[SIGCIS-Members] Fwd: Origin of term "information silo"?
abbate at vt.edu
Fri Aug 2 20:44:45 PDT 2013
Begin forwarded message:
> From: Allan Olley <allan.olley at utoronto.ca>
> Date: August 2, 2013 6:49:21 PM EDT
> To: Janet Abbate <abbate at vt.edu>
> Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Origin of term "information silo"?
> I can't get the list serv to accept this message, so I will just send it to you. I apologize that this is a bit long, when I do these searches I like to share all relevant results.
> Well I just did a few searches of Google books and scholar and learned that most if not all references pre the 1980s seem to be to agricultural silos, or to names that abrevate to silo or to ancient romans whose name is silo.
> Interestingly silo effect (I was inspired by looking up the wikipedia page on information silos to try related terms) appears before the 1980s and refers to certain physical effects occuring with silo walls and separately to an optical illusion where bluriness in one eye makes object appear closer to the observer (or something like that). It also
> refers to problems handling inventories apparently. Make of this what you will.
> While the business use of the term seems to me hte most prominent now, it does seem that there is a separate information silo concept that may predate the business idea and which is merely a neutral design metaphor, but I'm not clear on when it started or why.
> So a 1990 patent details A system for information siloing of information using a timing silo. It seems to be about siloing in the sense of both stockpiling and segregating informaton and insures that input or output is appropriately synchronized when sent or received.
> I think an earlier reference to such an computer system "information silo" component is found in the book The Theory and Practice of Reliable System Design, p 407:" control information Silo captures last 16 bus cycles Parity on data paths and Unibus Map Data and Control Bus lines parity" (the quote seems to be extracted hapazardly from a table,
> hence the lack of sentence struture)
> On the origin of this I guess we have to ask how long has siloing been a proper word for describing storing and segregating things in general (and not just grain).
> I've found a lone use from 1966 of the idea of an information silo in the sense of an information repository in
> The Architects' Journal, Volume 143 (1966?) p. 88, 91 " The Information Silo formed on 1 3 January is to be the co-ordinate element of basa. It
> receives, stores, classifies and distributes all basa documentation." (Dating is always a tad unreliable with google books, but looking at the snipits of the article this does seem to be about rather ambitious ideas of data storage and analysis)
> Another orphan use of the metaphor comes from a 1969,1971 science fiction story called The Rings of Garamas by J. Rankine "He was enclosed in a three sided executive console, which gave him a personalized information silo and minimized physical effort." (here again silo seems to denote repository) http://www.goldenapple.u-net.com/ga/fletcher/gara.htm (I found the phrase in a search on google scholar, there are pirated editions on the net or you can buy an e-book)
> On the business concept of an organizational silo (which has the pejorative sense originally mentioned). The earliest clear reference I can find to the broad business concept (in Google books) is a 1988 business article "Opportunities for change can be found in: • Organizational "silos." That's the term I use for rigid departmental structures in which accounts talk only to accountants ... or marketing representatives just to marketing "
> Boardroom Reports, Volume 17, p. 14
> A similar reference which plays with the metaphor a bit more appears in 1989:
> "These systems help personnel to fluidly exchange information across organizational "silos" - areas of narrow vertical focus -- and gives them information to make faster, better decisions."
> Advances in Instrumentation and Control: Proceedings of the ISA ... International Conference and Exhibit, Volume 44, Part
> 2, p. 414
> As Tom suggests it seems like the verticality of silos is invoked in the metaphor as analogous to the verticality of the arrangement of such groups in an organizational chart.
> Note that popular metaphors need not have high fidelity and indeed if anything popular metaphors tend to be low in their retention of fidelity. I don't think the inventor of the metaphor of tunnel vision thought that tunnels were not perfectly servicible and useful things in themselves. I find the metaphor between silos and large segregated organizational units relatively natural as these things go.
> Yours Truly,
> Allan Olley, PhD
> On Fri, 2 Aug 2013, Janet Abbate wrote:
>> Does anyone know the origin of the term "information silos"? It's commonly used as a criticism of groups that don't share information for either organizational or technical reasons.
>> This has always struck me as an odd metaphor. After all, in real life it's a good thing that grain is isolated in a silo; there is no physical-world benefit to connecting or "busting" silos, so how did this become a metaphor for good information management? And why would slowly fermenting fodder be a good metaphor for information?
>> I'm assuming here that the term refers to farming and not to missile silos... which would be equally odd.
>> Dr. Janet Abbate
>> Associate Professor
>> Science & Technology in Society
>> Virginia Tech
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