Blog, Leadership, Management

Silos & Empires

Where I come from (small town Oklahoma), silos are part of life for dairy farmers.  A silo is a good thing…it stores grains (we called it sileage) to feed cattle and can be found on most farms across the state.

Imagine my surprise when I first started working in large organizations.  I started hearing about ‘silos’ and found that they weren’t quite as good as the silos I remember back home.

Silos in the corporate world are created for one thing…and one thing only: control.  If you want to control something within an organization, you build your little empire by building a silo around your piece of the business.  You don’t interact or communicate with other groups unless absolutely necessary, you make ‘getting things done’ as difficult as possible and you protect your ‘turf’ at all costs.

Today’s Dilbert Comic Strip (June 28 2008) had a nice commentary on the subject….and is somewhat true for some organizations.

Its funny because its true.

How does one build a silo/empire?  Easy.  Create a process and stick to it. When’s the last time you requested something be done and heard ‘well…that’s not our process…you’ll need to file a form to request that’.  Does that group that you were dealing with have a reputation for getting the job done?  More likely, that group is one that everyone hates dealing with precisly because they can’t get anything done quickly because of their ‘processes’.

I hate to say it, but ‘that’ group is usually the information technology group of an organization.  IT groups have a great deal of processes and compliance demands thrust upon them (PCI, SAS70, SOX, etc) which makes life difficult for all parties involved.  I think a lot of IT groups try to hide behind these processes rather than find ways to deal with them and get things done quickly.  Its easier to hide behind a process and let your self become process bound than finding innovative ways to work these new compliance issues and processes in to the organization so that they don’t slow everything down.

In a real-world silo, grain goes in for storage, sometimes waiting for weeks before being used. Mechanical devices pull the grain out of the silo and distribute it to the waiting cattle who then consume it.  Should we (the folks that need to get things done) stand around and wait for the farmer to turn on the feeder device or should we find a way to jump the fence and hit that ‘on’ button ourselves?  Why not start trying to remove some of the bricks at the base of the silo and see if we can’t open up some more holes…perhaps we can start to get things done quicker.

Rather than acting like Dilbert (or more accurately, his Pointy Haired Boss), lets start focusing on getting our jobs done.


About Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a data scientist, technology consultant and entrepreneur with an interest in using data and technology to solve problems. When not building cool things, Eric can be found outside with his camera(s) taking photographs of landscapes, nature and wildlife.
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Eric D. Brown
15 years ago

Gary – That’s worth much more than 2 cents!

Your comment of:
“Perhaps the real issue is that IT needs to do a better job of managing perceptions within the organization and marketing the real-world value that it’s processes and procedures provide to the organization as a whole”

Is exactly what IT needs to do…and is what I’m trying to help IT groups do. How do we manage the perception that people have of the IT group? How do we communicate the value of the IT group?


Gary Drumm
15 years ago

When I took on my current position, I was actually hired to be the IT Support Manager. The company’s IT group had a terrible perception. Things took way too long to get done. The helpdesk staff was unfriendly and provided mediocre support, and we had consultants performing our day-to-day network management and operations. On my third day, I believe it was, I was introduced to the entire sales and marketing staff. These are the people who bring in the money, and yet they were basically abused by IT in general. I looked them in the eyes and told them “You… Read more »

Eric D. Brown
15 years ago

Great thoughts Gary.

Your 6 ideas for changing the perception of IT are classic. Thanks so much.

I especially like the 3rd one: Break down unnecessary barriers to IT

This seems to be the major issue with most IT groups…the processes that are put in place aren’t fully explained to the customers. The customers then see those processes are barriers to getting things done.

Thanks again…great insight!

14 years ago

When people get stressed they often fall back on the tried and true, those things that have worked in the past, rather than try to work out a new way of addressing issues. There is a lot of risk when it comes to social networking, mostly in that if your organization is already dysfunctional, or there are silos within the process of information sharing, social networking can highlight or amplify the issues surrounding those silos rather than breaking down barriers.


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