Archive for the ‘Silos’ Category

If Silo Owners Love Their Children Too*

Friday, June 30th, 2017

* Apologies to Sting for the riff on the lyrics to Russians.

Topic Maps Now by Michel Biezunski.

From the post:

This article is my assessment on where Topic Maps are standing today. There is a striking contradiction between the fact that many web sites are organized as a set of interrelated topics — Wikipedia for example — and the fact that the name “Topic Maps” is hardly ever mentioned. In this paper, I will show why this is happening and advocate that the notions of topic mapping are still useful, even if they need to be adapted to new methods and systems. Furthermore, this flexibility in itself is a guarantee that they are still going to be relevant in the long term.

I have spent many years working with topic maps. I took part in the design of the initial topic maps model, I started the process to transform the conceptual model into an international standard. We published the first edition of Topic Maps ISO/IEC 13250 in 2000, and an update and a couple of years later in XML. Several other additions to the standard were published since then, the most recent one in 2015. During the last 15 years, I have helped clients create and manage topic map applications, and I am still doing it.

An interesting read, some may quibble over the details, but my only serious disagreement comes when Michel says:

When we created the Topic maps standard, we created something that turned out to be a solution without a problem: the possibility to merge knowledge networks across organizations. Despite numerous expectations and many efforts in that direction, this didn’t prove to meet enough demands from users.

On the contrary, the inability “…to merge knowledge networks across organizations” is a very real problem. It’s one that has existed since there was more than one record that capture information about the same subject, inconsistently. That original event has been lost in the depths of time.

The inability “…to merge knowledge networks across organizations” has persisted to this day, relieved only on occasion by the use of the principles developed as part of the topic maps effort.

If “mistake” it was, the “mistake” of topic maps was failing to realize that silo owners have an investment in the maintenance of their silos. Silos distinguish them from other silo owners, make them important both intra and inter organization, make the case for their budgets, their staffs, etc.

To argue that silos create inefficiencies for an organization is to mistake efficiency as a goal of the organization. There’s no universal ordering of the goals of organizations (commercial or governmental) but preservation or expansion of scope, budget, staff, prestige, mission, all trump “efficiency” for any organization.

Unfunded “benefits for others” (including the public) falls into the same category as “efficiency.” Unfunded “benefits for others” is also a non-goal of organizations, including governmental ones.

Want to appeal to silo owners?

Appeal to silo owners on the basis of extending their silos to consume the silos of others!

Market topic maps not as leading to a Kumbaya state of openness and stupor but of aggressive assimilation of other silos.

If the CIA assimilates part of the NSA or the NSA assimilates part of the FSB , or the FSB assimilates part of the MSS, what is assimilated, on what basis and what of those are shared, isn’t decided by topic maps. Those issues are decided by the silo owners paying for the topic map.

Topic maps and subject identity are non-partisan tools that enable silo poaching. If you want to share your results, that’s your call, not mine and certainly not topic maps.

Open data, leaking silos, envious silo owners, the topic maps market is so bright I gotta wear shades.**

** Unseen topic maps may be robbing you of the advantages of your silo even as you read this post. Whose silo(s) do you covet?

Silos You Will Always Have With You (Apologies to the Apostle Matthew)

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Apologies to the Apostle Matthew, but “The poor you will always have with you…” (Matt. 26:11), sprang to mind when I read the interview with Mayur Gupta, Chief Digital Officer of Healthgrades, in Digital Transformation in Healthcare with Mayur Gupta, Chief Digital Officer, Healthgrades.

Or at least my rendering of that passage as:

Silos You Will Always Have With You

when I read:

I think two things and this is again this is something that I’ve learned through my career and continue to learn. First and foremost, is break down those silos. Connect the dots, drive convergence in every single aspect of your business. Whether that is how you organized, how you’re structured, the kind of talent to bring in. How you look at data, how you look at technology. It doesn’t matter what vertical it is, but just drive convergence.

We living in a world that is all about ecosystems and platforms not about silo products, silo technologies, silo experiences. And I think the best way to think about it is from a consumer standpoint she does not see the silos you know. She does not see a channel. All she expects is the best experience, the best service, the best product, at the best price. You know at a location in touchpoint at a time of her own choice. And the only way we as brands and technologists and marketers can make that happen is when we break down those silos and we drive conversions in our own world and we stopped looking at digital as the thing, because we now live, operate and breathe in an intrinsically digital world.

Silos have been a recognized issue since organized record keeping began.

