Johannesburg, 07 Dec 2023
Are business silos as bad as their reputations suggest? It's become very fashionable to bash silos, especially juxtaposing them against collaboration narratives. Yet, silos and verticals persist, not just through human-centric teams and departments, but also among processes and software ecosystems. Critics sometimes pin the silo's resilience on 'silo mentality' cultures at an organisation. But this is a simplistic view of silos and an under-appreciation of their value.
Silos, according to the Harvard Business Review, can exist for at least three positive reasons: to aggregate expertise through focus and critical mass, to assign accountability by providing boundaries and hierarchy, and to provide a sense of identity to create stability and behavioural norms.
Silos are valuable, but they are also problematic: limiting the flow of ideas, creating insular groups and reducing agility.
Companies need the best of both worlds. As the HBR article notes: "Verticals have undesirable side-effects, but the solution is not to dismantle them. To preserve the strengths of the inescapable verticals while minimising their side effects, organisations should do two things: build bridges between verticals and institute checks and balances."
The answer is to use a platform.
Platforms and silos
Many silos are defined by their systems. Technology silos, in particular, are problematic if they become too isolated, leading to problems such as fractured data, outdated processes and shadow applications.
Many organisations encounter these issues. According to Vitality Global's Head of Platform Operations, Dhesigan Naidu, speaking at a recent ServiceNow conference: "We were experiencing challenges with having disparate tools and processes in the environment. We needed an ecosystem that is integrated in nature, to integrate our monitoring and observability tools, and what we needed to grow at scale and to do that with a very quick time to market."
Silos are not the problem. Interconnecting them without violating their integrity is the problem. Using integration technologies such as APIs and webhooks, modern platforms can mediate between different verticals. Workflow platforms, particularly those emerging from the IT service management space, exist to create interconnection.
"[Workflow platforms] are the only way of making sure that you're taking complexity out and getting a shared view on things," said Daniel Wilks, ServiceNow's EMEA Vice-President of Solution Sales and Employee Workflow. "With a single platform that connects different parts of the business, you get a reliable view of what's actually going on. The right platform makes sure that you're all focused on the same set of KPIs and workflows."
Selecting the best platform
Workflow platforms have been emerging and maturing for several years already, and they use their micro-services and integration DNA to stay in step with modern trends. For example, the leading platforms are already introducing generative AI capabilities that are safe for organisations to use and customise.
Yet, there are many underwhelming platforms, and it's a risk if one selects the wrong platform. To avoid complications, here are some key characteristics of best-of-breed workflow platforms:
Out-of-the-box options: By providing substantial out-of-the-box functions, the platform helps speed up adoption and integration, and helps reduce customisation.
Respect, not replace: A genuine workflow platform won't rip and replace established and legacy systems, but offers ways to integrate with those systems and aggregate their data into the platform's channels.
Single views: Unification is the secret power of a proper workflow platform, such as one data standard that informs dashboards all operating from a single version of the truth.
Emphasis on user tools: The right platform should extend and improve user tools by integrating with established systems and workflows, then present these through new modern interfaces that users can customise.
Low-code/no-code: True workflow platforms offer no-code and low-code features that enable business users without technical knowledge to build workflows and interfaces.
Ability to scale: The platform has to change to match business needs – specifically, it must scale up and down with requirements, such as changing user numbers or adding new departments and teams.
Constant innovation: A platform that does not evolve or grow is practically a silo waiting to happen; the best platforms continually invest in innovation to add new features.
The right platform is how companies simplify adoption and get the advantages they seek, says Naidu: "It was a pretty seamless journey, especially due to out-of-the-box capabilities. We have a single pane of glass and management framework to optimise our service delivery to ensure reliability and availability. And before we got into configuration, well, we looked at what our operating model required and modelled the platform in that context, which enables us to easily onboard new partners in a matter of a few hours."
Every enterprise has issues with silos and fracturing. But it doesn't have to redo everything. The right platform can unite those elements while keeping their advantages.