It Takes More Than Technology to Knock Down a Silo

Steven Hill
Steven Hill

Summary Bullets:

  • The IT industry needs to acknowledge that institutional silos are a human construct rather than specifically a technology problem and realize that technology isn’t always the solution for purely human-based challenges.
  • To actually banish silos, a company needs to evolve its management philosophy and change its corporate culture from adversarial to cooperative, so that managers are no longer forced into wasteful turf wars over budgets and resources.

Many vendors are still using the ‘break down the IT silos’ message to sell their convergence message. Silos are not a new idea – I first learned of them over 20 years ago – and I believe they are not necessarily a byproduct of technology. Silos develop in every corporate environment through a combination of groups that are tasked with substantially different missions and driven by the competitive forces of budgeting, corporate power, bragging rights and other territorial pressures. It is a very human condition, and as such not a problem likely to be solved by technology.

Sure, it’s easy to point at IT as a bastion of ‘silos.’ The disparate management and varying budget cycles necessary to support massive groups of servers, storage and networking over the last 20 years pretty much dictated that different teams should focus on the complexity of those tasks and look after the long-term planning, care and support of those specific entities. These were very advanced technical specialties with relatively clear demarcations, so it is no surprise that from the outside they appear as silos. But, I can assure you, those very same silos exist throughout practically every aspect of the corporate world.

In most corporations, every single department, and quite often, every single division within those departments are susceptible to the ‘silo effect.’ They all are forced to compete for the same resources as everyone else, and once they’ve received their share, they jealously guard it against encroachment from other silos. Sales vs. Marketing, Engineering vs. Development…even any product vs. any other product in the very same company; the tug of war over resources goes on and on and on. My point? Raging at silos is a lazy marketing strategy. People, not technology, create silos. Though technology might have been an instigator in the IT world, it’s still people who perpetuate these artificial divisions, and unless you fix the people problem first, you’ll only succeed in moving the silos to cover another segment.

I’m not saying that defeating the silo mentality is impossible; I’m just saying that maybe it takes more than buying a different version of server, or networking, or storage to actually solve the problem. Sure, there are a number of great new technologies that will change the way IT does things, but don’t forget there are vendors that will do anything they can to get your attention, including throwing your staff right under the bus if they have to. If you’re truly interested in adopting a new platform, talk to your team about it, honestly listen and don’t immediately assume that they’re only interested in protecting their jobs. Many of the IT people I speak with on the ground are actually interested in doing the right thing, but are often so busy keeping the wheels on that nobody has the time to even look at new ways of doing things, much less put together a slick presentation. Engage your IT group and make them part of the decision. So, when you’re considering your next change, or when some vendor’s poking you in the eye with a silo, take a minute to step back and look to see if your technology choices are really the problem, or if you may be the one propping up the silo.

What do you think?

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