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Leveraging Industry Silos to Develop New Business Opportunities

This article is from the May/June 2014 issue of InTech magazine and was written by Bill Lydon, InTech’s chief editor. 

There has been a great deal of discussion about isolated silos in industry creating barriers to growth, but they also offer opportunities for those willing to take the initiative. The term silo thinking is used in business to describe the mindset when departments do not share information and collaborate with others in the same company. That is a problem Teamwork Collaboration People Diversity Conceptand an opportunity. In the past, departments and disciplines in manufacturing companies have worked to optimize their particular areas to be the most efficient and productive, improving controls and automation. Now automation professionals can take the initiative and apply their systems skills and thinking to view manufacturing more broadly and holistically, considering the big picture. Using this focus, automation professionals can engage with people in other groups in the organization to accomplish bigger organizational goals.

Consider taking a risk to get people from various groups to focus on some problems and opportunities to bring a wider range of knowledge and know-how to create better solutions. The exchange of knowledge and the inevitable collaboration between people can be amazing. In the process, people develop mutual respect, expertise, and skills. Making improvements together encourages trust, creates empowerment, and breaks people out of the “my department” mentality and into the “our organization” mentality.

A great example is the shift occurring in industry where the manufacturing automation and information technology groups had been standing alone, each defending its own turf. In many organizations, the groups are now collaborating and creating more efficient and responsive operating results. The ISA95 standard for the integration of enterprise and control systems is a good focal point for these discussions with models and terminology.

Sometimes the lack of collaboration between “siloed” groups comes into sharp focus when there are problems. Part of my career dealt with fixing large projects in the field that went “off the track,” with every group blaming the others for the problems. A favorite and figurative way to describe these situations was everyone forms a circle and points right at the person next to him or her. This certainly describes the phenomenon. You can solve problems and create new ideas by engaging people in focusing on common goals and working together to solve problems. This holistic view leads to the birth of new ideas in many situations.

Cooperative actions do not need to start as big projects. They can start by simply discussing issues over coffee and asking people from other departments or groups if they have observations and ideas. This interaction can naturally lead to collaboration.

Specialization has made companies strong, but it has worked against cooperative efforts. It is important to remember that everyone has an intellect, and that two or more “heads” are better than one to generate ideas and solutions.

Siloed departments can achieve big improvements by working together.

Bill Lydon
Bill Lydon
Lydon has been active in manufacturing automation for more than 25 years. He started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers and process control technology. In addition to experience at various large companies, he cofounded and was president of a venture-capital-funded industrial automation software company. Lydon believes the success factors in manufacturing are changing, making it imperative to apply automation as a strategic tool to compete.

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