Growing up in rural Indiana, I’ve seen many silos in my lifetime.

In case you’ve never been to the heartland, farmers typically use silos to store silage (feed for dairy cattle and other animals). Silos are often sealed airtight to control moisture levels and prevent pests.

Where am I going with this discussion? How do Hoosier silos relate to data silos in your business?

Physical structures aside, “data silos” are increasingly challenging for today’s technology-driven companies. Like their agricultural brethren, data silos are very common for gathering things (in this case, information). Sales information in one silo. Projects in another. Email histories scattered across dozens of inbox silos. Even knowing which silo to look in for customer data is daunting.

And, unlike dairy cows, that eat whatever they are given, your team members are hungry for real-time access to everything in your silos, including accurate customer data. Unfortunately, it’s all sealed airtight and buried among a million other data points.

In this post, we’ll discuss tips for identifying silos in your business.

Survey Your Data Landscape

Some business owners don’t realize the data challenges they’re facing – until it’s too late.

A rogue employee, a server meltdown, or even a time-sensitive client proposal can be the reality check that drives many into action. Luckily, you’re reading this article and have the luxury of developing a proactive strategy.

Before you can build a cohesive data strategy, it’s important to first identify where silos exist in your business. Although doing so may seem easy enough, data silos can be less apparent than you might expect. Silos of information can, of course, exist in obvious places, such as customer database or shared network folders. However, they can also exist in less obvious places, such as the brains of your employees, on smartphone devices, or even in physical file cabinets.

A smart business owner routinely takes a step back to examine his company’s entire information footprint. Only then can he develop a realistic plan for creating a more scalable and collaborative environment and maintain a clean customer data platform.

To get started, try asking yourself some simple questions. Here are a few off the top of my head:

Question: I**f your top-grossing sales rep unexpectedly quit, what systems would you need to comb through in order to ensure a seamless transition to his replacement?

It’s quite possible that you’d at least need to check:

  • Your CRM (customer relationship management) system, which is often your most comprehensive customer data platform
  • Email folders & sent boxes
  • Various deal tracking spreadsheets
  • Saved voicemails
  • Proposals saved to your network drive
  • Invoices saved to his old work station

Question: What marketing systems does your company use to achieve its goals? If you needed to build a “complete picture” of your marketing processes, where would you have to look?

Marketers (like me!) love to use the latest software and tools that deliver results. However, unless you’re strategic in the use of such tools, you can have data strung out everywhere:

  • Email campaign analytics (opens, clicks, opt-outs)
  • Social media stats (top-performing posts, shares, likes, favorites, followers)
  • Web traffic data (unique visitors, goal conversions)
  • Direct mailing lists
  • Form submission histories
  • CPC budget and performance results

Question: In what ways do team members collaborate with one another? Is this collaboration being documented in a centralized location, or is it remaining in isolated buckets?

On one hand, you want to encourage a flexible and creativity-inducing culture. On the other hand, allowing too much leniency will inevitably spread information across countless medium. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Instant message conversations
  • Shared documents in your Google Drive account
  • Email attachments
  • Handwritten meeting notes
  • Text message exchanges

Question: How do team members structure their work days? What tools do they use to delegate and create accountability?

There are countless productivity apps on the market. Some offer a to-do list-style interface, while others take a kanban board approach. In fact, your team is probably using several of them to organize:

  • Recurring and one-off tasks
  • Projects that contain major milestones
  • Sequential workflows
  • The delivery of your goods or services

Fewer Silos, Greater Business Value

By now, you might feel overwhelmed just thinking about the many places where data is hanging out – and, what to do about it. Fear not, as you don’t have to solve this problem overnight. As with anything else in your business, you’re a master of going from good to great. You’ll handle it like the pro that you are.

I’ll save the “how to knock down silos” discussion for a future blog post. However, as I recently pointed out in this post, repositioning your CRM as an “integrated information hub” and a customer data platform can be an effective starting point for bridging some of the disconnected silos that plague your business. For example, a tool like Insightly, which can connect to your email inbox, document management system, marketing systems, and countless other apps, pulls your most important information under one roof. And, since Insightly offers a number of built-in project management and workflow features, you might even be able to run the proverbial backhoe through a few outdated silos.

As you begin the process of consolidating or tearing down data silos, never lose sight of the bigger picture. Remember your primary motivation for undertaking such a momentous project should always be focused on one or more of these goals:

Fewer Excuses, Less Confusion – Empower your team to do their jobs. Fewer logins and learning curves should result in less confusion and greater productivity.

Better Customer Alignment – Merging project and sales data into a single hub should make it easier to serve your most important stakeholders: those customers who are paying the bills.

More Reliable Data – With fewer silos to sift through, your team will have fewer legacy databases to keep current. This should help boost the accuracy of your business intelligence, including customer data, allowing you to make more informed decisions.

Cost Savings – Who knows…you might even be paying for a silo that hasn’t been accessed in several months or years. Consolidation could represent a cost savings opportunity, both in the short term and long term.

Watch Out for Silos in Your Business

Let’s face it…you’re not a farmer. Why are you keeping your most important business information, including customer data, in isolated concrete pillars? Give your team the data they need most. It’s time to recognize where silos exist in your business, develop a consolidation plan, and put your business information to better use.