How can organisations tackle the age old problem of silos? Holly Armitage maps the sometimes torturous route towards joined-up collaboration.
Take a look in any management book from the past three decades, and my money is on the concept of organisational silos appearing with some frequency. They’re an evergreen, continuing to pockmark today’s generation of organisations. Is there no way to avoid their malign appearance? Well, actually, there are some steps you can take.
An all too familiar problem
As a civil servant in Whitehall I came across my share of silos, but I also expected that the private sector would be different. Streamlined efficiency would win the day, right? Wrong.
In fact, silos are just as common in the private sector – if not more so. These can range from people not knowing who to talk to, or information being held in pockets, or teams (and their leaders) failing to be aligned to their organisation’s overall direction. What’s more, silos thrive in any environment. From central government to financial services, they appear with depressing regularity. I recently spoke about their impact at the Everywoman Technology Conference, detailing the similar challenges that both government and industry both face in breaking these down to become a data-enabled organisation. Last year, I put together an action plan for banks to remove the silos dividing their compliance, cyber security and fraud teams in 100 days – and outlined how we’d do it in a podcast.
It’s worth noting that silos aren’t all bad. HR and finance teams, for example, need to maintain confidential information. But for many other teams, walling off, or being denied access to others’ data is a bad thing. While I don’t think there is always a one size fits all answer, there are some clear actions available.
Start with the data
No organisation can survive without good, accurate data, but it can be both a boon and a headache. Creating new data storage and processing architecture is critical to the removal of silos but data itself is rarely ever uniform. Throw in cultural, legal and organisational issues and identifying the right data management and governance framework becomes extremely difficult.
A key first step is getting agreement between teams that a data problem exists. Next, that data held in other silos can provide performance or efficiency improvements. The third phase is to focus on the data itself. This means taking the time to understand the origins of each piece of data, and taking a robust approach to data management – complemented by a stable governance framework.
Cracking the cultural code
The cultural aspects of a silo are also important. It’s got to change from being “my problem” and “my team” to “our problem” and “our organisation”. Data remains a key issue.
It’s not always the case that you can’t access the data, but rather that there is a gatekeeper – someone who says that’s “my data” not “your data”. All parties in an organisation need to realise that actually it’s the organisation’s data and it should be joined up.
Pilots are a good way to build new capability and trust, see what works and – importantly – see what doesn’t work. They can then be used to showcase what you can achieve by collaborative cross-working.
Pick the right people
And another key priority is appointing the right people to lead and champion any silo-busting programme. They need to be passionate and respected by those doing the work and by more senior colleagues. And they must be given time. If an organisation is really serious about unlocking the benefits of joint working and collaboration, individuals have to have the space to do so.
The bottom line is that removing silos is not about removing roles or removing jobs, it’s about providing a better customer experience from a more effective organisation. That’s something that all of us can surely get behind.
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About the author
Holly Armitage is Head of Data Services at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence