Digital MagazineYear 2021

Leveraging the Value of Silos in the Capital Projects Industry


Silos can have a bad connotation in the AEC industry since they are perceived many times as the cause for slow and onerous procurement processes, fragmented supply chains, and disparate and sometimes incompatible data and information management systems.

jorge a. vanegas – texas a&m university

By Jorge A. Vanegas – Dean of the College of Architecture, Texas A&M University

Read more of our magazine content: Digital Project Delivery

People live within a built environment composed of Civil Infrastructure Systems and Facilities (CISF); which provide the fundamental foundation upon which a society can exist, develop, and survive.

Capital Projects’ Success

The Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry, as provider and custodian of the life span of CISF; ensures the quality, integrity, and longevity of this foundation. Thus, this is possible through the planning, design, procurement, construction; and maintenance of a diverse range of capital projects for public and private sector owners. Similarly, within a wide range of project stockholders and stakeholders, context, scope, complexity, and risk.

In addition, the primary focus of the industry has been on the management of quality, cost, schedule, and safety. Besides, among other indicators and metrics of a capital project; including performance, effectiveness, and efficiency, as reflected by Capital Expenditures (CAPEX), Operating Expenditures (OPEX), and overall Return on Investment (ROI).

Within the capital project execution and delivery processes, the AEC industry brings together a diverse range of organizations; for instance owners, financial and insurance institutions, regulators. Of disciplines; for example, planners, architects, engineers, construction contractors & subcontractors, users; of resource providers (e.g., manufacturers, vendors, suppliers); and of resources (e.g., labor, materials, equipment, technologies).

This requires that the AEC Industry play concurrent roles as a; (1) “movie director,” leading and managing the development of strategic, tactical, operational, and practical plans of action; also, (2) “ballet choreographer,” organizing the stage of operations, and overseeing all aspects of execution; and finally, (3) “symphony conductor,” coordinating roles and responsibilities for all project participants, building on their individual strengths.

Silos in the capital projects industry

However, embedded within this broad and general context for the AEC Industry are multiple and ubiquitous silos. These, reflect some of the critical dimensions of a capital project; and which sometimes are very visible, and other times imperceptible:

  • Types of stakeholders and stockholders
    (i.e., federal, state, and local government organizations; international, national, state, and local industry/business organizations; academia from K-12 schools, to college & universities; and non-governmental, philanthropic, faith-based, & secular organizations in communities & society)
  • Interactions and collaborations among disciplines in practice and academia
    (i.e., multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and transdisciplinary)
  • Discovery and innovation process
    (i.e., benchmarks & baselines; visions & desired outcomes; research; development; demonstration; deployment; dissemination & knowledge transfer; and evaluation & peer review)
  • Typologies of capital projects
    (i.e., by industry sector – residential & non-residential, industrial & heavy/civil, and mixed-use; and by typology of CISF – greenfield or brownfield; rehabilitation; expansion, upgrade, or retrofit; disaster recovery & reconstruction; historical restoration, reconstruction, or preservation; environmental remediation; decommissioning deconstruction, or demolition)
  • The life span of a capital project
    (i.e., planning, design, procurement, construction, commissioning & startup, operations & maintenance, and end-of-service life phases)
  • Elements of project definition and execution
    (i.e., business case & plan; site selection; project definition package, project execution plan; team definition; integrated design package; construction production process plan; work breakdown structure & advanced work packaging; commissioning plan; resource procurement plan; and integrated 3-D, financial/cost, time, and production process models)
  • Performance parameters in the life span of capital projects
    (i.e., physical & nonphysical contextual compatibility & response, and functional, formal & physical performance; quality & reliability, life span cost, and delivery cycle time performance; safety & security, procurement & constructability, and commissioning, start-up, & turnover performance; operability, maintainability, & security, indoor/outdoor environmental quality, and sustainability performance)

Why the bad connotation with silos?

Silos can have a bad connotation in the AEC industry; since they are perceived many times as the cause for slow procurement processes. Moreover, fragmented supply chains, disparate and sometimes incompatible data and information management systems between project stakeholders; increased transactional waste; significant inefficiencies, and conflicts among project participants.

A commonly stated or expressed solution is to break down or eradicate the silos. However, this is extremely difficult and hard to implement because, for many people, silos provide a sense of belonging. Furthermore, of shared identity, values, culture, and of complementary interest, expertise, and specialization. Hence, in a similar way to what a “tribe” provides to its members.

So, any effort to break down or eradicate a silo tends to be met with resistance to change; and, as a result, fail. Perhaps, a different solution could be to accept silos for what they are and represent. Besides, to concurrently, work with them to better leverage the intrinsic value they have to overcome five problems.

Some problems

  • People often have no idea of what is going on inside a silo. Thus, we could create “windows” to peer and learn what is going on within it. Besides, becoming more aware, understanding, and appreciative of the work, effort, and contribution of the people within the silo.
  • When people who are external to a silo need or want to enter a silo; sometimes there are no precise mechanisms or ways for them to do so. Thus, we could create “doors” that invite and allow people to enter, see personally, and experience first-hand what is going on. Hence, they gain even more awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the people’s work, effort, and contribution within the silo.
  • When people need or want to reach and communicate with their counterparts across silos; mechanisms or ways to do so may not be apparent or may be lacking. So, we could create “bridges” to strengthen and enhance interactions, collaborations, and exchanges.
  • Vertical mobility within an organizational hierarchy may lack a clear pathway and may be slow. So, we could create “stairs” so that people know the path from an entry; or mid-level position to the executive level within and across silos.
  • Not everyone wants to be seen working with people from other silos; so, we could create “tunnels” that connect the silos to facilitate communications. Also, interactions in ways that may not always be apparent to others.

In closing, protecting and connecting silos can create a dynamic eco-system of interrelationships and interdependencies between them. This protection/connection can strengthen, enhance, complement, supplement, and transcend each silo; thus, adding value to the AEC industry, which has been untapped and not fully realized to date.

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