Comprehensive information strategy is key to overcome data silos

08 February 2021 5 min. read
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When a business comes to depend on the data silos that are hurting it, it’s time for brave leadership and a comprehensive strategy for data, writes Hannes Weissensteiner, Managing Director DACH at Artefact. 

Data silos are all too familiar to businesses. They drain resources, exhaust staff and are the most significant barrier preventing digital transformation. Almost half (47%) of marketers find their data to be siloed and difficult to access. Every executive knows this, but then why do they remain such a pervasive challenge?

It’s easy to acknowledge the consequences of data siloisation; less so the true causes. The symptoms of siloisation are technical but they can also be solved technologically. Yet the disease itself is political in nature. Silos usually spring up from within different departments, and the departmental heads can end up being their staunchest defenders. Data is power in a business and it gives a function purpose. If that data can be shared freely and easily across the enterprise, the fear is the department’s raison d'être will vanish.

Hannes Weissensteiner, Managing Director DACH at Artefact

In this way, a business can come to love and depend on its silos, no matter how much they are hurting the bottom line. This is an attitude it must wean itself from. These problems aren’t the result of a few bad actors, they’re endemic and often embedded in the departmental structure of the business. Resolving them requires real cultural change at all levels of the business.

The power to affect this change can only come from the top – the C suite and, more than anyone, the CEO themselves. They need to actively break down silos and implement a culture of integration and data-driven decision-making. Key to all of this is having a comprehensive data strategy. There needs to be a unified, novel vision at the top of the enterprise on how data should be managed and what it will be used for. Following the existing approach will only lead to the same problems. 

Data management and exploitation

The perfect data strategy doesn’t exist. Each data estate is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that will benefit every organisation. However, whatever course business leaders choose they need to ensure they’re in it for the long-haul. A CxO will typically remain in their post for just over five years on average. This gives them a short timeframe within which to make an impact, so they need to put in place a data strategy that’s built to last.

While approaches will differ, there are several data management strategies companies should consider. First, you need to undertake a deep assessment of the data and technology in the enterprise. This audit will indicate where the problem areas lie and where there might be opportunities for efficiencies. Data enrichment, and a focus on first-party data and data quality, can then limit siloisation and improve both the accuracy and effectiveness of data-driven decisions. 

Yet improving data management is only one side of the coin. Once an organisation has torn down its silos and gained access to masses of high-quality data, it has to know what it will do with it all. Indeed, data utilisation has to be a part of your strategy from the very beginning. 

It’s been a common trend in the industry to collect data for its own sake. As technology develops so too will new use cases emerge, meaning the data you collected without purpose in the past can pay dividends in the future. Yet this can be a risky strategy. Mass data collection might pay off one day, but you’re almost guaranteed to encounter extensive siloisation and a vast data pool of little value in the meantime. 

Generally, it’s better to focus on data quality rather than quantity. Figure out what is the minimum viable amount of quality data your business needs to thrive and work back from there. It goes without saying that you need to know what you’ll be using this data for. If you can’t find an answer, do you really need all of it? 

In today’s business environment, data plans should be bold. They should aim high and be prepared to subject data to the latest AI tools and analysis to see what insights and opportunities can be revealed. Yet too many business leaders become bogged down by data rules and standards. Of course, a business should never breach data regulations, but equally, it can’t let itself be paralysed by fear. Trust in your judgement and exploit your company’s data to its fullest potential.

Change comes from within

An outside consultant or technology partner can offer valuable experience and an outside perspective built up over countless implementations. They can add great value to an integration or digital transformation project, but ultimately change needs to come from within a business. The will to change and the courage to carry it out have to be present before the details are ironed out.

Data siloisation arises in an organisation when there’s a failure of leadership. It’s a failure to commit to a coherent data strategy and to drive through the cultural changes necessary to integrate a business. Those in charge now can’t be blamed for the mistakes of their predecessors, but they are responsible for facing up to these challenges now. Silos are only allowed to persist and grow when the leadership does nothing to address them. Now more than ever, it’s time for bravery.