2021.08.24All blog posts

Working as one: how to break down company silos

Over the past year and a half, many far-reaching consequences have resulted from the pandemic, forcing businesses of all sizes and sectors to face a series of new and evolving challenges. 

One of these major effects of COVID-19 has been the huge rise in customer demand for digital innovation. According to recent studies by Salesforce and Hubspot, following the pandemic, 89% of customers expect businesses to accelerate their digital initiatives, and 69% expect organisations to transform their services or products into new digital formats. 

For those of us who worked (and lived) remotely for the majority of 2020-2021, these stats come as no surprise. Over the course of lockdown, there was a sharp rise in the number of new business platforms we adopted, delivery subscriptions we signed up to, and Amazon packages we ordered.

This rush towards digital innovation has inevitably led to an exponential surge of data for companies that aren’t necessarily used to handling it. As new software and services generate more and more customer information, companies are having to learn to process an ever-increasing amount of personal data.

With data pouring into organisations from a growing number of communication touchpoints and needing to be processed by various internal departments, many businesses are finding themselves dealing with an escalating internal challenge: data silos. 

Below, we take a closer look at the problem of data silos and examine why they’re a particularly troublesome issue for GDPR. We’ll also look at some key steps your company can take to overcome silo mentality and work more strategically as a unified and compliant organisation.

What is a data silo?

A data silo refers to a collection of data that is held in isolation by an employee or department. This information is either inaccessible or hard to access for other members of staff, with the data owner being either unable or unwilling to share their data and knowledge.   

There are a number of reasons data silos occur, but perhaps the most common cause is organisational silos, where a business is divided into departmental factions (e.g. Finance, HR, Product Development and Marketing).

Each of these departments has its own targets, goals, and technologies, as well as processes for managing data. These factors combine and result in data being organised into disparate, internal silos rather than into a centralised, unified source or data hub. 

Why are data silos dangerous for GDPR?

For any organisation, data silos pose issues for productivity and performance as they commonly result in information that is duplicated, outdated and incorrect. Companies are also unable to get a holistic view of their data, so deep insights are often missed, limiting opportunities for innovation and efficiency. 

This lack of oversight for enterprise-wide data is particularly problematic when it comes to GDPR and compliance. 

When information is stored in different locations and databases, those who are GDPR responsible are unable to quickly or easily identify issues such as outdated data, the misplacement of sensitive data, or risky third-party activity.

If different offices, departments, or individuals follow their own data steps and practices, there’s also a much greater risk of information and files being mishandled due to human error or compromised by external security breaches.  

Manually assessing the risk of individual departments and their systems is also incredibly time-consuming, which in today’s data-driven environments is likely to result in the inability to keep up with growing amounts of data. 

Another compliance concern is that if data is scattered throughout an organisation and hard to locate, incoming subject right requests (SRRs) become problematic, taking employees longer to retrieve information and address concerns with the allocated GDPR timeframe.  

Overall, companies typically end up being reactive to compliance issues rather than proactive in the safeguarding of company information and client relations. This more reactive approach is also a sign a business isn’t aligned on internal strategy or expectations, both of which expose an organisation to further risk. 

How can businesses overcome silos?

While silo management will depend on how divided your company is across departmental lines and the state of your data operations, there are a few universal strategies that can help breakdown divisions and move your team towards a more united approach to business data.

1. Unify departments with a shared vision

If internal departments have no common goals that unite them with colleagues from other divisions, they’ll continue to either compete against each other or operate as isolated entities individually focused on their own specific targets and processes. 

This tunnel vision behaviour will then have a knock-on effect on the flow and management of data, limiting collaboration and deepening silos. 

The first step in breaking down organisational silos is to set up a universal vision that applies to all departments and champions free-flowing data.

Aligning internal divisions with a shared purpose upheld by objectives and projects ensures that colleagues will start working together, helping foster a collaborative rather than competitive environment. 

Highlighting the mutual benefits that each department will experience as a result of this new united vision will be key in incentivising employees to move out of a “my department” attitude to an “our company” mentality. 

2. Incentivize change

While outlining the benefits of cross-departmental collaboration may persuade some colleagues to start breaking down data silos, some cases may require more direct motivational strategies to implement your vision. 

Setting data-sharing KPIs to individual job roles will root your company vision into the day-to-day activities, and also assign accountability at all levels. 

Where possible, consider supporting these KPIs with incentives, whether rewards, bonuses, positive feedback, or favourable performance reviews, to ensure data-sharing becomes a task people want to do rather than are forced to do. 

3. Standardize enterprise-wide data processes

With internal departments running their own campaigns, technologies, and communication channels, data will be flooding into your organisation from a large number of different sources. 

If every department – and often every employee – is handling this incoming data based on personal preferences, inconsistencies will soon arise, and it will become harder to identify both opportunities and risks hidden in your information. 

To avoid this, work with all department leads to find out where data formatting and processes can be standardised so you can streamline your operations and avoid any duplication of tasks or information. 

For example, Marketing may be labelling a customer’s preferences under one title, whereas Sales are filing it under another, meaning this dataset doesn’t get pulled into a research audit for an important project, or that data is updated in one department and left outdated (and potentially risky) in another. 

Throughout this process, departments must maintain constant communication and update each other on current and existing projects and software so that developments which could benefit others are not missed. 

4. Invest in data mapping technologies

While digital innovation will look different from company to company, any phase of digital transformation will inevitably lead to a greater number of platforms and a subsequent rise in the volume of inbound personal data. 

Data mapping technologies enable companies to have greater control over their growing databases by providing a clear overview of how data flows across their organisation. 

Rather than wasting time hunting down files by clicking in and out of folders or manually requesting information from colleagues, employees are able to use these automated tools to get instant access to all the information they need. 

With just a few clicks, they can find out where a file is, when it was imported, who has interacted with it, which systems have processed it, and whether or not it poses any risk or opportunity for the company. 

By using one system to collect data from varying departments, a company experiences less disruption as data flows efficiently into one source rather than back and forth between colleagues.

In addition to reducing unnecessary communication between staff, businesses can leave communication between highly advanced business areas and the organisation to the vendor. With managers free from answering the same, repetitive questions, they have more time to focus on the more advanced and challenging aspects of GDPR. 

Employees can rest assured that everyone is working on the same data, with data mapping eliminating issues such as duplicate datasets or the wrong formatting or labelling of information. 

Offering one centralised location for company data also gives businesses an interconnected and strong foundation for data storage, laying the groundwork for advanced automation to accelerate digital transformation across a company’s multiple departments and offices. 

To find out more about Complyon’s data mapping solutions and how our platform and consultants can help you address everything from data silos to third party risk management, you can get in touch with our team today.

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