Data silos are one of the big evils of the modern business, impacting productivity and damaging a company’s prospects.
For any business to understand its performance, it needs all data islands to be referenced by each other. This isn’t quite the world of big data that many enterprises and the media are abuzz about. But, by having your sales information connected to your stock and to your client database, along with your web analytics, the collective value generated can help the company get a larger, clearer, picture of what is going on.
By linking these resources together, business leaders can get a true picture of a company’s activity. This allows for more actionable insights and the ability to create a more realistic strategy for the future.
Data Silos Are Bad News—and They’re Spreading
These silos exist because most businesses have built up their IT infrastructure using different applications and services. Often because there was no real vision of the need to integrate them. Even if a young company has a central IT department, these businesses are expanding like crazy in an ad hoc fashion. The sales team may find a specific tool they can use and like. The head of product might love Microsoft Office, while the creative team is all on Macs or storing data on their iPads. For the poor analytics team, roping all the data from various applications together becomes a near-insurmountable challenge.
VMware has a very detailed report on the issue. It highlights how even non technical areas of a business are building up their own “shadow IT” and creating data that the rest of the business can’t access—and in many instances might not even know exists in the first place. In some cases, workers are given new devices that no one is actively managing. And also using apps with no oversight of the data created on them.
This decentralization is causing a major problem, according to the Quarterly Journal of Economics. It leaves those suffering from it at a competitive disadvantage to those who take a joined-up and unified approach. While you would think that new companies would be learning these lessons, the report reinforces the message that their often ad hoc and cutting-edge nature sees:
Firms closer to the technological frontier are more likely to choose decentralization, because they are dealing with new technologies about which there is only limited information in the public history.
Whatever the size and scope of data within your company, control is vital. You should take immediate steps to ensure you have complete control of your data and applications.
Solutions to your Data Silo Woes
As with any IT issue, there is a large number of companies offering solutions. From providing file conversion services, or selling analysis tools with a wide range of conversion plug-ins, they can read information from a huge variety of apps and sources.
In some cases, the solution can be as simple as saving or exporting data in a different format. However, few IT consultants would ever admit that a solution is that easy.
However, the best solution is to start your business, or reboot it, in a way that ensures all data is readable by other departments and applications. This will help create business dashboards showing true performance.
This approach can also provide insights into issues that are only visible when the data is linked up. For example, imagine product x has high return rates but also has a high profit margin. So, the sales team might ask stock control to keep that information to themselves.
The Big Picture Emerges
Only when all data is visible and open to query and analysis by modern tools does the full image emerge. Until then, productivity will suffer. The integrity of the business also may be called into question if the leadership can’t answer investor or regulator questions.
There are other benefits to resolving IT archipelagos, too. In the distributed, chaotic world, data can simply vanish when an employee leaves or it could be left languishing on a server. It, and uncontrolled devices, are more prone to security risks. Also, the level of complexity will cost the company more money and investment to resolve the longer it goes on.
By stamping out decentralized IT, no matter how attractive it is to let other departments get on with it. By creating a collaborative approach to analyzing data, any company can develop great business intelligence to help them improve their performance and to outpace companies that believe chaos is one of the costs of doing business.