How To Identify And Break Down Tech Silos In IT

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Break down silos in IT with cultural shifts and new tools such as extensible workload automation

Many IT organizations still have a silo mentality. Gartner estimates that 75% of DevOps initiatives fail to meet expectations in part due to difficulties working across functional teams, while a separate report from Mulesoft found 89% of IT teams were struggling with data silos. 

A silo is a team or a resource working in a vertical that’s more or less cut off from other verticals (in the org chart or the tech stack). In IT departments, these verticals usually align with function — development, operations, architecture, etc. — or technology — data warehouse, ERP, cloud, SAP and so on.

Silos make it difficult for IT teams to respond to changing business demands. Siloed data and applications hamper efforts to build end-to-end processes while siloed IT teams slow down efforts to provide services and solutions that require cooperation across functions.

Where Do IT Silos Come From?

Organizational silos support the division of labor, or in other words, specialization. This worked great in manufacturing and business, and it worked well in IT, too. For most of IT’s existence, tech stacks were homogeneous. In recent years, as digital adoption accelerated, disparate systems and environments were used to meet the needs of different departments, creating technology verticals that existed as silos. 

This was often reflected in IT org charts and company culture, with IT personnel specializing in specific systems such as SAP or Oracle. Traditional IT departments might have a couple of people with deep knowledge of OpenVMS who are responsible for managing an on-prem mainframe, while another team manages the Azure environment, and so forth.

Most of the large platforms that businesses rely on were never designed to work with disparate systems. So where IT specialized along technology verticals, those silos became more isolated because connections between those disparate systems were rare. 

Silos also come with a cultural component. Teams and leaders are responsible for specific systems and data and as a result are reluctant to share information or access with other teams. There are good compliance concerns for this reluctance (as well as office turf wars). 

The Problem With IT Silos

Silos exist for a good reason — specialization is a highly efficient way to get work done. But as organizations become digitally dependent, IT teams must continuously develop processes and services that manage data across the enterprise. Moreover, team members need to collaborate across functions in order to quickly deliver (and iterate) solutions that meet shifting business demands (a big part of what DevOps is all about).

Silos in IT hamper these efforts in several ways:

  • Disparate systems are difficult to connect, resulting in error-prone and unreliable integrations
  • Poor visibility across tech stacks hampers troubleshooting and makes optimization a costly project
  • Siloed teams and tech stacks rely on different best practices and governance, making standardization and compliance difficult to achieve
  • Teams can be unaware of existing solutions to a problem, resulting in duplication
  • Teams have competing agendas and judge success by different metrics, making it difficult to align efforts
  • Greater inefficiency when software engineering, QA and operations teams aren’t in close communication

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How To Identify Silos In IT

In many cases, the foundation of a department’s digital structure was put in place before silos became a digital obstacle. This led to a few practices that are easy to identify. For example, relying on custom scripts to connect to a database that supports the sales department is usually a good sign that said database is in its own silo.

Data is prone to living in silos. Organizations were collecting as much data as possible before understanding how that data would be used. Changes in leadership, company vision and acquisitions often impact how and what data is collected and stored, leading to silos of data that are sometimes decades old. Additionally, because data is an asset, leaders or groups within an organization can be reluctant to provide access.

Tech silos generally have the same basic needs regardless of what department a silo might support. A telltale sign of a silo then is having multiple or redundant tools. For example, relying on half-a-dozen or more job scheduling tools or monitoring solutions usually means your environments or systems are being managed separately.

Of course, silos aren’t restricted to technology — plenty of IT teams work in silos as well, especially in large IT departments. In this case, different teams within the IT department can have different goals, standards, best practices, metrics or resources. Any of these should be taken as a warning that a team is working in a silo.

To tell if your IT department is siloed, a few key questions can be helpful:

  • Do teams have overlapping access for key resources, systems and data? If not, how does this impact their work?
  • Do teams’ goals align with the IT department’s or organization’s goals? Are individual teams and contributors aware of how their effort contributes to larger goals?
  • Is there an unwillingness to share data, resources or goals with other teams?
  • How often do the development and operations teams interact or collaborate?
  • Do teams have overlapping responsibilities, and do they work together or have duplicative efforts?
  • Are team leads aware of initiatives in other teams? How well prepared are teams for handoffs?
  • Is information sharing encouraged, or is the leadership team reluctant to simplify access to key datasets?

