Silos: Not Just About the Technology

Loraine Lawson

Craig Roth recently wrote what has to be one of the best lines about business technology -- at least from an integration perspective -- that I've ever read:

In the real universe, the grand unification theory is unknown, but an eternal truth. In the IT universe, the grand unification theory is known with certainty, but changes ever[y] 10 years.

It's true, no? Roth is a vice president and service director for Gartner Research, in Burton Group's Collaboration and Content Strategies service. He made the observation while writing about a newly revealed unification theory-this time from IBM-called Northstar.


Northstar, based on a customer-facing portal, is still in the visionary phase, Roth writes:

Northstar is a vision statement for taking portals to a higher level: "web experience." It is IBM's attempt to get beyond the portal product box, although it's not a product-just a vision that guides development and acquisition and helps align IBM's product portfolio. A new vision is needed since "portal" doesn't make the blood boil (and wallets open) like it used to.

He also notes that IBM's playing to its strengths with a customer-facing portal, which could give it an edge over the current portal darling, SharePoint.


I love grand visions from vendors. I can't really say why-maybe it's the near-Utopian promise of a better, world, maybe it's nice to know someone's thinking of the big picture, I don't know. Whatever the reason, I just wish I could collect them, maybe put them in the dashboard of my car, like troll dolls or bobble heads.


And this one is particularly nice, because it promises to integrate across unified communications, social software, mobile technology and rich media, Roth writes. IBM includes an even more exciting integration story among its five key NorthStar principles:

Integration must be easy. To create a truly interactive, context-aware Web experience, you must be able to easily leverage and extend existing data sources like CRM systems, social media sites, and back-end applications, as well as other product or cloud-based service you acquire in the future.

It sounds impressive, but Roth wonders if organizational reality may be a major obstacle, pointing out that "organizations have developed organizational and cultural barriers between each of these areas that prevent unification even if the technology exists to do so." He offers a number of examples to back this up, including the fact that social media often involves "a different decision process and incentives that make seamless ongoing integration with traditional web marketing difficult."


Ah, the technology is willing, but the business silos are stronger. It's a good reminder that with integration, sometimes you've got to know when to hold, fold or walk away.

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