A data silo, also known as an information silo, is an insular management system in which one or more information systems, or subsystems, are incapable of operating with other systems or subsystems that are conceptually or organizationally related. 

For instance, a company may have a client management system and a web analytics system with two different vendors. Both are complementary data about clients, that is, client relationship information can be linked to client web behavior producing strategic insights. But, if the two systems cannot communicate operationally, then the two data sets cannot be linked, and they each would be considered their own data silo. Essentially, they are two systems that are invisible to each other.

By learning what data silos really are and how they are formed, this article aims to show that data silos themselves aren’t necessarily bad but instead could be an indicator of more complex organizational challenges.

Companies that do not remain vigilant and actively integrate information sharing amongst their working groups will inevitably see silos in their ranks. Perhaps more damagingly, people will form cliques, inter-office politics will ensue, and information hoarding and protection becomes the company’s cultural norm. This isn’t what we want.

However, some silos are formed on purpose. Big organizations have many large departments, and despite the interrelatedness of each department’s information to the whole company, opening up all department information to each other equates to information overload. This is also something we don’t want.

Departmental separations do create discrete information domains, but management must maintain the inter-communication protocols to facilitate the right information sharing, otherwise risk isolating teams or causing information traffic jams.

Silos are nothing more than the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another. And whether we call this phenomenon departmental politics, divisional rivalry, or turf warfare, it is one of the most frustrating aspects of life in any sizable organization.

Now, sometimes silos do indeed come about because leaders at the top of an organization have interpersonal problems with one another. In most situations, silos rise up not because of what executives are doing purposefully but rather because of what they are failing to do: provide themselves and their employees with a compelling context for working together.

This notion of context is critical. Without it, employees at all levels, especially executives, easily get lost, moving in different directions, often at cross-purposes.

It is a valid question to ask whether an identified silo is good or bad. However, asking questions about how the silo aligns with the company’s goal is a more useful direction to enquire in.

  1. Does the silo serve a purpose? How?
  2. Is the silo a necessity for security, data protection, etc.? How?
  3. Is the silo causing inefficiencies or worse ineffectiveness in its purpose? How?
  4. Is the silo detrimental to other goals? How?
  5. Is the silo negatively affecting the company culture? How?
  6. Is it possible to integrate the silo? How?

The point is to inquire about the usefulness of silos, rather than assuming that because they do have seemingly negative effects that they are bad.

It is important to understand that data silos are extensions of organizational silos. Though data silos are tangibly separate and within the computer domain, the information within those silos are typically owned by someone or some team or department. If those departments are making their own IT decisions, they could be creating numerous silos and isolating data. 

When addressing organizational silos, or the data silos that form out of them, each case is unique. But, by even just a cursory review of how data silos are erected, what are the challenges they present, how to break them down, and how to use them, teams and companies are better equipped to manage data silo issues.

Data silos are often written about with a data-centric focus. But these discussions tend to miss the point that there is a human factor driving the creation of data silos. 

This article is influenced from: https://blog.kintone.com/business-with-heart/what-are-data-silos-and-how-do-they-affect-your-business