Fighting the Farmers

Silos are a common means by which farmers store the grain they have harvested until it can be taken to market. While silos make sense in agriculture, why are they so prevalent in non-agricultural organizations? Nearly every business has farmers or systems that gather and hoard data in information silos that are impenetrable for those outside that particular farm. This happens even though it is commonly understood that these silos hamper rather than enhance the efficient running of a business.  So in marches KM on a mission to “break down silos” and facilitate the free flow of information. However, knowledge management alone may not be enough since much depends on the tools chosen and on the execution.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, may I direct your attention to the following items:

The Tools You Choose Can Exacerbate the Problem: Tom Vander Wal recently reported on the sad plight of several organizations that had deployed Microsoft SharePoint in the hope that it would facilitate knowledge sharing.  Instead, this is what happened as a result of the tool they chose:

Many who deployed SharePoint, thought it was going to be the bridge that delivered Enterprise 2.0 and a solid platform for social tools in the enterprise is summed up statement, “We went from 5 silos in our organization to hundreds in a month after deploying SharePoint”. They continue, “There is great information being shared and flowing into the system, but we don’t know it exists, nor can we easily share it, nor do much of anything with that information.” I heard this from an organization about 2 years ago in a private meeting and have been hearing near similar statements since. This is completely counter to the Enterprise 2.0 hopes and wishes they had for SharePoint. They were of the mindset that open sharing & having the organization and individuals benefit from a social platform.

[…]

There is much frustration and anger being shared as people try to resolve how to share information between groups and easily merge and openly share information once it has been vetted. … One of the largest complaints is the information is locked in SharePoint micro-silos and it is nearly impossible to easily reuse that information and share it. Not only is the information difficult to get at by people desiring to collaborate outside the group or across groups, but it is not easily unlocked so that it can benefit from found in search. The Microsoft SharePoint model is one that starts with things locked down (focussed on hierarchies) then opens up, but unlocking is nowhere near as easy a task as it should be.

The Way You Execute Can Create New Problems: In 2004 the US Office of Management and Budget identified several functions or “lines of business” of government that could be rationalized across agencies by using technology to cut costs and improve service.  At one point, the OMB estimated that the lines of business initiative could “save as much as $5 billion over 10 years by consolidating systems and functions just in the financial and human resources lines of business.”  Yet in the estimation of even one of its strongest proponents, the project (styled at first as primarily an IT initiative) did not sufficiently take account of the people and politics involved.  The final nail in the coffin was the reality of underfunding of the project by Congress.  The result was summed up by Vivek Kundra, the new Federal Chief Information Officer, in the following way:

Many of those initiatives, he said, attempted to break down the vertical technology silos that evolved across government but ultimately resulted in horizontal, cross-agency silos, such as the Lines of Business initiatives that began in 2004.

Horizontal silos!  Are those any better than the earlier vertical silos?  And yet this is a mess made by people who were trying in good faith to break down silos.

Bad tools and poor execution can result in even more balkanized data and technology if we aren’t careful.  Clearly, if we’re serious about fighting the information and technology silos, we’re also going to have to be more strategic in the way we fight the farmers that build them.

[Photo Credit:  Bob Jagendorf]

Share

10 thoughts on “Fighting the Farmers

  • June 9, 2009 at 9:30 am
    Permalink

    Mary,

    Breaking down silos is one of the main goals we had when we created PBworks Project Edition. Unlike our previous product, where each workspace sat in isolation, Project Edition lets you embed an unlimited number of workspaces in an overall corporate “network”, complete with network-wide search.

    Bill,

    Could not agree more that search is the key. As the number of workspaces proliferates (much like SharePoint instances can proliferate), search becomes essential. It's also the case that our SaaS model is (ironically enough) better for IT, because IT can take on the role of a network-wide admin…this allows IT to manage all the disparate workspace instances rather than worrying about what might be happening under the radar.

  • June 9, 2009 at 9:54 am
    Permalink

    As much as you like to stay above the technology, I find the technology is the root of the problem.

    It is not intentional on the part of the organization. It is intentional by the technology. The default is for privacy and isolating information instead of sharing it.

    Sharepoint is making some headway because it is part of the default suite of applications in the Office platform. That is the default set of tools for many, many businesses. The weaknesses in Sharepoint is that it too defaults to isolation of information instead of sharing it.

  • June 9, 2009 at 1:46 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks very much, Bill. You're right that comprehensive enterprise search
    can be a bridge. In fact, perhaps it's the “battering ram” we need to break
    down these silos.

    – Mary

  • June 9, 2009 at 1:47 pm
    Permalink

    Chris –

    Thanks for the info on PBWorks Project Edition. Based on your experience,
    what's the advantage to embedding multiple work spaces in your product
    versus following Bill's recommendation of robust enterprise search?

    – Mary

  • June 9, 2009 at 1:52 pm
    Permalink

    Doug –

    You're right that technology is key here. However, so is planning and
    process. Organizations now have been warned about the defaults embedded in
    SharePoint. They are going to have to be very intentional in overriding
    those defaults in order to achieve the open communication and knowledge
    sharing promised by Microsoft. Hopefully Microsoft will recognize the gap
    between what it has promised and what it has delivered, and will help
    provide some engineering solutions. Otherwise, it will be up to individual
    enterprises to create workflow to deal with this problem.

    – Mary

  • Pingback: The Dark Side of Collaboration | Above and Beyond KM

  • November 15, 2009 at 6:00 am
    Permalink

    At a recent smarter work summit sponsored by IBM, the key note speaker (Peter Sheahan) touched on this when he said that he thought new innovation would come from companies who can effectively bridge these silos.

    Personally I agree – I think the silo problem is a massive one and in my experience the “next” level of maturity as companies implement multiple solutions without and sense of a platform in this space and then realise they've created a series of piles of knowledge that while perhaps more collaborative, still aren't joined up and collected together.

    We are building a tool at http://www.binaryplex.com which we believe helps solve some of this problem, by focussing on people and their demonstrated expertise across the silos and tying it all back together.

    As a past Enterprise Architect, I also agree with your conclusion on fighting the farmers, the best way to prevent something is to stop it being built in the first place!

  • November 15, 2009 at 11:00 am
    Permalink

    At a recent smarter work summit sponsored by IBM, the key note speaker (Peter Sheahan) touched on this when he said that he thought new innovation would come from companies who can effectively bridge these silos.

    Personally I agree – I think the silo problem is a massive one and in my experience the “next” level of maturity as companies implement multiple solutions without and sense of a platform in this space and then realise they've created a series of piles of knowledge that while perhaps more collaborative, still aren't joined up and collected together.

    We are building a tool at http://www.binaryplex.com which we believe helps solve some of this problem, by focussing on people and their demonstrated expertise across the silos and tying it all back together.

    As a past Enterprise Architect, I also agree with your conclusion on fighting the farmers, the best way to prevent something is to stop it being built in the first place!

Comments are closed.