The universal solution: Let’s build another, bigger silo!

Think about it. There is never going to be a time when new and different information systems and data will not be appearing.

Rather than flailing against silos, along with all the political costs of the same, why not keep your current silos and use topic maps to map across those silos?

Those interested in preserving “silos” (you know who you are), will be happy because their systems and sovereignty over them is preserved, yet other stakeholders can combine that data with new data, for other purposes.

Do you have the political capital to defeat current silos while trying to erect your own?

As I said, “silos you will always have with you….”

You can accept that and use topic maps to create your new “silo” or fight against existing silos.

Your call.

Parkinson’s Law, DevOps, and Kingdoms

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Parkinson’s Law, DevOps, and Kingdoms by Michael Ducy.

From the post:

Destruction of silos is all the rage in DevOps and has been since the beginning of the movement. Patrick Debois wrote a very intelligent piece on why silos exist and how they came about as a management strategy. While the post explains why hierarchy style of management came about in the US (General Motors and Sloan), it doesn’t cover some of the personal motivations as to why silos or management kingdoms come about.

Michael and Patrick’s posts are very much worth your time if you want to market to organizations as they exist now and not as they may exist in some parallel universe.

For example, enabling managers to do more work with fewer staff is a sale plea that is DOA. Unless your offering will cut the staff of some corporate rival. (There are exceptions to every rule.)

Or, enabling a manager’s department to further the stated goals of the organization. The goal of managers are to further their departments, which may or may not be related to the mission of the organization.


Knowledge Management for the Federal Government

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Knowledge Management for the Federal Government (FCW – Federal Computer Week)

From the post:

Given the fast pace of today’s missions, it’s more important than ever to be able to find critical information easily when you need it. Explore the challenges of information sharing and how Google is helping increase knowledge management capabilities across the federal government.

Interesting enough title for me to download the PDF file.

Which reads (in part):

Executive Summary

Given the fast pace of today’s government missions, it’s more important than ever for employees to be able to find critical information easily when they need it. Today, huge amounts of data are stored in hard-to-access, decentralized systems with different legacy architectures, search engines and security restrictions. Searching across of all these systems is time-consuming. In fact, a study conducted by MeriTalk, DLT Solutions and Google found that 87% of federal employees spend about one and a half hours each day searching internal databases for information. With mission success on the line, overcoming these inefficiencies is a top priority.

This white paper summarizes the challenges of information sharing and explains the advantages that the Google Search Appliance (GSA) can offer to increase knowledge management capabilities across the federal government. It also shares real-life examples of how government agencies are using the GSA to break down information silos and provide users access to exactly the information they need, at the moment they need to know it.

The Google Search Appliance:

  • Bridges new and legacy architectures to deliver a one-stop shop for searches across all systems
  • Ensures the most complete and up-to-date information is available anywhere, any time, on any web-enabled device – regardless of location, bandwidth, access device or platform
  • Moves at the speed of the mission with intuitive, personalized and dynamic search technology
  • Assures complete mission knowledge with 24/7 automatic scaling, crawling and tagging that continuously reveals hidden data associations and missing pieces
  • Breaks down barriers to stove-piped systems and legacy data
  • Enriches gaps in metadata to make searches on legacy data as fast and effective as with new data
  • Is proven, simple to install and easy to use

Well….., except that the “white paper” (2 pages) never says how it will integrate across silos.

Searching across silos is a form of “integration,” an example of which is searching with Google for “Virgin Mary” (sans the quotes):

A large search result with much variety.

Imagine the results if you were searching based on a Westernized mis-spelling of an Arabic name.

I tried to find more details on the Google Search Appliance but came out at DLT Solutions.

Didn’t find any details about the Google Search Appliance that would support the claims in the white paper.

Maybe you will have better luck.

DHS Bridging Siloed Databases [Comments?]

Monday, August 26th, 2013

DHS seeks to bridge siloed databases by Adam Mazmanian.

From the post:

The Department of Homeland Security plans to connect databases containing information on legal foreign visitors as a prototype of a system to consolidate identity information from agency sources. The prototype is a first step in what could turn into comprehensive records overhaul that would erase lines between the siloed databases kept by DHS component agencies.

Currently, DHS personnel can access information from across component databases under the “One DHS” policy, but access can be hindered by the need to log into multiple systems and make multiple queries. The Common Entity Index (CEI) prototype pulls biographical information from DHS component agencies and correlates the data into a single comprehensive record. The CEI prototype is designed to find linkages inside source data – names and addresses as well as unique identifiers like passport and alien registration numbers – and connect the dots automatically, so DHS personnel do not have to.

DHS is trying to determine whether it is feasible to create “a centralized index of select biographic information that will allow DHS to provide a consolidated and correlated record, thereby facilitating and improving DHS’s ability to carry out its national security, homeland security, law enforcement, and benefits missions,” according to a notice in the Aug. 23 Federal Register.
(…) (emphasis added)

Adam goes on to summarize the data sources that DHS wants to include in its “centralized index of select biographic information.”

There isn’t enough information in the Federal Register notice to support technical comments on the prototype.

However, some comments about subject identity and the role of topic maps in collating information from diverse resources would not be inappropriate.

Especially since all public comments are made visible at:

In Praise of the Silo [Listening NSA?]

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

In Praise of the Silo by Neil Ward-Dutton

From the post:

Every organisational feature – including silos – is an outcome of some kind of optimisation. By talking about trying to destroy silos, we’re denying the sometimes very rational reasons behind their creation.

I’ve been travelling to conferences throughout North America and Europe a fair bit over the past quarter, and I’ve seen a lot of people present about business transformation, business architecture and BPM initiatives. One thing I’ve heard presenters talk about in a reasonable number of sessions (I estimate somewhere around 30%) is the need to ‘destroy silos’.

I have a background in architecture and integration, and for a long time I used to think the same. Silos are bad. Silos beget duplication; wheel-reinvention; contradiction; waste. Silos are really bad.


It turns out that ‘bad’ here really depends on your point of view. Silos aren’t actually ‘bad’, or ‘good’ for that matter. They’re optimisations – just as everything that every organisational, social or technical feature is an optimisation that serves one purpose or other. Silos are what happens when you optimise part of a business for expediency.


Another aspect of silos that should be mentioned is compartmentalizing information. Avoids the unlikely scenario where some sysadmin can copy masses of data that should not be commonly available.

Silos were reduced following 9/11 in the mania to “connect the dots.”

“Connecting more dots” isn’t a bad information strategy, as least as far as sound-bite strategies go.

The critical question of “who” was responsible for connecting “what” dots was left unanswered.

For example, the treasure trove of diplomatic cables leaked by Private Bradley Manning was just a data dump from the State Department.

Not really suitable for anything other than being a leak.

How do you connects “dots” with cables that run from catty remarks about personal appearance to reports about low level activities in Afghanistan?

Assuming meaningful access was solved, who is responsible for looking at the material to make the connections?

Having a large store of data you could look at but don’t, doesn’t solve the “connect the dots” problem.

Rather than reducing silos because it is another popular sound-bite information strategy, why not ask who needs access to the silo and for what?

What is the business case for creating mappings into and out of the silo?

And who will use the results of those mappings?

If you can’t answer those last two questions, you need to reconsider breaking silos that are otherwise serving some purpose unknown to you.

Unlocking the Big Data Silos Through Integration

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Unlocking the Big Data Silos Through Integration by Theo Priestly.

From the post:

Big Data, real-time and predictive analytics present companies with the unparalleled ability to understand consumer behavior and ever-shifting market trends at a relentless pace in order to take advantage of opportunity.

However, organizations are entrenched and governed by silos; data resides across the enterprise in the same way, waiting to be unlocked. Information sits in different applications, on different platforms, fed by internal and external sources. It’s a CIO’s headache when the CEO asks why the organization can’t take advantage of it. According to a recent survey, 54% of organizations state that managing data from various sources is their biggest challenge when attempting to make use of the information for customer analytics.


Data integration. Again?

A problem that just keeps on giving. The result of every ETL operation is a data set that needs another ETL operation sooner or later.

If Topic Maps weren’t a competing model but a way to model your information for re-integration, time after time, that would be a competitive advantage.

Both for topic maps and your enterprise.

Opening Standards: The Global Politics of Interoperability

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Opening Standards: The Global Politics of Interoperability Edited by Laura DeNardis.


Openness is not a given on the Internet. Technical standards–the underlying architecture that enables interoperability among hardware and software from different manufacturers–increasingly control individual freedom and the pace of innovation in technology markets. Heated battles rage over the very definition of “openness” and what constitutes an open standard in information and communication technologies. In Opening Standards, experts from industry, academia, and public policy explore just what is at stake in these controversies, considering both economic and political implications of open standards. The book examines the effect of open standards on innovation, on the relationship between interoperability and public policy (and if government has a responsibility to promote open standards), and on intellectual property rights in standardization–an issue at the heart of current global controversies. Finally, Opening Standards recommends a framework for defining openness in twenty-first-century information infrastructures.

Contributors discuss such topics as how to reflect the public interest in the private standards-setting process; why open standards have a beneficial effect on competition and Internet freedom; the effects of intellectual property rights on standards openness; and how to define standard, open standard, and software interoperability.

If you think “open standards” have impact, what would you say about “open data?”

At a macro level, “open data” has many of the same issues as “open standards.”

At a micro level, “open data” has unique social issues that drive the creation of silos for data.

So far as I know, a serious investigation of the social dynamics of data silos has yet to be written.

Understanding the dynamics of data silos might, no guarantees, lead to better strategies for dismantling them.

Suggestions for research/reading on the social dynamics of data silos?

Breaking Silos – Carrot or Stick?

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Alex Popescu, in Silos Are Built for a Reason quotes Greg Lowe saying:

In a typical large enterprise, there are competitions for resources and success, competing priorities and lots of irrelevant activities that are happening that can become distractions from accomplishing the goals of the teams.

Another reason silos are built has to do with affiliation. This is by choice, not by edict. By building groups where you share a shared set of goals, you effectively have an area of focus with a group of people interested in the same area and/or outcome.

There are many more reasons and impacts of why silos are built, but I simply wanted to establish that silos are built for a purpose with legitimate business needs in mind.

Alex then responds:

Legitimate? Maybe. Productive? I don’t really think so.

Greg’s original post is: Breaking down silos, what does that mean?

Greg asks about the benefits of breaking down silos:

  • Are the silos mandatory?
  • What would breaking down silos enable in the business?
  • What do silos do to your business today?
  • What incentive is there for these silos to go away?
  • Is your company prepared for transparency?
  • How will leadership deal with “Monday morning quarterbacks?”

As you can see, there are many benefits to silos as well as challenges. By developing a deeper understanding of the silos and why they get created, you can then have a better handle on whether the silos are beneficial or detrimental to the organization.

I would add to Greg’s question list:

  • Which stakeholders benefit from the silos?
  • What is that benefit?
  • It there a carrot or stick that out weighs that benefit? (in the view of the stakeholder)
  • Do you have the political capital to take the stakeholders on and win?

If your answer are:

  • List of names
  • List of benefits
  • Yes, list of carrots/sticks
  • No

Then you are in good company.

Intelligence silos persist despite the United States being at war with identifiable terrorist groups.

Generalized benefit or penalty for failure, isn’t a winning argument to break a data silo.

Specific benefits and penalties must matter to stakeholders. Then you have a chance to break a data silo.

Good luck!

Silo Indictment #1,000,001

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Derek Miers writes what may be the 1,000,001st indictment of silos in Silos and Functional Decomposition:

I think we would all agree that BPM and business architecture set out to overcome the issues associated with silos. And I think we would also agree that the problems associated with silos derive from functional decomposition.

While strategy development usually takes a broad, organization-wide view, so many change programs still cater to the sub-optimization perspectives of individual silos. Usually, these individual change programs consist of projects that deal with the latest problem to rise to the top of the political agenda — effectively applying a Band-Aid to fix a broken customer-facing process or put out a fire associated with some burning platform.

Silo-based thinking is endemic to Western culture — it’s everywhere. This approach to management is very much a command-and-control mentality injected into our culture by folks like Smith, Taylor, Newton and Descartes. Let’s face it: the world has moved on, and the network is now far more important than the hierarchy.

But guess what technique about 99.9% of us use to fix the problems associated with functional decomposition? You guessed it: yet more functional decomposition. I think Einstein had something to say about using the same techniques and expecting different results. This is a serious groupthink problem!

When we use functional decomposition to model processes, we usually conflate the organizational structure with the work itself. Rather than breaking down the silos, this approach reinforces them — effectively putting them on steroids. And when other techniques emerge that explicitly remove the conflation of process and organizational structure, those who are wedded to old ways of thinking come out of the woodwork to shoot them down. Examples include role activity diagrams (Martyn Ould), value networks (Verna Allee), and capability mapping (various authors, including Forrester analysts).

Or it may be silo indictment #1,000,002, it is hard to keep an accurate count.

I don’t doubt a word that Derek says, although I might put a different emphasis on parts of it.

But in any case, let’s just emphasize agreement that silos are a problem.

Now what?