Perhaps the biggest red flag to tell if a department is siloed is whether or not people on separate teams know each other. This becomes a bigger challenge as more IT teams shift to remote working.

How To Break Down Your Tech And IT Silos

There are two areas to consider when breaking down silos in IT: culture and technology. Culture needs to shift in order to ensure your teams have the flexibility to quickly meet business needs, while technology needs to shift in order to ensure your teams have access to the right data and capabilities.

That said, two specific cultural shifts can be used (to varying degrees) to help foster collaboration. The first shift is from IT specialist to IT generalist. When tech stacks were homogeneous, having a narrow but very deep expertise in a single system was excellent. Today however, processes and services manage data across a variety of disparate tools, platforms and systems, making it difficult for specialists to quickly build solutions. On the other hand, IT generalists have broad expertise across a range of technologies, which comes in hand when dealing with diverse, constantly evolving environments.

The other important cultural shift to consider is from a project to a product perspective. A project perspective is the traditional way IT teams have always worked — the development team gets a project, meets a deadline and passes responsibility to the QA team. The project is treated as something to complete and forget. 

The product perspective treats services and solutions as products to be consumed by an end-user — that is, those services and solutions should be treated like software development, with continuous testing and iterations. This requires a lot more cooperation between developers and operators (DevOps) and to help make this happen many IT departments are beginning to embrace the idea of self-organizing teams, taking a more horizontal approach instead of a vertical approach to project management.     

These are big changes in many cases and so it’s often prudent to take a slow approach, as opposed to changing the whole culture overnight. IT departments should start with a devops approach to building and testing services simultaneously, or announce a few new products where cross-silo teamwork is highlighted.

Beyond that, individual teams within a department should share common goals, and understand how their day-to-day contributes to larger department or business goals. This means aligning each team’s performance metrics and best practices — and should also mean more agile cross-team meetings to keep everyone part of a unified vision (as well as team building, to make sure everyone can work efficiently with each other).

Breaking Down Your Tech Silos

IT services and solutions require end-to-end processes that span a variety of applications, systems and technologies. However, most solutions used by your organization were likely not developed with integration in mind (especially in the case of cloud computing).

IT vendors are starting to change that, however. Many organizations are using APIs to connect disparate endpoints, with API management tools to streamline development and maintenance. Service orchestration or workload automation solutions offer similar ease-of-connectivity but with greater functionality and more capabilities for monitoring and management.

Modern workload automation solutions can be deployed in any environment at the service orchestration layer and provide the extensibility needed to quickly connect to virtually any endpoint, regardless of technology or platform. This makes it possible to assemble end-to-end processes from infrastructure to end-user, whether on-premises or cloud-based.

Extensible, low-code process automation tools can help IT teams break down silos in several key ways:

  • Low-code development and reusable templates reduce barriers to entry so that IT generalists of any experience level can build reliable processes
  • Automatic documentation and dependency mapping make it easy to understand how processes work and what they were intended to do, so that knowledge isn’t lost to turnover
  • Governance, access management and permissioning can be managed from a single location across multiple environments, helping to establish a single set of rules and best practices
  • Real-time monitoring, reporting and analytics help streamline DevOps and root cause analysis, with change management, reusable templates and prebuilt integrations to help accelerate development
  • Script vaulting, revision histories and audit trails make it easy to secure existing scripts that support legacy systems and solutions

The right automation tool can help your team consolidate job schedulers, reduce redundancies, centralize control over monitoring tools, manage APIs and more, while making it easier to build reliable connections that streamline data and dependencies across virtually any environment.Learn more about how you can break down information silos by signing up for a custom demo below.

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Brian is a staff writer for the IT Automation Without Boundaries blog, where he covers IT news, events, and thought leadership. He has written for several publications around the New York City-metro area, both in print and online, and received his B.A. in journalism from Rowan University. When he’s not writing about IT orchestration and modernization, he’s nose-deep in a good book or building Lego spaceships with his kids.

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