By definition of any Business Operations, there has to be various “Verticals” of effort defined. This allows for easy delegation of responsibilities while allowing for the members of a particular vertical to own their work without having to worry about the big picture. Unfortunately, this leads to what is colloquially referred to as the “Silo Mentality”.
The Silo Mentality as defined by the Business Dictionary is a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.
Silo is a business term that has been passed around and discussed at many board room tables over the last 30 years. Unlike many other trendymanagement terms this is one issue that has not disappeared over the years. Departmental silos are seen as a growing pain for most organizations of all sizes. It is the duty of the executive leaders and management to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mind-set to break down this destructive organizational barrier.
As it pertains to Data Centricity, Data Driven Operations, Single Source of Data Truth, etc, the Silo Mentality creates added business adversity.
It Trickles Down from the Top
The silo mindset does not appear accidentally nor is it a coincidence that most organizations struggle with interdepartmental turf wars. When we take a deeper a look at the root cause of these issues, we find that more often than not silos are the result of a conflicted leadership team.
Many executives may look at their organization and dismiss department inefficiencies and lack of cross-functional solutions with immature employees, lack of basic training, or simply the inability for some employees to play nicely with one another
Data silos are a serious business problem. We gather machine data in one place, security data in another, customer experience and support data in another — the list goes on. This structure may make sense at a departmental level, but it prevents collaboration necessary to ensure competitiveness. Companies need an operational data layer that is core to business processes and supports data sharing.
Operational Breakdown Between Business & I.T.
It is common for the relationship between IT and the other departments to become strained over time. Many factors can contribute to the friction between company unit leaders and the IT group. Regardless of the causes for the interdepartmental tension, we have found that this stress plays out in common ways.
Based on these interactions, here are our observations about where department heads and IT commonly clash.
Battleground #1: Communication
More often than not, when asked for their biggest issue with IT, managers respond with a one word answer: “communication.” Digging deeper, we find that there are generally three types of feedback that are grouped underneath this word.
First, there are those who claim insufficient follow-up, missed appointments, or lack of progress reporting. We don’t study these issues too deeply because this feedback is typical of any internal support group, and it is easily remedied with coaching or replacement of problem employees.
The second type of complaints come from managers who claim to have no idea what IT people are saying and little patience for figuring it out. They stop listening at the first hint of technical jargon and surrender any chance for a reasonable or coherent conversation.
The third type of grievance is the most interesting to us because it is really about control. Managers complain that the conversation is always one sided. Regardless of the input of the manager, IT will always have the last word and decisions will be made with little regard for departmental input.
Battleground #2: Respect
The number one complaint from the IT people about department management boils down to an issue of respect. Because the “computer people” can see the complexity of the technology behind the curtain, they know how fragile these systems can be. They shoulder the huge responsibility of keeping the lights blinking and no one seems to care. IT departments are rarely commended for their work but are regularly criticized — often in emotional and unprofessional ways. IT staff feel overworked and underappreciated.
Another aspect to this respect issue comes from the visibility of the IT support staff to everyone in the company. Whereas the productivity of most office workers is known only by departmental managers and peers, everyone in the organization has an opinion of the work product of the IT people. It is difficult to maintain your corporate spirit if anyone in the company, high or low on the organization chart, has the ability to openly criticize your efforts.
Also of note in our meetings with IT staff is their reaction to the departmental complaints about communication documented in battleground #1 — “managers never read our e-mails.” I will let that comment speak for itself.
Battleground #3: Process
The biggest everyday contributor to the friction between IT and end users is a lack of precision about the response to technical issues. Today most organizations have a help desk with procedures for tracking problems. However, if there is any perception that the ticketing process can be circumvented, the system will produce more tension than it relieves.
To illustrate this point, imagine yourself entering a deli, moving through the crowd, and pulling a ticket to get your place in line. As long as the numbers keep moving in order, you are patient and friendly. However, if people start coming in to the counter and getting service ahead of you without ever pulling a ticket for themselves, how fast would your attitude change? Most people would drop the ticket process entirely and use their elbows.
Battleground #3: Process
This behavior applies to the help desk. Office workers tell us that an appropriate process for issue resolution is more important than the amount of time it takes to solve the problem. In other words, they are happy to be patient as long as the process is fair. However, they become agitated quickly if people are cutting in line. If the corporate culture allows some people to call mobile phones, hijack the “IT guy” in the hall, or use their position to jump ahead, the long-term result can only lead to widespread distrust in the system.
Battleground #4: Balance
The fourth area of contention involves the decision process that balances the IT needs of the individual departments with the IT needs of the organization as a whole. The traditional battlegrounds for this equilibrium are security, standards, and product selection.
Security is contradictory to convenience in the workplace, and is often the IT trump card to kill popular new capabilities. Standards and policies are essential to an organized IT department but are seen as restrictive and bureaucratic by the staff. More often than not, product selection becomes an exercise in configuring the lowest common denominator of needs across the entire business rather than accommodating the uniqueness of departmental missions.
We find the biggest threats to this balance of needs are the disruptive technologies — mobile devices and the cloud. All engagements in the last two years have shown that these emerging technologies are the new front line in the battle between IT and the departments.
Battleground #5: Commitment
This last potential spot for an IT and management clash is subtle, rarely addressed, and often baked into the company culture. Stated simply, it is the degree of willingness of management to take the responsibility for requiring their employees to adapt to change.
For example, this principle comes to light during roll outs of new or upgraded software applications. The amount of resolve from department heads to place clear expectations for cooperation among their staff is the most critical factor for the success of a major implementation. Without the leadership from the manager, IT staff are forced to battle with department employees on their own without the authority needed for a smooth execution. The result is often job disruption, missed deadlines, and mediocre results. More often than not, the blame for the unpleasant experience will fall back on IT, not on the complacent department head.
Data Governance – Operations & Software
In recent years, more and more enterprises are realizing that their data is more valuable than gold. But due to the operational challenges between IT and non-IT departments, understanding one’s own data at an enterprise level is a challenge, to say the least. This leads to questions like: Where do I get my data from?; Is the data correct? Is the data complete? How has the data evolved? How old is the data? Whom else can see the data? What are others doing with this data, if anything?
As a means to address these questions (amongst others), various softwares have been developed by various software companies (i.e. Collibra’s DGC Software; Alation’s Data Catalog; etc). These softwares have become ever more popular as it allows the end-users a single source of truth for their data.
But even these softwares fall victim to the Silo Mentality. Questions arise about who can implement this software first so as to “gain credit”, or conversely, no one wants to invest money and effort so as not to risk workforce reduction.
It is our job to work with your enterprise, at all levels, from Top Down, to implement the Data Centric Softwares, and to work with / augment your staff to train and operationalize the new data related requirements and skill sets. We serve as a conduit between Business and IT, with Data Management skills to help make your enterprise more efficient, taking your data into account.
- Business Dictionary:
- Enterprise Systems Journal