Navigating IT organizations can be treacherous. They often consist of islands, each inhabited by a team with their own goals, priorities, and ways of working. Interaction between them is rare, and when it does occur it is painful. The waters between them are deep, and building bridges to unite them is daunting. Why do so many mature IT organizations end up this way and what can we do about it?

Mature IT organizations become groups of islands (or silos, fragments, etc.) because of the desire to drive efficiency, reduce costs, and minimize delivery risk. An island dedicated to a particular system will, over time, get really good at fixing problems and implementing minor enhancements related to that system; or in other words, like in nature, they will evolve to be specially adapted to their environment. They will focus on skills and behaviors that are needed to keep the supported IT system in good health. Less necessary skills will become unpracticed. Differentiation will occur over time and each island will become less and less compatible with the others. But that’s ok, right? Isn’t this specialization good?

Here’s where things get tricky. The specialization that each island goes through is excellent when each island can focus solely on themselves. However, IT leaders are continually being asked to provide greater value for their IT spend and many of them are doing that through system integration, centralization, advanced content management, and creating shared platforms. These demands can only be met by IT teams that have common practices, a big picture understanding of the entire IT ecosystem, and the ability to work well with other teams. Further hindering IT islands’ abilities to meet these demands is the distance between each island, which makes communication difficult and inhibits the flow of ideas, which in turn stifles innovation and the opportunities that come with it. These unique, differentiated islands just aren’t built to support these types of needs.

Thankfully, IT leaders can bring their islands together. It starts with a clear vision for a united IT organization and the systems they support. This vision is essential as it will guide each team down a new, common path. Teams will need to let go of the way things are done today and work towards a better future. This is a change that comes with anxiety and discomfort, therefore comprehensive change management is key, not just for the IT staff, but also for business partners who may not inherently understand why the change is needed and how it will benefit them. With time and a well-executed plan, your islands will merge and you’ll be positioned to take your IT organization, and your business, to the next stage in its evolution.