By Mary Kate McGrath - September 22, 2020
Optimal efficiency is the top goal for any organization but data gaps can hinder this achievement. To help you, we’ve put together this guide to data silos and workplace communication, identifying areas of risk, and providing tips on more efficient critical communication and collaboration.
In this guide, you'll find all you need to know about avoiding data gaps and enhancing employee communication, including:
• What are Data Silos?
• Why do Data Silos Occur?
• Examples of Data Silos
• How Do Silos Break Down Corporate Communications?
• How Can Your Organization Avoid Data Silos?
• What Does A Silo-Free Workplace Look Like?
Managers can understand the concept of a “data silo” in several key ways - in short, a data silo is a situation in which only one individual, group, or team can access a set of data or information.
Data silos are proving to be an obstacle for businesses, impairing the ability to access, leverage and make a productive, profitable use of such information. This is because silos create two related conditions within the workplace:
If information isn’t shared but is instead trapped in a system or subsystem, it won’t be used as part of reciprocal operations. To explain this issue, many data experts turn to the image of an agricultural grain silo and its cylindrical storage towers, with the grain representing the data that is instead trapped in a silo.
Similarly, corporations regardless of the industry can store data or information in silos, with the “towers” being different collection tools, departments, regional offices or levels of the management hierarchy.
Data silos can be obstructive and a source of inefficiency across departments. The problem can also cause complications for corporate IT departments, whose time and services can be costly. And the silos are common - as of 2017, 83% of executives said that their organizations have silos and that 97% thought these silos had a negative effect, according to the American Management Association.
Given the prevalence of data silos, it’s important for managers to understand how these situations occur and how to prevent them from disrupting or complicating workplace communications.
Companies may experience data silos due to “silo mentality”, in which different organizational units (teams or departments) have divergent goals. Six structural factors contribute to the development of silos or silo thinking, caused both by accident or design, according to Rotize. These factors include:
Businesses with a large number of employees or teams, hiring practices that prioritize individuals with highly-individualized skill sets, certain incentive mechanisms and a lack of an adequate corporate communications strategy may increase the risk of silo-related issues.
Thus, companies should be on the look out for four predictors of silo occurrence including:
Basically, the need for unique skills and specialization between companies can cause leaders and departments with similar skills, interests and tasks to become sequestered within the corporate structure. This isn’t necessarily a bad practice. Silos are not all negative and can benefit an organization in the sense that they foster individuality, accountability, and responsibilities, as well as empower workers to focus on certain business goals or deliverables, as per Datorama.
The issues occur when a “silo mentality” rules the corporate structure without accountability, promoting behavior that only benefits individuals or singular teams. Instead of rallying around the overall interests of the business and its customers, teams might become embroiled in workplace politics, and people, departments, or corporate branches might feel incentivized by individual success to keep key data or information private.
This “silo mentality” can result in a situation where individuals or teams refuse to share information, collaborate, work together, or communicate, limiting corporate success.
Additionally, there are four common reasons data silos happen, including company culture, organizational structures, technology, and company growth, as per Alooma. By understanding the structures that make a company susceptible to silos, managers can better determine which systems are benefitting company goals and which are holding back success.
The lack of unification or communication between departments or teams, especially for larger businesses, are a common reason data silos happen. These issues are exacerbated if there is internal competition among teams, or one department considers itself separate or special form the rest of the company, withholding data it doesn’t deem relevant to the rest of the organization.
Leadership plays a great role in shaping company culture and therefore has an essential role in determining whether or not data silos occur. In fact, leadership can be a silo in itself, if information and decision-making discussed by managers are not disseminated among employees. If the people working at the top of the organization aren’t communicating strategy across the organization, employees will be less certain of corporate goals and how to achieve them.
Businesses should proactively work to integrate departments - if not, layers or hierarchy, bureaucracy, and management can deter the flow of data or information across the organization.
It’s crucial to be aware of how uncommunicative employees or managers contribute to an opaque organizational structure. If a business is characterized by a rigid organizational structure, it’s likely a symptom of an internal communication breakdown, and a signal that leadership needs to reinvest in corporate communication tools.
Since disparate departments have unique goals, needs or preferences, it’s not uncommon for teams to use different technology or tools, resulting in an information silo. For example, a marketing team might prefer one data collection or analysis tool, while the sales team is leveraging another, meaning that information stored in one system is not being shared between them.
One common symptom of technology-created silos is data incompatibility, in which one data system isn’t able to be integrated. The lack of compatibility can occur in the technology architecture of a company, application architecture, or data architecture. When a company is leveraging too many data systems - and has not trained employees across departments on these technologies - it can make information unwieldy, siphoned-off, and inaccessible to large populations within the business.
Additionally, the common practice of letting individual teams choose their system, while lending departments more autonomy, has made integrating data systems more difficult. Often in the past, IT departments and CIOs would have jurisdiction over all tools, and non-IT departments would have to adapt. Now businesses largely rely on IT to weave together these different tools, resulting in more integration requests. Investing in a corporate communications system that connects IT to other departments across the organization can help overcome communication gaps.
