Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Three Silo Effects to Stifle IT Innovation

Silo thinking creates blind spots and enlarges IT-business gaps.

Forward-looking organizations are reimagining the digital potential of IT and reinventing IT reputation from a cost center to an innovation engine. However, the majority of IT organizations still get stuck at a lower level of maturity, running as a siloed function. Despite the mountain of evidence pointing to the detrimental effects of these silos, they still seem to be quite common in the organization. What are the root causes of silos? Are silos a mere product of organizational design? Or is their nature tied to human nature? What are silo effects which stifle innovation, and downgrade IT effectiveness and performance? What would be some ideas to assist in breaking down silos in an organization where they are present?

Fail to engage users in IT Innovation and transformation: Fundamentally, IT innovation is business innovation, and IT transformation is a significant step in the business’s digital transformation. Though silo is perhaps inevitable in any structured business, It is the responsibility of the leaders to initiate his or her team to break the silos, enhance cross-functional communication and collaboration for both idea brainstorming and innovation management. Because silos are reservoirs for homogeneous thinking, limiting the organization's creativity and digital potential. Engaging and empowering your end-user is vital in innovation management. Particularly as the business has become more tech-savvy, and as such, aware of their power to demand what they want, when and how they want it. Collaborate with customers and partners, as they are what makes or breaks a successful IT. IT needs to invent itself with a start-up culture, to innovate and re-imagine customer-centricity by going through the change and IT transformation. It is the foresight of the business leader who takes control of business strategy and leverages IT tools and technologies to meet targets incorporated in an integrated digital strategy with customer-centricity.

Silo thinking creates a blind spot: Most business managers and teams operate with an incomplete and relatively small view of the business ecosystem, if creativity is all about connecting the dots, perhaps they don’t have a wide range of dots to connect, thus, too often, they get stuck to “we always do things like this,” and when they keep moving forward, they create the blind spots, or jump to the wrong conclusions. In today's volatile economy, nothing impedes progress more than protective silos which are simply a form of bureaucratic amorphous mass designed to preserve the status quo. If most managers still apply old silo management mindsets to new ways of organizing and this legacy of the old economy limits many digital organizations. The managers today, especially senior leaders should have the ability to see the big picture, to complement the team’s viewpoint. Because people who can see the bigger picture, abstract the insight from the overloading information, and are not living the day-to-day activities, are needed to clear blind spots, integrate a multitude of viewpoints, and inspire the culture of innovation. Also, it's important to encourage teams to "think in bigger boxes" (think outside of your job description and consider company and industry and even societal impacts.) Engage all employees in improving their processes, and create the expectation that positive behaviors and mutual respect are valued above everything else. Assume that every problem has multiple solutions and takes the time to look at every situation from multiple points of view (customer POV, supplier POV, management POV, etc). Innovation can be managed more effectively by filling those blind spots.

Enlarged IT -business gap with “lost in translation” symptom: The disconnect between the business and IT is still one of the root causes to fail IT and business as a whole. And silo thinking is the root cause to enlarge the gap. If the light keeps on, the business doesn't bother to learn IT, or IT still treats projects as just technical challenges instead of business initiatives. There are negative conflicts when the organization has little collaborative competency. The mistake that most organizations make in business communication is to fail to translate the high-level language of strategy into the professional language of the various staff specialism. Engineers have engineering language, marketers have marketing language, etc. The businesses need more specialized generalists who are fluent in different business dialects and connect the cross-functional dots smoothly in order to harness communication and stimulate innovation. Clear communication is essential. Spend the time to improve the language gap between IT and non-IT.  Fostering collaboration is the key to creating a seamless organization when in pursuit of a strategy. To bridge the gap between IT and business, alignment is not sufficient, integration is the next level because when they integrate, there is more potential to innovate and create value, more so when the collaborative competency of the organization is strong.

Silos don't seem to fit within emerging hyper-connected, collaborative organizational forms, and if they are being reinforced, their existence is perhaps a legacy of old management thinking applied to the digital way of doing and achieving the high performing result. The result could be a higher risk of conflict and inertia, not something organization's want in a global marketplace that demands innovation, speed, responsiveness, and flexibility to succeed.


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