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Most people are familiar with the way traditional businesses are set up. As a business grows, dedicated teams form to support individual aspects of business function. Your organisation might have departments for sales, marketing, customer service, plus a board of executives who make broad sweeping decisions about the direction of the business. The separate teams within the organisation are responsible for implementing these changes to support growth, as well as their own KPIs. This doesn’t seem like an inherently bad system on the surface but in the modern age of data-driven technology, one simple and fundamental aspect of your organisation’s structure is dragging business performance down in ways you may not fully understand.
Merriam-Webster defines a silo (in this context) as “an isolated grouping, department, etc., that functions apart from others especially in a way seen as hindering communication and cooperation”. It also provides a few specific examples, including this one:
“Sony once had two separate divisions working on creating the same electrical plug without anyone realizing it” - Roona Foroohar
This isolation can arise for a variety of reasons. It can be the result of a too-competitive culture which inadvertently promotes the success of the individual over that of the business as a whole, it can be a physical separation: offices in two separate time zones, or even simply a lack of understanding over what information other departments might find useful. No matter the cause, silos within your organisation can lead to a loss of time (spent hunting for and gaining permission to access data) or worse - incorrect business modelling based on an incomplete data set. How can your organisation be confident in the decisions being made if you only have partial access to the information?
It’s easy to call for unification within an organisation - and it’s easy to explain to your boardroom why silos are harming that organisation, but the solution isn’t that simple. Many businesses, having realised that critical information is being siloed away, have implemented data warehouses to combat this problem. Data warehouses are central structures in which data is stored, and therefore can be accessed on-demand without hunting. It’s a great first step, but don’t make the mistake of stopping there: access is only half the battle. The trouble with easy and universal access to an organisation’s data is that when those same organisational silos process data through disparate analytics tools, they still fail to communicate the results. You’ll end up with a new set of data silos that have a few extra bells and whistles. The true goal here is to unify the silos themselves - to encourage communication within the business so that every stakeholder has access to the data and analytics tools, as well as the outcomes.
Using the power of AI for this kind of business intelligence adds an additional layer of complexity. An AI analytics tool will analyse data in much greater volumes than ever thought possible, and the organisation must understand how best to leverage the insights that occur from that analysis. Near real-time tracking of customer feedback analysis might give you an up to date report on business performance, but if the results of that report fail to make it to the desk of the person who can action change when performance drops, they’re useless.
How does a large, traditionally structured organisation begin to break down these silos? It’s a huge task, but the Harvard Business Review has a few good starting points. Get support from all levels of your organisation - the only way to begin unifying an organisation towards a more agile approach is to make sure that everyone understands how it can benefit them as well as the business as a whole. Identify a single quantitative improvement that unification will solve to start with, and invest in solving it. Getting the whole organisation on board in a single use case with tangible results is the perfect way to introduce sceptics to a new, agile approach - and demonstrate the advancements that can be achieved through sharing resources.
The Ipiphany Agile BI System will give you all the information you need to start unifying the silos in your organisation, as well as actionable insights you can use to make quantifiable business improvements with your data. Scroll down to contact us to discuss how Ipiphany can help your business, and to arrange a demo with your data.