Often companies will become susceptible to data silos during a period of growth or expansion. If a company’s infrastructure or processes fail to scale, individual departments may be left to improvise processes or applications. This may result in data assets that are only available or decipherable to employees who created the system,
By prioritizing communications, businesses can better understand employees amid the period of transition and mitigate silo risks. Encourage workers to continue to collaborate and meet, whether the business is acquiring another company or bringing new employees on board.
Now that there’s a working definition of a data silo, it might be helpful to consider several hypothetical situations, in which a data silo has complicated corporate communications in manufacturing, human resources, healthcare or business.
Many manufacturers struggle with data silos, which occur by nature of the industry’s architecture, as per EHS Today. These silos occur because most industries have many stakeholders - procurement, material planning, production planning, sales, finance, and fulfillment. Often these teams have their own individual siloed processes, such as different databases, systems, and dashboards that don’t communicate well across teams.
Also, production machines in manufacturing produce a tremendous amount of data that may seem impossible to leverage across departments. The data is very hard to collect, by nature of the machine-specific formats and interfaces, meaning the data can’t be cross-referenced or used to show insight into the manufacturing process, inventories, or material flows, as per EHS. For this reason, silos in manufacturing hinder productivity and are preventing an era of digital transformation.
A multi-faceted mass notification platform could be a great solution for manufacturers trying to avoid data silos. For example, if a product recall were to occur, templated messaging can be leveraged immediately to notify internal departments, retailers and the press. With mass notification, manufacturers are given the ability to get ahead of the story, prevent future incidents, and communicate efficiently with everybody involved instead of letting this information stay within just one department.
Finding innovative strategies to bridge stakeholder knowledge across teams in manufacturing will improve operations and fuel next-gen development in the field.
Human resource management has a unique role within an organization - large or small. One common concern when it comes to data silos boils down to effective staffing communications. For a company with multiple offices, buildings, departments, and management, having the ability to leverage one system for communication can often be overlooked when it shouldn’t be.
For example, with a mass notification system, the IT department can leverage already created contact lists within the solution to then send out targeted messaging to just that department. The head of IT would have their own role-based access controls allowing them the ability to communicate with their department. Human Resources would also have access to the contact lists but would be able to send out company-wide announcements or send targeted communications to specific buildings or offices.
Data silos are a growing issue in the healthcare field, and one common example is the “referral trend," as per Health IT. If a physician refers a patient to a specialist, the patient’s information won’t be transferred to where it needs to go if it is stuck in a data silo, such as a paper record or Electronic Health Record (EHR) system that cannot talk to another EHR system. Often, physicians work within a certain network of doctors and insurance companies; patients seeking care outside of this net can complicate data transfer.
These data silos mean that referral trend information cannot be compiled and analyzed by healthcare IT specialists. Hospitals or other healthcare providers will then not be able to gather information on specialists PCPS refer to often to make decisions, such as average appointment wait-times for specialists, or specialists timelines for sending evaluations or appointment information back to providers. All of this valuable healthcare information will be lost, emphasizing how silos prevent providers from communicating valuable and relevant information.
For large healthcare systems, which may have multiple buildings and specified facilities, using one mass notification solution to communicate across departments could be extremely useful when coordinating staffing coverage if patients are switching providers or locations. In a large organization, having specific role-based access controls for different departments allows for users to alert segmented lists ensuring they connect with the right people.
The American Management Association offers an example that demonstrates how corporate hierarchies can result in a data silo. Let’s propose one employee is on the marketing team and needs a tech tool to facilitate an email marketing campaign, but the head of the IT department has jurisdiction over new technologies and refuses to greenlight the request. The leadership of the company incentivizes successful campaigns, and if the IT manager allows marketing to have the tool, the team will get the credit for any additional profits.
The IT team in this example has become a silo out of self-defense, operating out of interest of the department, instead of in line with the goals of the business. While there are many benefits to decentralized, team-oriented organizations, leadership must de-incentivize interdepartmental competition and increase positive communications among team managers. For example, setting company-wide goals to encourage teamwork. By doing so, managers won’t have a situation that would similarly result in lost profits, a lack of creativity or innovation, and damaged managerial reputations.
Businesses need smooth, streamlined communications to operate efficiently, and there are several key ways data silos can break down corporate communications. The examples in the previous section demonstrate how siloed data can harm employee relationships, restrict clarity of company vision, and hinder the collaborations necessary to innovate.
It’s important to understand the exact ways data silos complicate workplace communications, further disrupting operations.
Data silos can muddle company vision, preventing employees from coming together and rallying around a common goal. If workers are operating in sequestered pods with individual interests, it will inevitably restrict the flow of information and discourage teamwork.
The lost sense of community can diminish morale as well, as workers won’t get the sense of mission, and will have no concept of how their individual work is benefiting the greater whole. This will also potentially seed turf-wars or infighting, which further degrade corporate morale, sour valuable manager relationships, and prevent stakeholders from properly conducting business.
