How bimodal IT strategy can open gates to innovation in PLM

How bimodal IT strategy can open gates to innovation in PLM


I missed PDT Europe this year. But my long time PLM blogging buddy Jos Voskuil did a great job posting his notes about the event. You can read both articles – part 1 and part 2. So, I’ve been catching up on Jos’ notes. My attention was caught by an interesting terminology – bimodal PLM.

Have you heard about bimodal approach? In a traditional world, bimodal approach means to provide two models simultaneously. I’ve learned about bimodal approach in PLM from Jos’ articles. Here are couple of passages from PDT about that.

The day was closed with a large panel, where the panelist first jumped on the topic bimodal (bipolar ?? / multimodal ??) talking about mode 1 (the strategic approach) and mode 2 (the tactical and fast approach based on Gartner’s definition). It was clear that the majority of the panel was in Mode 1 mode.

Mark Halpern (Gartner) mentioned here again the bimodal thinking. Aras is bimodal. The classical PLM vendors running in mode 1 will not change radically and the new vendors, the mode 2 types will need time to create credibility. Other companies mentioned here PropelPLM (PLM on Salesforce platform) or OnShape will battle the next five years to become significant and might disrupt.

Honestly, I’ve got confused about this bimodal thing. I scratches my head and went to Google for additional information. Bimodal IT model was proposed by Gartner few years ago. Here is a passage from Gartner:

Bimodal is the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work: one focused on predictability; the other on exploration. Mode 1 is optimized for areas that are more predictable and well-understood. It focuses on exploiting what is known, while renovating the legacy environment into a state that is fit for a digital world. Mode 2 is exploratory, experimenting to solve new problems and  optimized for areas of uncertainty. These initiatives often begin with a hypothesis that is tested and adapted during a process involving short iterations, potentially adopting a minimum viable product (MVP)  approach. Both modes are essential to create substantial value and drive significant organizational change, and neither is static. Marrying a more predictable evolution of products and technologies (Mode 1) with the new and innovative (Mode 2) is the essence of an enterprise bimodal capability. Both play an essential role in the digital transformation.

Jos classified PLM vendors as type 1 and type 2. It means none of them is actually bi-modal, which made me think that bimodal approach can only be taken by IT organization looking how to build PLM solutions. By separating into two modes, IT teams can ensure that they have the right people, process, and technology to support business initiatives without impacting long-term maintenance projects.

It means that all development projects can be divided into 2 groups – maintenance and development. The first group is related to core system maintenance, stability and efficiency. This is old fashion PLM suites of products focusing on how to maintain what they build for the last 15 years. Business has nothing to do with them since they are running existing processes. Second group – development, is more interesting. I can see it as a set of development projects that can help to innovate and differentiate the business. It requires rapid IT line to transform business ideas into IT solutions.

In practice it means that all existing PLM products are incapable to dynamic and innovative solution for businesses. These products have developed 1-2 decades ago and can only maintain existing processes and organizational practices. What IT managers can do in such situation? My hunch is that Jos’ recommendation is to look for alternatives – new solutions capable to provide solution in dynamic business and technological environment. The example of Airbus building business data lake on top of existing data extracted from traditional application is a good one.

Anders Romare started with a presentation called: Digital Transformation through an e2e PLM backbone, where he explained the concept of extracting data from the various silo systems in the company (CRM, PLM, MES, ERP) to make data available across the enterprise. In particular in their business transformation towards digital capabilities Airbus needed and created a new architecture on top of the existing business systems, focusing on data (“Data is the new oil”).

In order to meet a data-driven environment, Airbus extracts and normalizes data from their business systems and provides a data lake with integrated data on top of which various apps can run to offer digital services to existing and new stakeholders on any type of device. The data-driven environment allows people to have information in context and almost real-time available to make right decisions. Currently, these apps run on top of this data layer.

What is my conclusion? Current PLM landscape is not leaving to IT managers many options. Established PLM vendors are offering existing well developed PLM product suites. You can buy into the idea of a large PLM vendor and follow the drill. The problem here – old tools, complex implementation and slow process changes. IT managers have no choice but get out in the wild adventure and look for new solutions capable to co-exist with old school applications and provide dynamic business growth to manufacturing companies. Bimodal IT strategy can legitimate new approach in industry solution. Instead of locking into “strategic” decision for the next 10 years, companies can use a set of tools to innovate. Cloud services will low barrier to entry will become a supportive mechanism for such development. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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  • Håkan Kårdén

    Hi Oleg,
    I think the concept of bimodal was nicely introduced by Jos Voskuil into PLM, with good timing. This is also the thinking with ShareAspace, it is not a rip and replace. Bimodal is good as we all need a concept to understand what needs to be done, managing investments in legacy (SW and data) but in parallel create a PLM platform that allows established companies to innovate again.
    Thanks for elaborating in the topic,

  • beyondplm

    Hakan, thanks for your comment. I can get “bimodal” as IT or implementation strategy. Example of Airbus is clear- keep existing system for what it good, extract/index data and use it for downstream / upstream services. However, what means “bimodal PLM vendors”? I cannot get it. Can you explain, please? Thanks, Oleg

  • Håkan Kårdén

    I am not sure there is a bimodal PLM vendor but rather two types of vendors: Vendors that companies have selected typicall several years ago and they stick with for long time. Changes are hard to implement in most of these systems for reasons of the SW or implementation. And then there are vendors that companies use to explore new and disruptive ideas as these are seldom introduced by the large vendors. The large ones have a business to protect.

  • Hi Oleg,
    Great article. I did not get the chance to read Joe’s notes, however, as part of my academic analysis of Gartner’s bimodal suggestion, you have to consider that it is beyond having two approaches. Bimodal IT organization also have organizational split in budgets, incentives, objectives and champions. The reasoning behind this approach is to avoid the often conflict of interest of having an executive who is incentivised to stabilize the organization, to be in charge of say an innovative PLM deployment. This situation basically guarantees the innovative solution to fail as the focus is not on the right places. Unfortunately, due to cost cutting, the reality today is that the same person who is in charge of “creating innovation” is also in charge of maintenance.

  • beyondplm

    Yaser, great points about IT organization! Thanks for sharing that. However, my concern is the same – I can see how engineering IT or people in charge of PLM can do one of the directions. But the balance is hard.

  • That’s the flaw in Gartner’s article. The concept is fairly new, I hope industry examples of quick wins will start popping soon.

  • beyondplm

    Look forward to see that start happening.