Disadvantages of Data Silos

I remember sitting at the computers in my elementary school library, confused but impressed that so much information was available to me at the push of some buttons. I just had to figure out the right ones.

Now, I may know all the right buttons--or at least the ones to get the information I need--but as technology advances the amount of data out there in the techno-sphere just keeps compounding. And its value does too.

Corporations will fight tooth and nail for data. Like most things under the free market system, data has become a commodity. It’s no longer just a privilege or a novelty--but a necessity for business success. 

Data at a Price

This means that for most companies, data equals money. Well, eventually. Edd Wilder-James, VP of Technology Strategy at Silicon Valley Data Science, explains that obtaining the data is only the beginning, because “behind the glamour of powerful analytical insights is a backlog of tedious data preparation.”

So, in order to use data effectively it must first be analyzed, prepared, and manipulated. Wilder-James goes on to warn that since “data confers insight and advantage,” it’s important to “pursue the data that is harder to find and use.” This gives a competitive advantage for sure, but also drives up costs of accessing and processing the data.

In the rush to get ahead, corporations--and especially departments within them--can end up hoarding data and making it more difficult for the rest of the organization to access. And so a data silo is born. 

What’s So Bad About A Silo?

A silo seems like a too pleasant, agrarian image for what Edd Wilder-James refers to as “a demon lurking within enterprises.” It’s like a dragon hoarding gold coin. Gold coin that may cost you even more coin to access. And the dragon works in the department across from you. And he doesn’t mean to be so sinister, most of the time. 

At the least, data silos come from a lack of communication. Data that could be relevant to multiple departments ends up just floating around in one of them. Marketing notices that you’ve looked at that area rug, but they don’t get the memo from sales that you already bought it. And so you’re subjected to ads of the exact same rug for the rest of your online life.

At their worst, data silos can accumulate intentionally as a product of “competition or animosity between departments,” or even just rapid growth that makes it increasingly difficult to transfer data between multiple offices and employees. 

Data Silos Benefit No One

The bottom line is that even though we hoard data to use to our advantage, data silos aren’t actually benefiting anyone. I mean, what’s a dragon going to do with all those gold coins, besides count them all himself, analyzing all of that data on his own? That’s going to take a while, and make life pretty lonely, at that.

When it comes down to it, data silos are just plain wasteful. It goes back to that eagerness to collect all of the data, neglecting the necessary process of preparing it, which according to data scientists, is 80% of the work. 

Hubspot’s Swetha Amaresan elaborates on how data silos waste time and storage space. Instead of collaborating and sharing data, departments only have access to their respective data silos, so that eventually teams “realize they need data that they don’t have,” and have to begin the journey to access it. Even if the necessary data is in another silo within the company, “by the time you collect the data, it may no longer be valid.”

Because another thing about data is that it is always changing. So isolating your data in a silo doesn’t mean it will always and forever be accurate. Amaresan warns, “the longer isolated data sits around, the more likely it is that it becomes outdated, and, thus, inaccurate and unusable.” This is further complicated if different departments actually have different versions of the same data, some being more or less accurate than others. 

The inconsistency across departments makes it difficult to collaborate and even more difficult to put all of that data to use. This results in frustration from all ends. You gotta feel a little sorry for the dragon, working hard to collect all those coins and never spending them, right? It’s just a lonely life to live.

Share, Don’t Silo

While you certainly shouldn’t share data with just anyone, it’s important to not keep useful data to yourself, or just your team. In addition to fostering a potential spirit of animosity, keeping data in a silo is just a waste of time and space. 

Use collaborative platforms to your advantage, and  make it easier to share data and keep it consistent across all departments, so that even the dragon doesn’t get left out.