Unfortunately, data silos can impair decision-making at nearly every level of a business, from shift-workers in factories, to mid-level managers, to executive leadership. Businesses must make swift, considered decisions, and data plays a key role in informing these choices.
Data silos slow down this process - collecting information that has been siphoned off can be a tedious process, eliminating any advantage the business might have by acting first, or at least quickly. Also, managers might be making decisions based on outdated information or without the full picture, which can be equally perilous when it comes to meeting long term objectives.
If an employee is unable to get a full-picture view of a company’s available information, it will seriously limit the potential to collaborate or reach out to fellow workers for support on a common goal. Overall, data silos are a serious barrier to productive partnerships, and innovation writ large.
Transparency and permeability will allow workers to see inside each department or channel, allowing all groups to leverage expertise and information to better support the organizations’ goals. Employees who understand the businesses’ proactive and positive communications strategy will find this information to be more accessible.
To avoid these breakdowns in communication, management should be able to quickly and efficiently communicate any pressing company changes to team members or specific departments as needed. A comprehensive mass communication and collaboration solution allows management to keep up-to-date and clean employee data - including employee updates such as new hires and those who have left - which ensures everybody is getting the message intended for them.
Find below a short guide to eliminating data silos when possible, and to mitigate the negative impact of any siloed information necessary to business practices.
Managers can take proactive steps to move away from the “silo mentality”, ensure transparency across departments, and improve workplace communication strategy. There are plenty of strategies to avoid operational silos, and managers can use different processes, guidelines, and technologies to stop isolated data from interfering with communications and corporate success.
Methods for breaking down data silos can be broken into four categories - active, passive, formal, and informal, according to Huddle. Active measures include policies to combat silos, passive measures involve the human effect of silos within the organization, formal measures, such as communication platforms and routine meetings, and informal measures, such as giving employees time to socialize and share ideas or information independently.
Below are specific actions that businesses, manufacturers, and other corporate organizations can take to achieve better data integration and transparency.
Instead of incentivizing individual teams to compete against each other, reward people who are committed to teamwork and who are passionate about the company’s vision. Find opportunities for workers to formally collaborate - such as a specific marketing campaign for which multiple teams can work together, sharing research or other data - and informal opportunities, such as a corporate coffee hour, where workers can chat about their current projects.
In addition to encouraging workers to seek out collaborations or teamwork independently, creating structured initiatives employees can come together around will break down communication barriers. Managers can communicate a range of information to employees - and boost internal communications - by leveraging a corporate communications solution with capability to reach out to workers and engage employees around a variety of concerns.
Managers or IT departments should consider conducting annual audits to identify duplicate data storage or communication tools. If separate teams are using multiple tools to achieve the same goal, consider proposing consolidation. Some departments, for example, may be able to consolidate their mass communication systems.
One team may need to be trained on a new technology tool, but the short-term investment in education is worth the long term cost savings. There are also benefits to universalizing technology across the company - it will make data and information more streamlined in the future.
Investing in a corporate communications tool with a high-level of functionality will help multiple teams achieve their goals, without forcing an IT department to put together a patchwork of system requests or integrations. Find one system with the power to connect or engage employees, manage risk or promote business continuity, and reach employees with vital business information no matter their location.
Executive leaders and upper management should host regular, organization-wide meetings to communicate objects and goals to employees. These regular meetings - which can be a weekly update, annual retreat, or another gathering - will prevent silos of information on the executive suite level. However, these gatherings will also help employees understand and articulate the company mission, promoting individual and team-wide success.
A corporate communications system can help teams, departments, and branches share crucial information and data. A mass notification system can facilitate internal and external communications - in an era where teams or individuals are increasingly opting to work remotely, building a robust communications infrastructure is vital. It will allow all team workers to understand the size and scope of the company, and any relevant stakeholders who may benefit from the information or data they’ve collected as part of their role.
What’s an example of a successful silo-breakdown plan? For Seaboard Foods - the second-largest pig production company in the United States with over 5,000 employees working at operations across five different states - effectively communicating across departments, offices, and different locations became an essential part of streamlining company operations.
By implementing one comprehensive mass notification solution, this manufacturer can easily communicate with all employees, avoiding the need for multiple alerting systems and preventing data silos.
There are long term benefits to making data accessible and transparent across your organization; the practice will ensure all teams, departments, and branches are able to leverage relevant information to achieve corporate goals.
It will also result in a more connected, positive workplace, where company vision is clear and employee morale is high. Additionally, the frequent communications required to break down siloed information will improve all manner of corporate operations, from meeting budgetary benchmarks to streamlining IT requests.
Moving forward, any corporation, or manufacturing can benefit from breaking down systems that isolate data or information. Eliminating a silo mentality is an ongoing effort - no matter which plan, strategy, or tools your business decides to implement, the practice of breaking down data silos will likely improve workplace communications and outcomes.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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