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The Danger of Data Silos, Part 3: How to Bring Them Down

Lindsay McGuire
February 12, 2019
Min Read

We’re on a mission to expose the dangers of data silos, so you can break them down and start selling, marketing, and operating at a higher, data-driven level. This is part 3 of a 3-part series: Part 1 looked at where data silos come from. Part 2 dove into how damaging these data silos are to your business. Part 3 focuses on how to smash them down.

Now that you know where data silos come from and the myriad ways they slow you down and hurt your business, it’s time to tackle the most important issue: How to bring them down!

We’ve seen first-hand the vast improvements in operational efficiency and analytical effectiveness that companies enjoy when they are able to bring the silos down. When operations managers and VPs of sales, marketing, and finance have unfettered access to “democratized data” it truly shows in their work. And the company’s bottom line.

So how can you start bringing down these dreaded data silos? What are the first steps you should take? Here are four things to consider as you begin breaking down data silos at your organization.

1. Make it a top-down decision to change company culture.

Oftentimes, data silos exist alongside organizational silos, with very structured and separated divisions among teams. This starts with how teams are set up and naturally trickles down to the data they generate and analyze. With everyone staying in their own lanes and guarding their own data as if they were state secrets, this is where you start in eliminating data silos.

From the top-down, this involves tackling company culture in two areas: to be more analytical and data driven, and to collaborate with each other. If you implement a process by which all decisions should be analyzed and justified with data, that will naturally empower your employees to knock down those silos themselves. After all, most of the data they’ll need to make their case won’t be accessible if it lives in a protected silo.

Furthermore, encouraging a culture of increased collaboration will force sales to talk to marketing, marketing to talk to finance, finance to talk to sales and so on. They’ll soon realize that talking to other departments – with data as the backdrop – will improve each team’s work as they progress toward the same shared goal: increasing revenue for the company.

2. Consider data integration solutions and options.

One of the biggest reasons your teams are silo’ed is because of all the individual systems they use on a day-to-day basis; CRM, marketing automation, email, event management, finance, etc. Each of these systems generates and collects their own data, and they don’t like to share. Most systems, unless they have native APIs (and even those come with their own sets of limitations) will not integrate with other systems and share that data back and forth. That is the crux of your data silo issue in a nutshell.

You could build your own custom integrations to try and get your data in disparate systems talking. Or you could just deal with the status quo, and all the time-consuming manual data entry and data deduplication that entails. Or you could work with a data integration specialist.

3. Create a system to prevent further data silos from sprouting up in the future.

It’s not enough to just eliminate your many existing data silos; you also want to create a system whereby these same silos can’t arise again in the near future. After all, odds are you’ll be adding new systems and software to your team going forward. And take it from healthcare professionals: prevention is always better than treatment.

The best way to prevent data silos from arising is to do your homework. Lay the foundational groundwork – talking to stakeholders across multiple teams, working with IT on all technical specifications, figuring out what to do with both the old data and the new – before you even buy a new piece of software, much less implement it. That will save you a great deal of difficulty on the back end, and get the data smoothly syncing before you begin.

4. Preach patience to all stakeholders and set the right expectations.

Perhaps the most critical element to getting rid of your existing data silos is to understand that those silos were built up over years, and maybe even decades, of operations and data collection. That is to say, there is probably a great deal of incredibly valuable stuff housed within all those silos. You don’t want to break them down too hastily, lest you lose critical data or complex workflows that can’t be easily recreated.

Make sure you have a deliberate plan for every step of your data silo breakdown. The most important part of each step should be the data backup; do you have a master record you can turn to for backup in the event of a data catastrophe? If you’re working with a data integration specialist, have they made the necessary reassurances that your historical data – not just your go-forward data – will be safe and sound?

It’s more important to take your time and cover all your bases, rather than hastily smashing down the silos and letting all that data flow freely all over your organization.

Breaking down data silos is absolutely critical, but is also a tricky process.


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Lindsay McGuire
Lindsay is the Content Marketing Manager at Formstack, splitting her time between creating blog content, writing reports, and hosting Formstack's Practically Genius podcast. She's a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism (MIZ!) and loves connecting with others on LinkedIn.
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