Don’t Pave the Silos (or optimize the cow paths)

September 23, 2014 by

“Optimizing in silos.” “Paving the cow paths.” Neither are desirable.

Let’s take a look at common business functions: sales, fulfillment, billing and service. Each function can have one-to-many business processes, however, for simplicity, let’s assume each has an identifiable end-to-end process.


Further, let’s assume each function measures their process and, within reason, meets recognized industry benchmarks (for example, orders are fulfilled within X business days, or Y mean -time to resolve service enquiries).

As a result, one can conclude that this fictional business is largely optimized, with sales, fulfillment and billing supported by integrated systems and data, with service underlying and supporting.

graphic of triangle of arrows with sales, fulfillment, billing, and service in arrows

Not so fast. Within each function (marketing, service, et al.), the leaders of those units may perceive, and even rejoice, in visible, measurable performance. They may even exceed benchmarks. However, disparate optimization often results in overall mediocrity.

Does customer information persist in a secure fashion throughout? Is there a single view of the customer regardless of where a particular order or interaction is along the process? Are employees enabled and empowered to provide service that is responsive to and delights the customer? Are there multiple channels – voice, social, mobile – available to engage with new and existing customers, and are those channels integrated with primary business systems?

If the answer to most of these questions is not a resounding ‘yes,’ then rather than neat arrows, you probably have a tangle.

graphic of tangled lines drawn in different colors

I call this the ‘lowest common denominator’ affect. Signs of this affect may include:

Conversely, signs of customer-centric optimization at scale include:

Technology is often perceived as the driver of a high performing organization by enabling effectiveness, efficiency and customer engagement. When functions are designed, implemented and optimized within distinct units – with no alignment towards overall strategy and end-end external and/or internal customer interaction – it is difficult if not impossible to apply technology that will contribute to positive results. Innovation and effectiveness are not easily achieved.

Automation of silo’d business processes will result in… tangles.


Terms like sales, fulfillment, billing and service are generic and can be applied to any organization, profit or non-profit industry, including public higher education. Terms such as branding, admissions, shipping, billing, financial aid, or career services can be swapped in to the commentary above.

A good example of solid end-to-end, non-snarled customer experience is @Delta’s mobile app. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the full web site, but the vast majority of interactions can be accomplished via mobile.

Right now I’m using a Windows-based laptop, a Google/Android based tablet, an iPhone, and occasionally a Mac laptop as well. It may seem like a hodge-podge, but as a CIO I am intensely interested in people’s experience on multiple platforms. (And no, I didn’t camp out for an iPhone 6 this weekend, but I did see a line of people waiting in the rain.)


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