Synonyms for "silo"?
January 29, 2014 1:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble with pithy ways to describe (in popular style) the concept of "silo-ing". In other words: a certain kind of data is siloed into disparate program and department offices, and because of the lack of collaboration the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Suggestions?
posted by powerbumpkin to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
its also been called stove-piping in the intelligence world.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:00 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've actually used exactly the term you did: "The left hand doesn't know what the right is doing."
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:01 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

At a former job we used to call it the "Too much milk, no cereal" problem.

Husband stops by the grocery store on the way home, but doesn't have a list. He buys a few things that he thinks are necessary, including milk.

Wife remembers that family is running low on essentials and swings by the store on her way hom from work. Buys a few basics, including milk.

The next morning, family still has nothing for breakfast because they have two jugs of milk, plus the one that was in the refridgerator and no cereal. On a notepad on top of the refridgerator is the grocery list, with "Cereal" on the top of the list.

Because the communication of important family data is locked away on a print list on top of the fridge, neither of the individuals in charge of replenishing resources are aware of the actual needs of the family. Not only do they spend too much money on milk they don't need, but they still don't have any breakfast. If there was a collaborative method of creating the shopping list and all parties involved had access to the data, only one stop at the store would have been necessary and everyone would have had Corn Pops.
posted by teleri025 at 2:09 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

In litigation, sometimes an attorney will be conflicted from working on a particular matter but the rest of the firm could (under previous ethical rules -- not today) still work on it if they erected this kind of siloing. I've heard the term "Chinese wall" used in this context.

NOTE: I don't know whether the use of this term is racist or not -- I suspect it's just meant to refer to firms erecting a big honking wall around the conflicted attorney.
posted by gauche at 2:12 PM on January 29, 2014

posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:26 PM on January 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Building organizational walls
Data sequestration
Organizational opacity

(IMO, even if the meaning is not derogatory, the term "Chinese walls" should definitely be avoided.)
posted by ottereroticist at 2:26 PM on January 29, 2014

I like "compartmentalization" and "sequestration" of the terms suggested so far.
posted by gauche at 2:42 PM on January 29, 2014

"Fiefdoms" is a term that gets used in the academic context. It helps explain why the phenomenon occurs and is perpetuated despite its obvious downsides.
posted by jedicus at 3:07 PM on January 29, 2014

I sometimes use "Balkanization" an an apolitical way, depending on context.
posted by rhizome at 3:20 PM on January 29, 2014

When this is done intentionally (say, two parts of your company are working for competitors so you don't want any data to go back and forth), we call it "Firewall" or "Firewalling."
posted by muddgirl at 3:21 PM on January 29, 2014

It doesn't quite get at it, but I like the idea of ecosystem to describe isolated and self contained systems within a larger whole. It's perhaps a kinder way to get at it. Silos, though, imply to me something like hostile or antagonistic ecosystem, where less interaction is encouraged or possible, lest it throw off the delicate balance of "the way that things are." As a result, of course, knowledge between the sytsems would be difficult to share.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:28 PM on January 29, 2014

Seconding "firewall."

"Chinese wall" is not racist, so far as I know. It refers the Great Wall of China, of which I believe the Chinese are rather proud.
posted by musofire at 4:38 PM on January 29, 2014

In Australian government it's siloing. It is frequently hostile. And hostily frequent.
posted by taff at 5:19 PM on January 29, 2014

I'd never heard "silo" as a verb until very recently; I do believe it's just a new, i.e., buzzy, way of saying "compartmentalize." And for the record, the verb that means to put something in actual silos is "ensile." *doffs pointy hat*
posted by bricoleur at 5:31 PM on January 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'll nth that Chinese wall is not a racist term, but I also don't think it's appropriate to this situation. A "Chinese wall" is put into place to intentionally and artificially separate business areas, typically because of regulatory issues. What you're describing sounds more like the natural outgrowth of some less than ideal decisions about data warehousing.
posted by telegraph at 6:14 PM on January 29, 2014

Even if not racist, there is no way that "Chinese Wall" would go over without a few eyebrows raised, as there is probably not an immediate association with the Great Wall for most people.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:28 PM on January 29, 2014

As someone who works in a field of endeavor known for this behavior: many of us have taken to calling them (the silos) "cylinders of excellence" (and then often making one or more rude hand gestures).
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:09 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Fiefdoms" is what's used in my academic library setting.
posted by ashirys at 6:31 AM on January 30, 2014

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