April 9, 2020

4 Ways to Break Down Data Silos

Heather Winnicki - Vice President of B2C Product Management
4 Ways to Break Down Data Silos

Organizations invest heavily in data to grow their bottom line. However, data silos are a frequent problem especially in larger companies with many departments and complicated infrastructure. A recent Forrester report found that 72% of firms said their greatest sales and marketing challenge was managing data and sharing insights across organizational silos.[1] And an Adobe survey of 1,000 IT decision-makers found that 37% of respondents cited data silos as the top challenge facing IT teams in creating a single view of the customer.[2] Both studies indicate that data silos prevent companies from using their data efficiently and getting the return on investment they need.

What is a data silo?

A data silo happens when data is owned by one department and is isolated from use by other teams.

How does data become siloed?

There are a few reasons why data can become siloed in an organization.

  • Structural: Mergers and acquisitions can result in organizations with layers of management and specialized departments that have their own separate stores of data. Without processes in place to ensure that data is shared and easily accessible to everyone who needs it, these brands frequently struggle with data silos.
  • Technical: Data silos can exist because of a lack of interoperability. Interoperability defines how well technology applications and information systems can exchange data or ‘talk to each other.’ For example, a radiology department in a hospital might store their files in a system that does not share data with systems used in other departments. This keeps valuable patient data from being shared among health care providers.
  • Cultural: In some organizations, there isn’t a company culture that encourages interdepartmental communication. One department may have data that could benefit another, but the other team is unaware this data exists or could be shared. For example, marketing and sales departments often benefit from the same types of data but they don’t always share a data pool.

Ways to break down data silos

  1. Establish data governance policies

A recent Gartner study revealed that 87% of companies have low business intelligence and analytics maturity. These companies were found to be less likely to have a robust data governance strategy in place and more prone to data silos[3]. Brands can reduce data silos through data governance initiatives that improve synergy and maximize data effectiveness. A data governance framework outlines the rules, ownership, and structure for data management throughout the organization.

Brand Example: After 10 years of rapid growth through mergers and acquisitions, Wachovia Bank was struggling with data silos. The brand spent a year designing and implementing an overarching data governance program with collaboration from 300 employees across multiple departments. The program reduced data silos by enabling and formalizing cross-organizational activity and building transparency between divisions.[i]

  1. Upgrade and centralize technology infrastructure

Invest in new technologies that integrate siloed data from various platforms into a central location. This central location should allow the entire organization to access and utilize the data.  In other words, get to a technological place that your data siloes can speak with each other.

Brand Example: AEG, the largest sports and live entertainment brand in the world, worked with Infogroup’s Yes Marketing team to build a custom marketing solution that integrated disparate marketing technologies and data throughout the organization. The marketing platform included API integration for the brand’s content management system (CMS), marketing automation platform, customer relationship management (CRM) platform, and customer databases. Using the system, 100+ marketing users from countries across the globe and multiple business units can deploy campaigns and access real-time campaign results and analytics in a single marketing dashboard.

  1. Cultivate a collaborative culture

Brands can decrease data silos by moving to a culture that promotes collaboration and encourages communication from the top down. Foster an environment that rewards collaboration and teamwork to break down data silos quickly. When implementing new solutions or data integrations, engage all teams equally to ensure each department’s needs are met and enlist participation and ownership from across the organization. You can build cohesion by making it easier for your teams to connect and interact – even something as simple as updating email distribution lists to encourage cross-team collaboration can help.

Brand Example: American Manufacturing company, Jabil places an emphasis on multi-functional teams in order to combat data silos. For example, product launches are driven by a team made up of employees from multiple departments, allowing employees to form interdepartmental and find convenient ways to share data.

Jabil’s Chief Operating Officer William D. Muir Jr. said, “More and more we’re not thinking about our organization in discrete independent functional silos … Leveraging expertise from different areas of the company has certainly become more and more important for us in terms of our continued migration to be a solution provider.”[4]

  1. Invest in universal tools and dashboards

Mergers and acquisitions happen every day. These deals, while good for the company in the long term, can wreak chaos in the short-term; incompatible legacy systems, disparate data systems and different company cultures can lead to data silos that negatively impact efficiency.

Brand Example: In 2016, when electronics company, Dell, merged with EMC and VMware, the most immediate problem was a lack of communication between employees who had been part of different companies. The brand needed to work quickly to integrate the networks and legacy systems to break down data silos. For Dell, the answer was to invest in real-time tools and dashboards so employees, who are not familiar with each other, could still access important data and documents without hunting down a data owner or going through a gatekeeper.[ii]

Data silos are out, but what’s in? Download our 2020 Digital Marketing Trends whitepaper to find out.

[1] https://www.dnb.com/content/dam/english/economic-and-industry-insight/forrester-b2b-data-activation-priority-2018.pdf

[2] https://www.zdnet.com/article/single-view-of-customer-efforts-hampered-by-data-silos-legacy-systems-lack-of-leadership-says-adobe/

[3] https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2018-12-06-gartner-data-shows-87-percent-of-organizations-have-low-bi-and-analytics-maturity

[4] https://zapier.com/blog/organizational-silos/

[i] https://www.dataversity.net/data-governance-success-story-interview-with-chris-deger/#

[ii] https://searchdatamanagement.techtarget.com/feature/How-4-organizations-are-breaking-down-data-silos