What Is an Information Silo and How Can You Avoid It?

Jon Hill
4 mins
Three grain silos in field help illustrate "what is an information silo"

If your organization is like most, you collect a lot of data. And the amount of data saved in various information systems grows exponentially each year.

Collecting and storing massive quantities of data helps us make better-informed decisions and more accurate projections which, in turn, leads to a better investment of internal resources and increased revenue potential.

Unfortunately, while businesses might collect a lot of information, not everyone is effective at connecting the dots between data sets. This is primarily because the information is spread across several disparate systems, resulting in information silos and preventing critical knowledge sharing.

Today, we’re answering the question “What is an information silo?” We’re also taking a look at how information silos happen and steps you can take to prevent or eliminate them.

What Is an Information Silo?

An information silo is a type of information management in which information is contained within one system and cannot connect or communicate with other information systems. This happens when data is collected and stored in a system that is not or cannot integrate with other technologies and doesn’t exist outside of the system in which it’s currently managed.

It’s helpful to think of information silos like storage silos on a farm. These structures house grain, feed, woodchips, and other bulk products, keeping them enclosed and protected from the elements. Like a farm silo, information silos hold data in a standalone, enclosed space. There may be a few cases where information needs to be siloed (e.g., for security purposes), but in many cases, siloing information in the workplace does more harm than good.

When information isn’t shared freely, it prevents teams from making the best decisions. For example, if all sales and customer service data is separated in departmental silos, it will be challenging for each department to understand how customers are engaging with the company at different points of the customer journey. 

How Do Information Silos Happen?

Silos typically develop as the result of inadequate or outdated technology and processes (or due to a culture of information hoarding).

Here are a few common situations that create information silos:

  • Departments don’t share the same priorities, goals, or tools and operate as individual business units rather than collaborative teams. Everyone stores their information separately because they don’t understand how or why it might benefit another department.
  • Managers are unaware of other departments’ priorities and goals and don’t see knowledge sharing as necessary to their efforts.
  • There is little to no communication, collaboration, or teamwork between the business units. And because no one has insight into each others’ efforts or needs, they don’t bother sharing information.

But what is an information silo in action? It might look like a messy CRM with lots of missing and incomplete information, a broken integration between two tools, or using so many tools you can’t keep track of what information is stored where. It could also involve forgetting to loop a subject matter expert into a project so you’re working with limited knowledge.

What Are the Problems Associated With Information Silos?

Information silos aren’t simply inefficient—they can also cause serious problems that may jeopardize the organization’s success. Here are a few things you might experience if you have information silos in your business:

Limited collaboration

When teams don’t reach across departmental lines to cooperate on projects or share burdens, they miss opportunities to make everyone’s lives a little easier—and save a lot of time. According to data from Planview, teams waste more than 20 hours per month due to poor collaboration and communication.

Lack of trust across teams

Because they don’t have insight into each others’ efforts, teams are wary of each other and don’t feel comfortable sharing knowledge.

Duplicated work

When a department doesn’t have insight into another department’s work or output, they may inadvertently recreate the same result. For example, two teams might create an identical report or be working to solve the same problem concurrently.

Missed opportunities for innovation

Knowledge sharing fosters innovation by giving teams access to insights and conclusions they may not have otherwise, and this helps everyone think outside the box.

Lost knowledge and data

When you aren’t sharing information, it’s easy for things to get misplaced or lost entirely. For example, if information only exists in one system and the department that owns it decides to replace that system without migrating all the data, there’s a good chance some valuable insight will be lost. This also frequently happens when one person is in charge of keeping a set of information and then leaves the organization.

Inconsistent or negative experiences for customers

Suppose you have multiple teams engaging with customers, such as marketing, sales, and support. If you don’t share information to create one unified approach or share insight into a specific prospect or customers’ needs and pain points, the customer experience becomes unnecessarily complex and disjointed. 

How Can You Break Down Information Silos?

Information silos can cause a lot of problems. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to break them down and prevent them from happening in the future:

Establish a single source of truth for knowledge

It’s crucial you centralize information into one accessible system. Look for a knowledge management platform that integrates with tools employees use daily—such as a CRM or chat platform — so they can access knowledge in the flow of work rather than toggling between multiple platforms.

For example, Bloomfire integrations include Slack, Microsoft Teams, Salesforce Lightning, and more. The solution also offers an open API so customers can build connections to other technologies they use.

Establish clear workflows

Make sure employees know where, when, and how to share information. The more you streamline the knowledge-sharing experience and make it relevant to their efforts, the more likely employees will leverage this solution.

Encourage a culture of cross-functional collaboration

Employees should feel comfortable working with other teams and departments to solve problems and meet customers’ needs. Encourage cross-departmental collaboration by fostering those working relationships and giving the entire workforce access to a place where they can easily add, update, or request information from each other.

Measure progress

The only way to determine how well your silo-breaking efforts are working is by measuring progress. To ensure a successful knowledge management implementation, set clear goals, determine which metrics you’ll use to measure performance, and get buy-in from the entire organization.

Information silos usually don’t happen because someone is trying to create one—they build slowly over time as organizations onboard new technologies that don’t communicate with others. By investing in a knowledge management solution that supports knowledge sharing and collaboration, you can eliminate existing silos and ensure they don’t occur again.

March 23, 2022

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