What are Information Silos?
Standing alone can be an uncomfortable feeling at any gathering. You may only hear part of a conversation; you might not mesh well with the others in the room; you could face a number of awkward silences, and even be rejected completely.
Feeling like a lone wolf at a party is discomforting for sure. Having critical data siloed and inaccessible at your organization, however, can be detrimental to your operations and your bottom line. Breaking down silos and gathering everyone under one larger data venue makes for better integration, improved collaboration, and more informed decision making.
Data Silos Defined
In simplest terms, a data silo is data or information within an organization that is isolated from, and inaccessible to, other parts of the enterprise. For example, when accounting can’t access current data from operations; or when the logistics team is not sure whether they have the up-to-the-minute version of a vital spreadsheet from human resources, etc. As the volume of data increases, silos tend to get “taller.”
How Data Silo Creep Happens
Information gets siloed for several reasons, including company culture and history, organizational structure, and technology. As companies grow, internal departments often begin to use their own terminology and processes and may feel separate from other departments. They may even begin to compete for resources and to withhold data from other groups, or to operate almost as independent organizations. This can happen deliberately or even because different departments aren’t fully cognizant of how their information impacts another. Hierarchy and lack of cross-functional management can also lead to data silos.
The wide variety of technology incorporated by different departments are another important factor in the isolation of data. There may be legacy tools that aren’t easy shared; marketing staff might use Dropbox, while the sales group uses Box, and so on. That information from sales is vitally important to marketing’s efforts, and the two departments ultimately need to be able to securely and confidently share data to make informed decisions. However, forcing common application use between various departments is not the simple answer.
Why are Data Silos Problematic?
Time, resources, and energy are wasted daily due to the inefficiency data silos create in terms of data transfer and access.Several teams may even be storing the exact same data in different areas. This redundant data storage costs money. Eliminating data silos positively impacts the IT department’s budget.
Another potential problem—data content may vary—even though it may appear similar. If your organization faces data silos, how confident are you that the information you need from one department is truly up to date? Could you run the risk of overwriting data with outdated information? Does one version of your user manual exist in sales and another in marketing? Which version is correct?
Siloed data creates incomplete insights and a lack of confidence in data accuracy. To make enterprise-level decisions, the view has to be a 360-degree one, not tunneled, as from a silo. Merging the data contained within silos and helping them work together as one helps organizations get the information they need, at the time they need it, to make more informed, timely, and data-driven decisions.
How Do You Knock Down Data Silos?
Eliminating problematic, long-standing data silos comes with challenges. Not only do you face, “but we’ve always done it that way” pushback, some silos are tricky to pull down due to hierarchies and permission structures, especially when different groups want and need to utilize different systems.
The most common answer is to pull data from disparate systems into a singular data warehouse, either physical or cloud-based. The warehouse serves as larger storage system for all the data of an enterprise.