Deconstructing the stovepipe mentality

Government On-Line (GOL) in Canada has focused primarily on leveraging interdepartmental and cross-jurisdictional collaboration to provide services in a client-centric manner. The interdepartmental silos have thus been collapsed out of necessity, pushing for knowledge management and service delivery to be a shared initiative. However, silos often still exist within departments, causing challenges for effective internal and external knowledge management that are compounded by the speed at which transformation has occurred in the “outside world.”

Most departmental Web sites still closely parallel their organizational structures. Considering the importance that the government places on providing client-centric Web services, and notwithstanding the ballooning volumes of continually stovepiped departmental Web content, it is crucial that each department carefully evaluate its Web presence to ensure that it is focused on the same client-centric principles as interdepartmental GOL initiatives. Doing so will allow for more seamless information sharing within departments, between departments, and with external users.

To do so, government departments should develop a strategic plan for an integrated client-focused departmental Web site that is based on several critical success factors (CSF):

CSF1 – Clear Project Framework

Before embarking on Web site integration, careful planning must be conducted, including defining the mission, vision, and target audiences. The project will be successful if its goals are aligned with client expectations, often meaning that internal silos are not reflected in the Web site.

CSF2 – Governance

Effective and accountable Web sites require efficient and robust governance frameworks that are consistent with departmental priorities, conform to departmental standards on knowledge sharing and information dissemination, and are compliant with departmental guidelines for the Web environment.

CFS3 – Internal Communications

Internal communications must build on the overall objectives by identifying priorities and mechanisms for communication of the project phases. The communications strategy will ensure that key knowledge is shared on an ongoing basis and at critical phases of the project. It should be transferred in a timely manner to the right people using appropriate mechanisms.

CSF4 – Risk Management

Web integration projects are considered high-risk projects since various groups across the department are involved in decision-making processes. The lack of formal mechanisms for collaboration and decision-making between these groups on Web issues is a key problem. Traditionally, technology has been viewed as the highest risk for such projects. However, the biggest risks have become cultural change, procurement processes, knowledge sharing and training.

CSF5 – Common/Shared Technology

Merging a number of different sites into one unified and integrated site requires a recognition that content may originate from several sources, each with its own distinct technical environment. Technology can help break down the silos and enable knowledge management outcomes.

CSF6 – Organizational Buy-in & Readiness

It is critical to get active support from those whose collaboration you require and those who will be affected by the changes, from senior decision makers to frontline Webmasters.

The organizational culture of government departments often undermines knowledge sharing due to the dominant stovepipe mentality. This can be changed by breaking down information silos and promoting sharing through the creation of client-centric Web presences.

Annie Crombie ([email protected]) and Alexandra Katseva ([email protected]) are with Intoinfo Inc., a Web strategy firm based in Ottawa. This

article is excerpted from Intoinfo’s white paper Web Integration and Information Architecture, available at

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