Reflecting on IT / business silos

Reflecting on IT / business silos

Summary: This photo sparked my thinking regarding silos and the so-called gap between IT and lines of business.


This photo sparked my thinking regarding silos and the so-called gap between IT and lines of business.

The notion that IT and the business speak different languages is such a well-worn cliché that it's almost unbearable to discuss. Nonetheless, perhaps the cliché is so worn precisely because it expresses a common truth with which we are all familiar.

In this metaphorical representation of information silos, there is a small bridge at the top signifying some communication happening at the most senior level in an organization. Aside from that, the two business units just do not talk.

Does this scenario ring true for you? Please share your experiences with information silos and IT / business alignment.

[Photo by Michael Krigsman.]

Topic: CXO

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  • Also the ground at the bottom...

    There's also the ground at the bottom of the silos
    connecting them. I think communication happens there as
    well in many cases.

    Silos emerge because communication is a O(n^2) problem.
    No business for more than a few people could survive if it
    didn't divide and conquer. Increasing the communication
    between silos usually involves creating lots of liaison type
    positions, which will mostly be seen seen as fat to be cut
    when times get tough.

    Silos are kind of like a greedy algorithm. You trade a
    suboptimal solution for one that can be cheaply computed.
    They won't really be broken down until someone has a
    sub-linear way to scale organizations that works in the
    general case.
    Erik Engbrecht
    • Even worse

      Communication between any two parties in a
      group scales is an O(n^2) issue, but that is
      just for starters. This is because everyone in
      the company can talk with anyone else. If we
      have groups of three people, we can have n(n-
      1)(n-2)=n!/(n-3!) combinations, for each
      combination, we have 3 potential speakers and 3
      groups of listeners. By induction, you can see
      that we have n^a groups (where a is the group
      size.) Within each group, there are a! pairs
      of communicators.

      I believe that this moves us to an exponential,
      as in exp(n), time dependence. Not the
      marketing-speak 'exponential' meaning "rapidly
      growing in some way we don't understand". This
      is no longer a problem solvable in 'polynomial
  • Management have lost the plot.

    We have been living through of "bean counters", where theoretical good practice (ITIL), accountability (SLAs), performance (number of incidents resolved), all seasoned with political correctness, equal opportunities and other things have totally distracted managers from what they SHOULD be doing. And managers on the Business side and the IT side are equally guilty.
    "IT" is a silly term now. Obviously one would use computers and technology. So drop the T, and we become the Information Department. This gives a clue to what the Head of IT SHOULD be doing. The management should be advising the business on what Information we hold, and how it could be be made available and leveraged.
    When was the last time your IT Manager took that approach? A very long time ago, I bet?
    Information is the sum total of all the data in an organisation. That data should be regarded as the most valuable asset after the employees, and it should be cared for and nurtured. This means weeding and archiving, capacity management and planning, and investing in better forms of storage, and in code that can extract and re-align data into the most useful combinations.
    THAT is what the management on both sides should be working on.
  • And IT happens in a silo, a barn, a field, and a flower garden...

    I love the photo!

    I wish it were that simple. Often, the IT silo is shorter, and is connected to the upper middle of the business silo. And there are multiple business silos. The value stream is a garden hose running from one silo to the next.

    Words shape our thinking.

    One of the fundamental problems IMO is the use of the single acronym "IT" to encompass things as diverse as:

    1. Infrastructure (servers and routers and switches and desktops/laptops/smartphones), to

    2. Purchased/licensed general-utility applications used inside the walls to do the usual stuff, to

    3. Transactional systems that cross business boundaries up- and down-stream, to

    4. Consumer-facing websites and business-intelligence systems

    This isn't my idea--I first read about it 10 years ago in "Leveraging the New Infrastructure." The dimensions of IT have different cost structures and yield value in different ways. They range from totally indifferent to the nature of the business they serve to joined at the brain and heart. Projects to implement them require completely different teams and have completely different risk profiles and predictability. The same can be said for "maintaining" them.

    IT leadership may not even recognize and account for the diversity in how they need to "do IT." What chance do people outside have?.

    I've written about this at and on my website
    • Many shapes, sizes, and forms

      You are certainly correct in saying there are many different variants of this problem.

      I actually have quite a few silo photos showing different degrees of interaction, so we are definitely on the same page.
  • Sileage

    I see it every day with our customers. Our goal as an organization is to try to facilitate more communication. While there is the Staff/IT silo gap, I most often see it across departments. What really kills me is to go to a place and the marketing department is isolated from the rest of the company. You know, the data where they could be getting their success metrics from.

    It happens in many other iterations as well. I think there are a lot of products to help out with this, but the number one thing is to foster an environment of communication, as you can have the world's best ERP or Database, but if the users don't use it than the silos will remain.

  • RE: Reflecting on IT / business silos

    As people and organizations focus more on the cross-cutting processes that generate the greatest value, artificial barriers that create a segmented, or siloed, understanding of roles, information and systems are also breaking down.

    There are still many organizations and systems that are deeply siloed. However, as technologies like Enterprise Architecture and Business Process Management software have become widely recognized as mission-critical, we are finding that these silos are easier to break down than we once thought.

    For example, Enterprise Architecture models enable business and IT to speak a common language?bridging the communication gap. These models?which require the skills of IT, yet cannot be created without the insight of business?provide IT with a better understanding of business, and business with a vehicle to communicate effectively with IT.

    Business Process Management, too, enables business and IT to better communicate and collaborate on the day to day execution of the enterprise by enabling business users to take ownership of their processes, suggest or even implement changes, and ?do? technology while experiencing first-hand the agility and productivity created by the investment.

    Furthermore, the ubiquity and velocity of e-mail and now social computing is helping to break down barriers even faster.

    It?s a very exciting time. These technologies are coming together to create an environment where silos are a thing of the past?and perhaps to prove to us that business and IT are not so different after all.

    -Greg Carter
    Chief Technology Officer & VP of Development at Metastorm, inc.