Are you stuck with a data silo but don't realize it?

[date-stamp]Applications that do not talk to each other create the need for manual work when things could easily have been done automatically. Do you need to know if a specific contact in in your CRM system has sent in any support requests lately? -Not possible without manually looking through both your CRM system and support ticket system. Need to know which of your contacts donated the most money to your non-profit organization? -Not possible without starting Excel and punching in numbers from two applications that do not talk to each other.  We are in 2014! Manually doing things that software should easily be able to do, and using Excel to connect two data sources should really be something of the past. However, this is not so, software is not always designed to talk to other software.


How to check if you are stuck with a data silo?

If you find yourself in a situation as described above or any other situation where information from two or more non-connected sources needs to be combined, you are suffering from the effects of a data silo. A data silo can therefore be any software that stores data and does not make this data available for other applications. This is a pretty wide definition, and a lot of software falls into this category.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications have tried to defeat one of the basic reasons for the creation of data silos. One of their characteristics is that they have good connection points for integration with other services. They have an API (application programming interface) which enables them to talk to other systems. A lot of software that is not SaaS have good connection points as well, but these connection points are not always accessible because non-SaaS software tends to be run on machines that are not accessible from the internet. And a connection point which is not accessible is no better than not having a connection point at all.


How to get rid of the data silos?

There are many ways to get rid of data silos. One solution is to move to cloud applications, as I've talked about in an earlier blog post: Top 5 benefit of moving to cloud applications. This can be a drastic step for many companies though, since a cloud version of some of the applications in use do not exist. Therefore, in many cases a hybrid situation emerges, where some applications are cloud-based and others are running on-site like traditional applications used to do. A hybrid approach may not be a bad result, depending on which applications are cloud-based and which are not.

Another approach is to do what I talked about in yet another blog post: The problem and solution of using many web applications. When selecting web applications, and ensuring they're interoperable, it may happen that the web applications you end up with have good connection points, but the software does not use these connection points. Meaning the data does not flow between the applications. The solution then could be as discussed in the blog post: Put a layer on top of all your web applications, and level the data silos to the ground by accessing information from the silos by this layer. This works the same way as Google does when searching multiple web sites, just that now it searches in multiple web applications.

A third approach is to build connections between the tools you need yourself. This is not considered a good thing to do though, since this will take a considerable amount of time and effort. Unless you're in a big company with a lot of resources, this will not be a way to go, and even for big resourceful companies this is not the best way to go. So if you're thinking about this, think again and carefully explore other options.


Why should you get rid of it?

Data silos lock in information and keep different types of information away from each other. This could be for example if your contact register is stored separately from your financial data, making connections between these sets of data cumbersome at best. Much of the value in your company data is only accessed if different sources can be combined with each other to see trends and reveal facts about your customers. This is simply not possible if there's no connection between the data sources.

After reading this, maybe you realize you have a data silo or two in your company. Try to explore what can be done with the data in that silo, and consider whether it will be a pro or a con for your business to connect the data in this silo with your other corporate data. In most cases, it will be a pro :-)  There's another aspect of this, and that is competitiveness. It is pretty common to connect and analyze corporate data, and the chances that your competitors are doing this are pretty high. Companies that analyze available data and try to see trends and patterns (data-driven companies) tend to do it better financially than companies that do not. That alone should be a pretty good reason for getting rid of data silos and anything else that prevents your company from becoming a data-driven company.


The effects of getting rid of data silos

The effects are many. There is increased employee productivity, since they no longer have to manually put information from multiple data silos together. There are also increased financial results since available information is put together, and this makes it possible to act based on facts. "Act on fact" is becoming more and more common for data-driven companies, since they're able to see facts about their customers, and their revenue streams, which leads them to think about ways to improve these. Based on which of your applications are data silos, there will be other effects as well. So look around, and try to figure out if there is a data silo near you. If there is, try to smash it and unleash the data within!