Farmers know about silos

Imagine this. Two grain growers are neighbours. One farms wheat and the other corn. Both have invested a lot of money in their silos and grain handling equipment, all of which continues to be a significant cost in their operations. The corn farmer is an innovator and comes up with a bright idea. She approaches her neighbour and gives him the following proposition: since their infrastructure is such an overhead, why not, in the name of efficiency, join up and share their silos?

What farmer wouldn’t reject this idea out of hand? If a grain grower needs more capacity, in theory they could re-engineer the entire storage and handling system to use someone else’s silo, strike up new support arrangements with their equipment providers, and seek insurance to cover new risks of mixing up their grains. But it would be simpler, cheaper and quicker to just build themselves another silo!

“Break down the silos” is one of the catch cries of modern management practice, and it’s a special rallying call in the Federated Identity movement. Nobody denies that myriad passwords and security devices have become a huge headache, but attempts to solve what is really a technology and human factors challenge, by sharing identities and identity provisioning all too often come unstuck.

It’s not for nothing that we call identity domains “silos”. Grain silos are architecturally elegant, strong and safe; they are critical infrastructure for farmers.

Of all the metaphors in identity management, “silo” is actually one of the good ones. And you have to wonder when and why it became a dirty word in our industry. Identity silos are actually carefully constructed risk management arrangements and in IDAM, risk is the name of the game. As such, silos are not to be trifled with!