Connecting Disparate Information Silos
Business growth is great. It means that what you are doing is working and doors to new opportunities are open to you. It’s what everyone wants. But growing a business doesn’t come without pitfalls.
One thing that can catch companies by surprise is complications in their data gathering and storage practices. Expanded customer bases and new services lead to the collection of more data.
And if, as your business expands and new departments are established, you don’t have data management strategies in place, all that new information coming in will get shunted into data silos.
What are data silos?
When looking for a data silos meaning, think of a grain silo on a farm. In the same way a grain silo stores grain between harvesting and distribution, data silos keep information contained within one area of your data infrastructure.
Essentially, a data silo is a collection of raw data that can only be accessed by one part of an organization.
What causes data silos?
Once you have a solid grasp of a data silo definition, the things that cause them may surprise you. One of the biggest causes? Rapid business growth!
As many companies start, they often rely on off-the-shelf software for their data storage and analysis needs. But as they grow, the company restructures into more departments, and those off-the-shelf solutions that worked early on start causing problems.
What happens if you ignore this problem?
If a business does not address its information needs, you begin to see each department collecting data for their own purposes. If they don’t have software that allows for automatic sharing of information, it is easy for departments to get so caught up in excelling at their tasks that they don’t think to share data.
As time goes on, you see different parts of a company looking for more optimal data management solutions for their particular needs, which only makes the emerging information silos even more isolated.
For example, when sales, marketing, accounts payable, field services, and so on each manage their own data in their own ways with their own software that may not be compatible with anyone else’s, you get data silos.
Problems with information silos
You might think that each department using the data they collect for their own purposes doesn’t sound that bad, but when information silos arise as a result of isolated processes and workflows within the same company, you have issues.
Those issues can come in many forms. So when you say what are data silos and why are they bad, several answers can seriously affect your business.
A house divided
Data siloing creates divisions between the various departments that make up a company. When everyone has access to different information, it makes interdepartmental collaboration extremely difficult.
Anytime a project or decision affecting multiple departments comes around, you have to decide whose data should take priority. If multiple departments have overlapping information, problems can arise if one department has more up-to-date data in some areas but less current info in others.
For example, if your field service team has collected detailed, up to date information on the companies and individuals that they have worked with, their data will likely be more up-to-date than your marketing team that is pulling their data from CRM databases that are populated with general information gathered from online ad interactions or surveys on social media.
If the two teams are trying to work together to drive an advertising push to encourage upgrading services, they have to take the time to transfer field service information over to a format that marketing can use for an email push. And if their data management systems don’t gel, someone has to figure out how to bridge the gap.
Both groups will be annoyed by the other because everyone is so focused on what works for them that they won’t see how they could both benefit from a change in the status quo.
With data silos, you wind up with different teams working at cross purposes and executives who have difficulty getting a complete, 360-degree view of the company because there are no unified data streams.
Bad customer experiences
When a customer or client needs to contact your business to resolve a problem or add services, you want to be able to help them quickly and efficiently. Siloed databases can stand firmly in the way of that goal.
If a customer request requires interaction with multiple departments within a company, they can get very frustrated very quickly when they have to keep repeating relevant information to each new person they speak to.
When data is not accessible across departments, it puts your customers that require service into an annoying bureaucratic spiral. If interacting with your business reminds your customers of a bad trip to the DMV, they won’t be your customers for long.
Data silos aren’t just inefficient from an interdepartmental collaboration perspective or a customer service perspective—they waste valuable company resources.
Storing and securing data isn’t free. If your company is paying to store individual databases for every department in your business—data that may have significant overlap—you are leaving money on the table. Sure, storage is cheap, but maintaining those databases or systems can tax your IT infrastructure and your IT support teams.
Additionally, if you have several different data management programs operating across your business, you are throwing money away on separate licensing fees for software that may be streamlining processes on the departmental level but are slowing things to a crawl for the company as a whole.
Accuracy is not guaranteed
Having multiple pathways through which you can gather data is a good thing. Unfortunately, when those pathways do not converge, the choices made using that data may not be optimal.
That’s because a major silo problem is fragmented data. If your sales team is only pursuing certain data points that are relevant to their departmental goals and your marketing team is only looking at the data points most relevant to them, they may have some success on a small scale, but problems will arise outside their control.
Think about it this way: say your sales team has developed a lead and recorded their data using a preferred nickname, but your marketing team acquired contact information for the same person from an online interaction but recorded it using the person’s legal name.
When taking a macro view of your company’s data, one person would look like two people. And if a name was misspelled by another team, this one person now looks like three people. If that happens with multiple customers, the problem gets exponentially worse.
Then when upper-level executives are looking at analytics to get a full view of their company, the fractured data cannot give a complete picture. Without accurate, complete data sets, it is not possible to make optimal, strong business decisions. You may get lucky—but you may not.
Breaking down data silos
Once you’ve learned to recognize when your company has data silos and why it is bad practice to keep them intact, it is time to take steps to break them down.
To break down data silos, you need to equip your teams with the right tools, and you may need to take a few steps to change the culture within your company. It takes effort and time, but the rewards are worth it.
Creating a unified culture
To reiterate an earlier point, a department with a siloed database will tend to focus intensely on smaller, departmental goals instead of the company’s larger goals as a whole. When interdepartmental needs arise, this leads to unhealthy competition.
By taking the time to break down the personal barriers between coworkers who may not interact on a day-to-day basis, you begin to resolve this issue.
Even though some people cringe at the idea of team-building days, a tremendous amount of good can come from breaking your workforce into teams for non-work related activities. These interdepartmental team-building exercises can be anything from scavenger hunts to after-work happy hours.
The activities you use to unite your team should be chosen based on the people you have. The main idea is to get people from different areas of your business working together for a common goal on a small scale so that they will do the same on a large scale.
Integrate your information
Compared to creating a one-for-all company culture, integrating your data is relatively simple. All you need is the right tools, a clear-eyed evaluation of how your processes and workflows operate now and how you want them to improve, and time to implement those changes.
But what are the right tools? A customized data management platform that can take the information gathered from every source your teams use to create a unified data pool is what you’ll need.
Creating your own platform that manages all your data reduces the issue of storage space while giving you a standardized set of data points that is discoverable by authorized users across the company.
Establishing a company-wide, uniform process for data collection and storage means that automated functions can be implemented to ensure that fractal data problems and duplicate data sets do not create false impressions when that data is being analyzed and put to use.
Your customers will appreciate the ease of communicating with your service team members when they don’t have to constantly repeat themselves or correct errors over and over again.
It should be noted that in some cases, confidentiality requirements demand that there be some form of information siloing. Customized data management solutions can be of use here as well.
By making sure there are tiers of user authorizations, your HR department can still follow standardized data processes without violating the trust of the people they are working with. Similarly, HIPAA regulations can be incorporated into your platform if your business is involved in the healthcare industry.
Silos are for grain
Data silos are often associated with many problems, including interdepartmental bickering and wasteful information storage spending. By taking the initiative to implement an integrated data management platform, you eliminate the issues that data silos bring to your company.
Don’t settle for fractured data sets and departments that only focus on their own needs. Instead, get the most complete picture of your business and use it to rise to new heights.