bimodal in some way.”

As Plummer pointed out, forward thinking IT departments have been running like this for a long time; with one part of the IT organization focused on making sure the business runs reliably, and the other part focused on the new shiny objects the business really wants and needs.

"We've been doing this for decades," says industry analyst Sandy Kemsley, who focuses on business process management. "It's nothing new."

But two things have changed. First, there are more tools and methods that developers can use; DevOps, high level programming languages like Perl and Python, PaaS platforms like Salesforce.com's Force.com.

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