IT ambidexterity for business processes: the importance of balance



In highly dynamic industries, business processes require exploitation, i.e. activities that are associated with an increase in productivity through automation, standardization, integrated architectures, and the usage of existing IT resources. As a complementary capability, exploration is needed, i.e. the ability to flexibly implement new and innovative IT resources (Lee et al., 2015). The purpose of this paper is to use the concept of ambidexterity, which is researched intensively outside the domain of business processes (e.g. Gibson and Birkinshaw, 2004; Tang and Rai, 2014), to address this paradoxical trade-off within business processes.


The paper follows a qualitative approach. A multiple case study comprising 11 interviews and additional document analysis in six organizations is conducted in the German energy sector to examine the proposed framework.


This paper shows the importance of balancing exploitative and explorative business process IT (BPIT) capabilities. The process-theoretical outcome of this study is the BPIT Capability Framework that provides explanation for the interaction between exploitation and exploration.

Research limitations/implications

This study contributes to the understanding of how to build ambidextrous BPIT capabilities by explaining the underlying mechanisms for feedback loops that occur in cases of imbalance. The scope of the conducted study presents a limitation and thus future research is encouraged to further validate the findings of this paper.


By drilling down to the process level, this paper addresses the gaps that limited empirical studies have in business process management research (Recker and Mendling, 2015) and the focus on business processes that is lacking from the literature on organizational IT management (Gregory et al., 2015).



Heckmann, C. and Maedche, A. (2018), „IT ambidexterity for business processes: the importance of balance“, Business Process Management Journal, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 862-881.

Ambidexterity in Information Systems Research: Overview of Conceptualizations, Antecedents, and Outcomes


Organizations that are not efficient and innovative today quickly become irrelevant tomorrow. Ambidexterity (i.e., simultaneously conducting two seemingly contradicting activities, such as exploitation and exploration) helps organizations to overcome this challenge and, hence, has become increasingly popular with manifold applications in information systems (IS) research. However, we lack a systematic understanding of ambidexterity research, its research streams, and their future trajectory. Hence, we conduct a systematic literature review on ambidexterity in IS research and identify six distinct research streams that use an ambidexterity lens: IT-enabled organizational ambidexterity, ambidextrous IT capability, ambidexterity in IS development, ambidextrous IS strategy, ambidextrous inter-organizational relationships, and organizational ambidexterity in IS. We present the current state of research in each stream. More so, we comprehensively overview application areas, conceptualizations, antecedents for, and outcomes of ambidexterity. Hence, this study contributes to the emergent theme of ambidexterity in IS research.

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