To Silo or not to Silo Your Data?

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Click to learn more about author Jill Shuman.

Content can be stored in numerous places throughout an organization, which sometimes makes it a challenge to find. Most companies create internal content – guidelines, templates, and job instructions – while also having external licensed content – such as scientific journals and databases – as a part of their corporate libraries. However, without a single enterprise-wide search function, it can take a long time to find the right data. Despite advances in content aggregation and search, content silos remain a problem by limiting the free flow of data and analytics in many organizations.

Ideally, companies should consider creating a consolidated place to store both internal and external content of many different meta-types, coupled with ability to perform a single enterprise-wide search. This would allow employees access to everything they need in one basic search effort instead of having to check each disparate source individually. This approach saves time, money, and most importantly, protects organizations from loss of institutional knowledge, which is hypothesized to cost millions of dollars. If organizations don’t have a way to curate and capture this data, they are at risk of losing knowledge with talent. As employees move on to other jobs, uncaptured vital corporate knowledge leaves with them.

Embracing this trend can lead to more productive staff because they won’t have to duplicate the efforts of past employees – the information would be captured before the previous employee left and easily available. In fact, more than 8 in 10 workers worldwide are forced to recreate lost documents already in existence, according to the 2019 Global Intelligent Information Management (IIM) Benchmark report. Data also suggests that an employee who can fully engage with a company and its information feels more a part of the team. It’s an important thing to keep in mind for maintaining a satisfied and enthusiastic workforce.

When an organization decides to initiate breaking down the silos, there is one mistake to avoid – deconstructing silos without changing a company’s culture. Deconstruction should be implemented from the top down, starting with company’s executives. There needs to be a specific, thoughtful strategy implemented that includes a data champion, who builds a team with representation and input from all of the original silo owners.

Additionally, the initiative to break down content silos should not be looked on as optional. Instead, it has to be a part of a company’s overall business strategy and supported by every division and department.

Most divisions and departments within a company maintain their own sets of records and data and are not used to ‘sharing.’ In order to break down the silos, individual departments have to understand that their data is valuable and will benefit the company as a whole. Those divisions and departments should be encouraged to collaborate with each other.

In many companies, the IT department is looked upon as a roadblock rather than an ally. Cultural initiative should be changing that perspective and positioning the IT department as a worthwhile collaborator, rather than an enemy. Efforts to breakdown silos should be accompanied by metrics to track progress against the overall goal. Companies should also consider implementing — and consistently enforcing — Data Governance policies aimed at maintaining data flow, management, storage and quality.

There are some cases, however, where company silos can’t or shouldn’t be disturbed. For example, if there is going a be a takeover in a company’s future, it wouldn’t make sense to deconstruct the silos at that point. Also, in some regulated industries, it may be difficult to consolidate the silos and integrate data because of security protocols that have been applied to each of the individual silos.

If the silos can’t be broken down (yet), consider the following:

  • Where silos exist, try to make sure they contain only the data that is essential to them.
  • Make sure there is sufficient communication between the silos (either directly or via departments, like finance and IT, which frequently interact with all of them).
  • No new software solutions should be implemented within any individual group without approval of the IT department or whatever department is managing their data collection.
  • Different platforms perform different functions, especially in case of sales and marketing tools. It may be more efficient to find a solution that links the silos together rather than rips them down.

Ultimately, if you break down the data silos, do it slowly. Some of these silos have been decades in the making and have worked quite well. Employees need time to change their workflows, and in times of flux, need to see that these changes are not necessarily designed to replace their institutional knowledge with ‘some big, cloud-based data thing.’

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