Want Even More Silos? Try Social Communications with No Control

Ann All
Slide Show

Execs Weigh in on Collaboration

End users are looking to IT for tools that will help them increase productivity across what in many cases are sharply reduced workforces, but execs are expressing distrust of collaboration tools.

Companies are having far more conversations with their customers than ever before, thanks largely to social channels, yet many of them haven't changed their internal communications to accommodate the flow of information. Collaboration software isn't living up to its promise to help companies break down internal information silos.


It's not so much that the software lacks necessary technical capabilities. As is often the case with enterprise technology initiatives, at least some users cling to their departmental silos. As fellow IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson speculated in a recent post, perhaps they fear that open communications will somehow be used against them.


I wrote about the same issue and shared some advice from Quy Huy and Andrew Shipilov, both professors of strategic management at international business school INSEAD, on creating internal communities to facilitate communication. High on their list of things not to do is to employ a traditional command-and-control leadership structure.


I know that's the right 2.0 thing to say, but let's face it, communications with no control can result in chaos. The silos won't necessarily go away either. In fact, they could become even worse if different business units end up using lots of different communications tools.


When I interviewed Steve Apfelberg, Yammer's VP of marketing, he told me one of Yammer's strengths was its "democratization of software." He said:

Any person in a company can be the first person to use Yammer and start a Yammer network for that company. It doesn't have to be an executive, doesn't have to be someone in IT, doesn't have to be someone in central procurement. It can be anyone, on any level, in any department. That's how we get to so many places, so quickly. You can go to our website, sign up and be using Yammer within 60 seconds.

That's great if, as I am sure often happens, one department broadly adopts Yammer and gets so much value out of it that other departments come on board and use it as well. But what if that doesn't happen? Maybe other departments prefer Chatter or another communications platform. If these departments lessen their use of e-mail, one of the ostensible benefits of tools like Yammer and Chatter, they could end up communicating with each other less than before.


What's needed is, dare I say it, a little control. Andrew McAfee has a nice post on his blog titled "Control Technology Choice, Not Techology Use" that I think helps make this point. In it, he describes a conversation he had with the CIO of a large global organization that had just put in a lengthy effort to draft a social media policy but had not yet managed to get a handle on all the social software already being used by its employees. Big mistake, says McAfee, who shares some advice:

Exercise tight control over technology choice, and as little as possible over technology use. Tight control over technology choice ensures that a big organization doesn't wind up with hundreds of disjointed deployment efforts and fragmented technology environments. This leads to confusion among people and mutually inaccessible walled gardens of content, neither of which is good.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 16, 2010 11:12 AM Mike Jensen Mike Jensen  says:

Great post, and great perspective. 

While their are success stories of how new social/communication tools are breaking down silos and improving the way people work together, similar to "server sprawl" in the hardware world, organizations will start to see "app sprawl" if they are not careful.  IT departments, who typically hold some weight in these technology decisions, need to get in front of this and realize that these networks and communication tools are being created and used w/o them.

Instead of having to be the bad cop, embrace the change that users are wanting, and partner with them to help meet their needs.  IT needs to act more like a solution provider and consultant to help guide the decision making process so the needs and requirements of the entire organization are being met.  In doing so, there will be mutual buy in with whatever tool is picked.

Dec 27, 2010 3:38 PM Dan Greenfield/PR+MKTG Camp Dan Greenfield/PR+MKTG Camp  says:

Great post. It demonstrates the weakness of all-or-nothing, "Silos are bad" rhetoric.  Silos have some utility even as sales, marketing and customer service need to think more interdependently.  It underscores a point (quoting Jurgen Appelo) that Vikas Hazrati http://bit.ly/hmQrU7 made about cross functional teams in his post - "Cost of Cross Functional Teams."

"Cross functional teams are usually too engrossed in the project that they are working on. This might lead to the scenario of doing major optimization on their own project which may or may not be in the best interest of the organization."

The value of discussing silos is it helps us consider alternatives and new approaches.  Let's not replace one dogma with another.


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