Silos can prevent an organization from fulfilling its goals, or at the very least, delay fulfillment. Silos have affected all organizations, big and small, and almost all organizations have struggled to break down silos completely. Strategies such as happy hours, retreats, team bonding, team dinners or lunches and HR mandates have been unable to eliminate silos. While it is important for employees to physically interact with each other, there is another way to improve collaboration — an integrated data analytics platform.
An integrated data analytics platform provides a common source of data for all departments where inputs from all departments are visible to other departments. The platform allows one department to build on the work done by other departments and helps eliminate rework or duplication of work.
What is a Silo?
Think of silos in the context of an office as departments disconnected from one another. There is little or no communication between departments. No information exchange or sharing of updates. Obviously, these departments have their own ways of working and specific goals, which is understandable. All these departments are working, at least technically, to help the organization achieve its goals, but when these departments are isolated from one another, there are chances of redundant work, wasted effort and expenditure.
How Silos can Adversely Impact Organizations
Let us understand the impact of silos on an organization with the help of the example of a hypothetical software company named Telconia. Telconia is in the business of making software for the telecom sector. Telconia has different departments such as product management, software architects, software developers, testers and product documentation. Ideally, the workflow is: the product management provides business requirements that the software should be able to fulfill. The product management also decides on the different features and functionalities the software will have. The architects will create the software architecture and the software design documents that the software developers will follow. After the software development has progressed quite a bit, the architects modify the software design, but may not communicate with the product managers or software developers. The updated software design document is placed in a location unknown to anyone else. Now, how does this situation impact Telconia? The impact could be summarized as:
- The updated software design has implications on the business requirements and the features and functionalities of the software. The product management group, which is the business-facing group, does not have the opportunity to review if and how the updated design impacts the ability of the software to fulfill the original business goals of Telconia. There was no communication between the product management and the software architects and there is likelihood that the changes could be considered unnecessary.
- Even if the changes are necessary, then there is a huge possibility that the software development done so far is rendered redundant because the software does not reflect the latest design changes.
- If software development is redundant, then there has already been a lot of wasted effort on software coding, testing and product documentation.
- Consider the time required if the product management decides to review the changes made by the software architects. Add to that the time and investment required for implementing the changes in the software, testing and product documentation efforts.
- From the perspective of business, the situation represents a huge loss in terms of time, money and competitiveness. Had there been a smoother collaboration between the departments, the product could have been presented for sale much earlier, which means an opportunity to capture the market and acquire customers. With this fiasco, the competitors of Telconia are likely to gain the lead, and when Telconia finally releases the product, it is going to be difficult to capture a market where its competitors have already launched.
The situation above clearly shows how silos can seriously hamper the business goals of an organization.
How Have Organizations Tried to Break Silos?
Almost all organizations, large, medium or small, have tried to remove silos with little or no success. Steve Jobs famously tried to break silos by encouraging collisions or interactions between colleagues who might belong to different departments. Other organizations have tried various strategies — team outings, dinners, lunches, games, mandates, buddy programs — you name it, and they have done it with limited or no success. So, it is established that planned programs or removal of physical barriers may not bring the expected success. It is obvious that something novel needs to be done.
How Can an Integrated Data Analytics Platform Improve Collaboration?
The success of an integrated data analytics platform is best demonstrated by the use case of a reputable global product manufacturer. Prior to trying the integrated data analytics platform, the company had faced several issues with silos. It was the familiar story of departments working independently, without any coordination. In spite of silos inhibiting its growth, the company earned $40 billion in revenue in 2014. So, without silos, the company could obviously achieve a lot more. That is exactly what the integrated data analytics platform did.
Interestingly, while the company experienced problems with silos, it already had an integrated data analytics platform, albeit for a different purpose. The platform was expected to help the company to build advanced analytics and produce deep customer insights for its 55 million customers. The platform had the following salient features:
- Feature one helped analysts to extract, transform and load (ETL) data from different sources onto the cloud platform and then build models and signals, create workflows and reuse codes.
- Feature two enabled the platform to share the huge library of data and best practices with the employees.
The above two features were instrumental in breaking down silos and fostering collaboration, because now employees had a single point from which knowledge and best practices could be obtained. This meant that the employees could build on the work of another employee and not waste effort in recreating work. For example, if a marketing executive wanted to show the visualization of the impact on revenue because of the marketing campaigns, then the revenue calculations performed by the product management could be extremely handy. There was no need to create data in this case. Similarly, to determine pricing strategy, a product manager could use the pricing algorithms developed by the marketing department. The platform provided a single place where all data and documents could be found and the departments just needed to access the right materials based on which they could do their own planning and work.
While an integrated data analytics platform seems like a great idea to break silos, the role of mandates is not diminished because of this. No matter how powerful or intuitive the platform is, the employees need to use it well to harness its advantages. And for that, there needs to be the right training and education so that the platform is used in the right way. And finally, there needs to be an official sanction that for all work or project-related purposes, it is mandatory to use the platform. Extensive use of the platform can only yield significant returns.