For years IT organizations have been criticized for being too slow, too restrictive and unresponsive to the business. Analysts and vendors have pushed IT to transform itself as a whole, and encouraged the adoption of technologies that enable agility. But a new perspective on IT is gaining steam. Instead of changing the face of IT, industry experts are asserting that IT organizations should operate as two separate functions, or modes, if you will – what Gartner refers to as Bimodal IT. Given the drive toward innovation and the nature of today’s apps, this approach makes perfect sense.

Gartner describes Bimodal IT as consisting of a traditional mode, Mode 1, and an agile mode, Mode 2. According to Gartner, “Traditional IT is focused on ‘doing IT right,’ with a strong emphasis on efficiency and safety, approval-based governance and price-for-performance. Agile IT is focused on ‘doing IT fast,’ supporting prototyping and iterative development, rapid delivery, continuous and process-based governance, and value to the business (being business-centric and close to the customer).”

Interestingly, Gartner reports that 45% of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation and, that by 2017, 75% of IT organizations will have a bimodal capability.

Gartner isn’t the only analyst firm to present this concept. Bimodal IT parallels the conversations we’ve had with Forrester about development from an organizational perspective. The traditional IT organization, Type 1, focuses on the backend. The folks in Type 1 are charged with creating a catalog of services that are consumed by frontend IT, or Type 2. Type 2 weaves the services together creating a compelling user interface and user experience so that people will use the app. More sophisticated use cases should allow for adding of custom logic, process and workflow at this level.

Both Gartner and Forrester are essentially saying the same thing, and both analyst firms are correct. IT organizations as a whole are charged with building two classes of applications. One of those does not require, for example, SAP to be spun on a dime. Traditional IT is well suited to handle these applications. However, there are components in SAP that can be combined with other components and do require IT to spin on a dime in order to do interesting things or embrace new markets. It’s a competitive advantage to be that nimble. A bimodal IT model acknowledges both efforts and enables each part of the IT organization to do what it does best. It also frees IT from having to operate at the speed of the lowest common denominator.

There are tools that allow IT organizations to model, create and empower this kind of organizational model. Consider, for example, a rapid application delivery (RAD) platform with a governance function. A RAD platform can separate the backend from the frontend and apply governance so that traditional IT can create services and promote them to production, while agile IT knows who can use which services to build an app. If done properly, the platform can capture architectural standards and enforce them across the creation of a wide variety of apps — important as you scale the portfolio of apps delivered.

The organizational shift that Gartner and Forrester are advocating has to do with the need to be more agile, the need to create and evolve or destroy apps on a whim. But it doesn’t negate the need for traditional IT to maintain and manage systems of record. As IT organizations consider future investments, they should take both of these needs into account.