An American Printer Commentary
By Andy & Julie Plata
American Printer, and the OutputLinks Communications Group
If one accepts the adage that “knowledge is power,” then “information silos” should be considered “power killers.” Let us explain why.
The term information silo refers to vital information isolated within a software platform or a section of a company. Such silos counteract the knowledge is power adage since they hamper or even prevent information sharing within an organization. This restricted information flow can reduce your company’s efficiency and stand in the way of growing profits for the future.
Information silos, whether they are innocent or deliberate, are costly.
Silos Restrict Coordination
Silos restrict open communication, which can lead to a lack of trust and coordination. Poor coordination can lead to teams working at cross purposes or even duplication of effort. And we all know how frustrating it can be when “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”
Silos are good for farmers and missiles, but not for companies
Grain silos are tall, vertical, walled off structures. And data silos are much the same. Their construction allows a restricted flow of information within but not outside of the silo. The organization structure may seem efficient on paper, but in practice, it causes confusion, rework and conflict, which costs you money.
Four Root Causes
Technology strategist Edd Wilder-James writes in the Harvard Business Review that information silos have four root causes:
- Structural barriers
- Political barriers
- Vendor Lock-In
Structural barriers arise because businesses build systems and applications to fix a problem or meet a specific need or objective. Time and budget requirements are often top of mind. As such, mechanisms for information sharing beyond the immediate department are either not considered or determined to be beyond the project’s scope.
Political barriers may exist because of concerns among departmental staff that ‘their’ unprotected information may be misused or abused by other people in the company. Some people may even try to silo specific information for personal gain or job security.
Growth, both organic and through mergers and acquisitions, can foster knowledge silos. When companies absorb an acquired company but fail to integrate that company’s systems and processes seamlessly, silos will occur. This lack of integration often happens due to a lack of planning, budget, or time availability.
Vendor lock-in was a significant issue in the early days of information technology and remains so today. Unfortunately, in today’s software-as-a-service and cloud computing environment, captive data silos are often worse than ever.
Reorganization Trades One Set of Silos for Another
The perceived solution to information silos often tends to be restructuring. Too often, the result of a costly and disruptive reorganization is that the business trades one set of silos for another.
Journalist and satirist H.L. Mencken said, “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible and wrong.”
Leadership strategist Brent Gleason, writing in Forbes, offers five ways to eliminate information silos. These are:
- Create a unified vision
- Work towards a common goal
- Motivate and incentivize
- Execute and measure
- Collaborate and create
As a rule, if a company’s senior management team has a unified vision, information silos are few and far between. Workers talk about “our company” instead of “my department” or even worse, “that’s not my department.” When that unified vision is driven from the top, the rest of the organization can begin contributing toward that common goal.
There is a business proverb that says, “if it’s not being measured, it’s not being managed.” Like any other project, getting rid of information silos requires you to execute and measure progress using timelines, milestones, and clear responsibilities. It is crucial to consistently communicate the measured results, both verbally and visually, across the entire company.
Finally, to get teams to work together, consider setting up cross-training for individual employees between departments. You can also encourage regular meetings between different workgroups to discuss progress towards silo elimination.
You can also have your teams rate each other’s level of information sharing and then address the feedback gained from those evaluations.
The Pandemic Impact
Like so much else, the pandemic has impacted the information silo challenges. Social media marketer Saphia Lanier explains in her company blog The Shelf that remote work environments can trigger new, even smaller, information silos.
Lanier’s blog post suggests that businesses can increase collaboration by building regular check-ins between teams to discuss new processes and workflows needed to support the new remote work environment.
Breaking down information silos is more about management style than it is about structures or technologies. Fostering a work environment built on trust, sharing, and accountability is your best bet for improving cross-departmental collaboration within your business.
We’re interested in what information silos look like from our readers’ perspective. We invite you to share with us any experience you or your associates may have had with fostering better collaboration between teams. You can post them in the comments section below.
Silos: If you can’t eliminate them, then do what it takes to reduce them consistently.
We believe that new opportunities can develop from challenging situations. Therefore, we will continue offering new insights for reducing or eliminating departmental silos to drive efficiencies and keep your business profitable.
Empowering the print message for the digital age,
Andy & Julie Plata
Co-CEOs, American Printer, and the OutputLinks Communications Group
If you want more are on this topic, may we suggest reading “Don’t Let ‘Process Paralysis’ Negate Print Profits”
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