IT Silos: What Causes Them And How To Overcome Them

Hear what 40 CIOs and other IT leaders have to say


According to Patrick Lencioni, 'silos are nothing more than the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another' (Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, Patrick Lencioni, page 175). Given these business impacts, I wanted to understand who was responsible for driving the silos within the IT organization. Fortunately, I was able to survey over 40 CIOs and other IT leaders. Here is a summary of the results:

If one thing is clear, CIOs in aggregate do not see themselves as totally blameless. But other causes especially other business leaders account for most the impact. So what are the details on what CIOs and other business and IT leaders think?

Silos are the anthesis of what is needed

Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer at Apcera, said silos in IT are the anthesis of what is needed in IT. Creating process and organization structures to support modern deployment options helps. He went on to say something important. Modern IT deployment tools and processes—for example PaaS or DevOps—are only successful when silos are removed. Mark Orlan, Executive Director, Information Services and Technology Schulich School of Business, did not disagree. He said that 'silo thinking is a leftover from Ivory Tower thinking. To manage against it, culture needs to shift from fear to trust-based'.

Silos are culture and process problem

Ed Featherston, VP and Principal Architect for Cloud Technology Partners, dug into this by saying that, as others mentioned, silos are a culture and process problem, that requires leadership, 'changing technology is easy, changing culture is hard'. Orland agreed and said, 'it is not about technology. Too often a change in leadership is what is needed'. Cynthia Stoddard, CIO of Adobe, agreed by saying that 'breaking silos starts at the top with strategy and clear expectations. A must is to focus not only on what is delivered but how it is delivered'. Agreeing, Joanna Young, Former Michigan State University CIO, said 'there needs to be joint objectives and mutual accountability”.

Joe Sabado, CIO and Executive Director of Student Information Systems, UCSB, agreed with Cynthia and Joanna by saying that managers must understand and articulate organization purposes to the rest of the organization. They must model partnership and not siloed practices.

Better business immersion can help

Josh Wright, Chief Technology Architect for PWC, added onto what Mark had to say by saying that “the more that IT is immersed in business operations strategy, the better. IT should be involved earlier and often to provide the most value to their enterprises'. Ronald Gruia, Director of Frost and Sullivan attacked the idea of silo thinking = vertical = old school; new architectures are all about 'horizontalization'.

Silos show a lack of trust?

David Bray, CIO for the FCC, said that sil s can occur due to a lack of trust. Change agents, for this reason, need to be trust builders. As managers, we can shape incentives plus trust. Technology shares information. This makes you more or less trusting.

At this point Steve Wilson, Principal Analyst at Constellation Energy, said that silos are inevitable and aren’t all bad. David Bray said you may want some as checks and balances, but the big question is how to have organization agility plus checks. 

David Bray said the worry here is the global exponential change that is challenging people and organizations. Mike Kail, former CIO of Yahoo, said trust and respect are key. Jorgen Heizenberg, Research Director at Gartner Data and Analytics, says trust is built on dependency. Craig Milroy, Enterprise Architecture for Sun Life, said that typically it is a CEO and board decisions how they want to operate the organization then IT pays consequences of the business operating model

Systems are no longer isolated too

James McGovern Research Director at Gartner for Enterprise Architecture started out. He said that systems are no longer isolated and neither are we. Users demand innovative experiences with smart client-side technologies and new modes of interaction leading the charge. At the same time, information technologies have accelerated the rate of interconnection of people, things, and organizations”.

Parting remarks

'If there is a place where blame for silos and politics belongs, it is at the top of the organization. Every departmental silo in any company can ultimately traced back to the leaders of those departments' (Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, Patrick Lencioni, page 177). While there is disagreement regarding the causes, the impacts are clear. This is a place for leadership. CIOs are clear that ensuring privacy needs specific things: for the business to be on board and for the design of privacy to be systematic and by design. 

Twitter: @MylesSuer


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