TL;DR: Data silos, information that is isolated within a single team or application, are a pain in the neck. Breaking them up requires a company-wide effort, which ranges from technical integration to changes in management and company culture. This article provides relevant food for thought for managers interested in breaking data silos within their organization.

Two different departments in a company store the same information about their employees. Whenever one of the teams needs specific information about someone, the other needs to update the same changes in order to avoid mix-ups. Sounds complicated, right? Well, this is a familiar scenario for many businesses. At some point, having that same information in different places will cause confusion.

The case you’ve just read is a good example of a data silo. Defined as a “segregated group of data stored in multiple enterprise applications,” they may seem harmless. Yet, siloed data creates barriers in regard to inter-department collaboration and information sharing. Moreover, siloes impact decision-making and profitability.

In the age of artificial intelligence, data science, and machine learning, innovation and insight depend on communication and the right data. Because silos hinder business growth, one of the most critical challenges companies face is breaking them up. In this post, we’ll help you understand how to work with isolated data within your organization.

Data silos are more common than we imagine

Data gets siloed with too many business applications. Start-ups or even mid-sized companies are frequent offenders, especially without a clear data and communication strategy. Too many manual, unperformed or undocumented processes are another reason.

Old structures, which we discussed in a previous blog post, also lead to siloed data.

Legacy systems are another area that can present problems for data silos. In them, stored info can only be accessed by people familiar with such technologies. One of the main issues with legacy systems is that stored information can only be accessed or modified by those familiar with such technologies. However, migrating to a new system also has its problems. It may take days or months to integrate data siloed in legacy structures. Therefore, the entire process should be done with great care in order to avoid affecting users or creating more silos.

Data silos are formed for many reasons, most of which are not limited to company growth or type of infrastructure. The main reason data silos exist is because business silos do, as mentioned in last year’s Money 20/20. Breaking them up implies taking a closer look at how an organization communicates at an internal level.

The challenges data silos present

Do executives and managers think silos are bad? The answer is yes. According to a survey by the American Management Association, 83% of the executives reported their organizations have silos. Out of this group, 97% think the existence of data silos impact overall decision-making and each business vertical.

Making high-level informed decisions requires linking information in some way. Isolated data, however, prevents executives from having a panoramic view of their business.  In a digital environment, where at least 82% of companies in the United States work remotely in some capacity, having a clear view of operations is difficult.  In the worst-case scenario, a lack of a company’s global picture prevents decision-makers from ever reaching important conclusions.

Siloed data creates a less collaborative environment, too, as each team ends up working independently. Dealing with data silos is a group effort. It requires a unified vision and a unique approach to company culture.

Picture several members of your team interacting with a single user. With isolated data, it’s easy to lose track of users, forcing them to repeat their stories again and again. The overall user experience can turn frustrating if the information or service requires communication between several siloed departments. Instead of having a streamlined user experience with efficient communication, users and employees waste time and effort completing a single task.

Bridging data

What are some possible technical solutions for data silos? A study from the International Journal of Database Management Systemsexplains integrating data silos with a simple analogy: “In a household kitchen, you will find sugar in a container, coffee in another container, and creamer in a different container. We consolidate all three in different proportions to make delicious coffee. (…) When executives and investors look at a company as a whole, a clear and better view of the overall picture will go a long way. Integrating data silos effectively can resolve this critical challenge.”

A solution for isolated information formed out of multiple applications and processes is to define which silos create maximum value. As decision-makers, strategizing specific sources can enhance collaborations and communications among different teams. Mapping the most critical silos also helps leaders look for applications that effectively integrate data.

Identifying the type of data storage, as well as how much volume and how sensitive it is, can help enterprises determine the best techniques to integrate it. However, with the advancements in big data technologies, it’s easier to incorporate a variety of data sources.

As for business integrations, the next section provides important insight for business leaders do to break down communication and cultural silos within their company.

Shifting company culture

Instead of working in siloed teams, experts recommend creating organizations that embrace company culture. Creating company-wide activities and welcoming all the traits that make each employee special can create a more accepting and collaborative business. HubSpot, for example, created a Culture Codeto bring everyone together – from interns to C-level executives.

Breaking down data silos require support from everyone, especially top management. Because data influences different disciplines and departments, integrating it requires the support of executive leadership. As a Harvard Business Review article phrases it, “As you progress in using data in operational and strategic applications, organizational changes will be inevitable.”

Using data effectively represents a real competitive advantage in today’s world. However, there‘s no need to look for information elsewhere: every company has all the information they require. The real challenge when achieving analytical competency is integrating existing data to deliver new experiences and opportunities.

Food for thought

Has this article left you pondering about your own organization? Here are a couple of guiding questions to help you understand if your institution has data silos and how you can begin to break them down.

  • In a period of six months, how many times have you found out that a specific department had key information of which you weren’t aware? What have you done in such cases?
  • How often do you or your colleagues have to manually search for information? Is this a common practice?
  • How does information access work within your organization? Is this a process that could be easily understood by a new team member?
  • Does your team interact with other departments frequently? What can they say about their experience talking to people in different teams?
  • Do you consider your business offers enough channels to establish direct contact between different teams?
  • How many applications does your company use? How many of them do you consider redundant or think that they could be merged into a single one?
  • Do you have sufficient support, budget, and time to work on such aspects?

Data experts, middleware, and APIs can help you solve this issue. At Blankfactor, we’re experts in creating customized solutions to boost your business.  Let’s get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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