Silos: great for grain storage, not for marketing decisions

I come from the Midwestern region of the United States, Iowa to be precise. This is a place where grain silos are an omnipresent visual reminder of the agricultural distribution infrastructure critical to prosperity in farming. Grain silos are a practical means of providing protection from the elements to increase the storage life of the grains, as well as to prevent contamination and exposure to mold, chemicals and insects. In that context, silos are a good thing.

But in a corporate enterprise, silos are a symbol of obstacles to collaboration, deterrents to agile decision making and the enemy of profitable growth.

Not only am I from the Midwest, but I come from a background in software development, where too often I saw incredibly talented coders develop tools and applications that no customer actually wanted. Sadly obvious, at least to me: they were trapped in the silos, sequestered away from the consumer/user. They lacked the conversations that would inform the products that they built. As a result, they wasted time and effort that could have been saved just by a conversation with an actual end user!

It is easy to understand how silos exist. Disparate sources of quant or “big” data are traditionally held in separate departments, corporate functions, or maybe even different locations. Data are formatted differently, in systems to which the entire enterprise doesn’t have access, controlled by groups who are not incentivized in their daily activities to make data, literally or philosophically, accessible to other stakeholders. Access to data is often restricted to stakeholders perceived to have a “need to know.”

It is also hard to mine data. You might yield patterns that are completely opaque to one team, whereas another team might take one peek and identify a forehead thumping “Ah-ha!” of an insight. However, that’s only possible when everyone across the enterprise with skin in the game has access to the data and the tools to divine the “whys” behind the “whats.”

Silos can be the warehouses that literally store the data (and remember we are talking mostly about structured data, even if the structures often don’t align). But even more toxic are the silos that exist departmentally or philosophically, where gatekeepers have historically been the librarians of the data, or the hierarchical “Knowledge Gurus” who maintain their authority to interpret and disseminate the meaning of the data.

This siloed mentality is further exasperated in the case of the unstructured data that is mined from conversations between brands and consumers when there is a lack of tools that facilitate these conversations in real-time with a global consumer-base. Historically, brands have struggled to store, access, parse, and share the insights from these conversations across the enterprise, so that the whole organization can achieve the mission, rapidly and efficiently.

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Source: The Library