Thursday, 29 October 2015


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I have been reading a very interesting book this week, called 'The Silo Effect', by Gillian Tett. It's a book that explores what happens when we do things in silo's within organisations. Sometimes it's good, other times bad.

Often in the jargon of IT and management speak, silos exist only to be torn down. I have seen quite a few silos and people who seemed to like working within them, to the detriment of their organisations. What I mean by silo working, is operating too much in isolation, not sharing information freely as needed, around the organisation.

There are of course physical and mental silos at work. How would we connect those silos or make them more effective? On leaving school, I undertook a technician apprenticeship at an electrical engineering company. It was a very immersive experience and took best part of three years. It took me through blue collar manufacturing, wiring  and testing areas, as well as white collar contracts, design, estimating, sales and IT areas. When I had finished I had a whole organisation journey in my mind.

My old dad, he had a very silo mentality, with shop floor staff in one, and office workers in another. He did not have the benefit of what I saw and sadly died when I was just 21, so we never managed to reconcile that one.

I have seen silo working within local authorities. it can often make one team or department more efficient at the detriment of others. It's the communication thing again, often a reluctance to engage in change projects and therefore problems only become evident when it's all over. Asset or GIS teams often traditionally used to work in this mode, although better HMS integration is definitely improving that.

Silos are not the cause of all issues though. Once you start looking for them however, you seem to want to find them everywhere.  One chapter in the book, looks at if Sony could have challenged Apple's iPod with a compatible player, if they were not stuck in a silo of offering a proprietary music file format. It was more of a mental silo they were in, as they did another Betamax again. it was probably lack of MP3 compatibility that  stopped the inventor of the Walkman, from being dominant in this new market.

Rigid streamlining sometimes stifles imagination in teams, seeing processes as a journey can be a way of coaxing out new ideas, which can be used to the organisations advantage.  Silo-ed data is rarely useful within our organisations and that's the endgame of ever greater module integration.

That ever greater data integration can however has a downside. Anyone who has ever been to Estonia will have noticed how tech-savvy that country is. Citizens are very positive about their civic data being recorded on them, to a much greater extent than would be favoured (by citizens) in the UK. In Estonia however, citizens have chosen to have all that data silo-ed in separate databases by design. The reason? Because then their government only can access only what they need to request. Greater integration would be a security issue for citizens.      

Definitely a book I would recommend, go check it out.   

Related Post: When choosing housing application software, doyou know what to askin the procurement?


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Alter Bridge - IsolationAlter Bridge - Isolation.
(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting 07854-655009

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