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Information Data Silo

An information silo is a management system incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related management systems. With department specialization came a silo operational culture for many large organizations. The silo effect is characterized by a lack of communication or common goals between departments in an organization. A bank's management system, for example, is considered a silo if it cannot exchange information with other related systems within its own organization, or with the management systems of its customers, vendors or business partners. "Information silo" is a pejorative expression that is useful for describing the absence of operational reciprocity. Derived variants are "silo thinking", "silo vision", and "silo mentality".

The expression is typically applied to management systems where the focus is inward and information communication is vertical. Critics of silos contend that managers serve as information gatekeepers, making timely coordination and communication among departments difficult to achieve, and seamless interoperability with external parties impractical. They hold that silos tend to limit productivity in practically all organizations, provide greater opportunity for security lapses and privacy breaches, and frustrate consumers who increasingly expect information to be immediately available and complete. Although much has been written about them, information silos are becoming far more recognized as the major reason why organizations are unable to take full advantage of the Internet's power to interconnect business processes.

Silo effect

The silo effect is a phrase that is currently popular in the business and organizational communities to describe a lack of communication and common goals between departments in an organization. It is the opposite of systems thinking in an organization. The silo effect gets its name from the farm storage silo, probably because there could be two silos right next to each other and if people were inside them they would not be able to communicate, since silos are tall, narrow buildings with no windows and are even supposed to be airtight. A notable example of the silo effect in the real world is the beer distribution game, whose goal is to meet customer demand for cases of beer, through a multi-stage supply chain with minimal expenditure on back orders and inventory. Communication is against the rules so feelings of confusion and disappointment are common.

Another, slightly more academic, suggestion as to the term silo effect focuses on the gradual draining of the entire silo's grain from a remarkably small opening in the bottom. The homogeneous state of the entire volume of grain makes it highly susceptible to small changes as they occur further and further down. This is because gravity, although apparently "unimportant" to a fully contained silo, suddenly shows itself to be an underlying force binding every single grain—something which becomes apparent when an "anomaly" occurs at the bottom. Moreover, the nature of grain makes it an excellent example of a "poorly connected" substance, prone to cascades of extreme collapse when they occur in favor of the systems overriding unified force. In this case, gravity. If the grain were more like a soapy foam, or even a gel, such a terrible collapse would be intrinsically averted, by means of the distributed multidirectional stability of its parts.

Systems thinking promotes a foaminess of collaboration, allowing for individual ideas to share the burden of the entire system. This assures excellent stability and adaptability—characteristics lacking in systems of thought which insist on homogeneity and absolute efficiency.

Associated Topics:

Enterprise application integration
Data warehouse
Metadata publishing


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