What are information silos: definition, causes, and winning tips

Data is a priceless asset. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook inspire the whole corporate world to treat information as the basis for long-term business growth and evolution. There’s a notion that a single person generates approximately 1.7 megabytes of data in one second – this is a vast amount of new intelligence being produced daily. And the issue is – how to extract relevant and genuine information from “data-castoffs”? And, what’s more important, how to distribute and use it fruitfully? Data management has become a challenge in 2021, with 95% of companies claiming it to be a brainteaser. One of the hurdles is the information silo. Its major bad turn is – preventing organizations from getting a 360-degree overview of acute chances or causes for alarm.

What are information silos and when they occur?

Imagine you have a lot of materials stored in various in-house and external repositories:

  • CRMs
  • chats & mailboxes
  • corporate wikis, such as Confluence
  • task management systems, like JIRA
  • cloud storage – AWS or Azure
  • relational databases
  • MS Office files
  • presentations, visuals, and printed materials.

You launch a new project and have to form a working team from scratch. In addition to visioning, scoping, project pipeline development, roles’ distributions, and backlog initializing, you need to assure that everyone gets the resources they need to proceed. Moreover, the access shall be granted under data security policies, and some pieces of information, e.g. the code, has to be accompanied by supportive documentation and versions’ control systems. Multiply this on communication “gaps”, misconceptions, issues with APIs or data transmission, and hardware-side setbacks – and you get a jillion of provisioning troubles.

“Disconnected data silos”, source

It seems to be an exaggerated example, but it underlies the information silos definition. This is a situation when the disclosure or conveying of the decision-relevant data fails to happen. Information users can’t access statistics, reports, documentation, or other sources – neither partially nor completely. An information silo may stem from many causes – here are just a few common ones:

  • inflated bureaucracy – too many or too long-lasting requesting & approval stages
  • strict security policy – overabundant compliance checks, especially in the matter of newcomers
  • accidental events – lost requests, emails got into “Spam”, etc.
  • pending time – even though all approval procedures were finalized, it may take time to install & set up software or purchase a license for additional user
  • poor version controlling – lousy managing of Git or other systems
  • scattered depositories – a very arduous scenario when interconnected or complementary data is stored in different formats at once. Say .xls, .pdf, .doc, and .db.

How does the information silo affect productivity?

The incapacity to soothingly work with data considerably reduces the productivity of the team. Not only does it cause overdue deadlines and protracted projects – it also affects employees’ motivation and reduces engagement with the task. Other perils include:

  • treatment of incomplete data for decision-making

According to statistics, US companies lose more than $3 trillion per year because of poor data quality. For businesses, data asymmetry is worse than data absence, because it may lead to wrong assumptions and predictions.

  • even more procrastination

Postponing decisions are inherent to all of us, but when it gets worse due to the unfavorable environment – the procrastination may grow exponentially.

  • on-duty fatigue

Management, creative thinking, and going for decisions are very energy-consuming activities. Hours of hard work and concentration, doubled with hopelessness to access documents can despair even the toughest guys.

  • deteriorated relationships among teammates

Although a duty is a duty, human emotions cannot be neglected. Communicative ambiguousness and in-person grievances can ruin the microclimate inside the team or harm across-team dialogues.

How to break down information silos?

The best way to deal with data silos is to grasp and prevent them. Think of bottlenecks that may occur while different pieces of data “migrate” within the bounds of your company. It is suggestable to design information flow diagrams, prescribe documents’ owners and the requesting procedure.

“The example of an information flow model”, source

In our humble opinion, the following tips may assist as well:

Merge, where possible

If you do utilize various software, take time to align programs with one another. For example, digital marketing tools, like HubSpot, and some of HubSpot alternatives allow integration with CRMs and data storages. As such, you’ll limit manual data redistribution and come up with a consolidated information “touchpoint”.

Develop onboarding

New employees can suffer from information silos like no one else. To assist accommodation, pre-design tables of inner resources – for each job position. You can mention whom to ask for the access and how long it will take to get it.

Use shareable workspaces

Coordinate project information through a shared whiteboard like Weje. These are virtual canvases that you can use to keep links to resources, write down notes, edit documents, leave comments, etc. Share a whiteboard with co-workers – so that you can perform all these simultaneously. Then, if new team members appear, just add them to the collaborators’ list and they’ll see all project-related developments.

Reduce email usage

A Monday morning “Inbox” is a scary place, indeed. People send & receive more than 120 emails every single day – it’s easy-breezy to lose important information in this loop. To get faster replies, choose more “agile” tools, like Slack or WhatsApp. Do not attach downloadable files to emails either. If you need to share something – send shareable links.

Put down in black and white

Meeting notes, discussion outcomes, agreements, assignments, and requests shall be in a written form – and no other way. And this is not about having an alibi or finding someone to blame in the future – lots of important information is being lost just because it happens in a verbal form solely.

If you manage to overcome information silos, you’ll see to what extent the overall operational routine will be bolstered up. Not to mention employees filled with gratitude for simplifying their corporate being.

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