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How to banish silos, consolidate data and avoid errors in the process

Data silos tend to arise naturally in large businesses because each organizational unit has different goals, priorities and responsibilities, as well as different technical systems or platforms in place.

Regardless of whether data silos arise from technical or corporate cultural roots (i.e., “we’ve always done it this way”), the bottom line is, data remains under the control of one department and is isolated from the rest of the organization. Not only can this isolation hinder visibility and access to critical data, it may also negatively affect the ability for intra-departmental collaboration—and subsequently organizational effectiveness and success.

In today’s dynamic enterprise, there are very few good reasons to keep data silos in place, but there may be a need to keep specific classified data separate from other business data. This is more common in governmental agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, in which classified data is sealed off from other systems and processes.

In 2019, laws governing consumer data privacy at the regional level could be an obstacle for the global enterprise. This is especially true for those organizations that have not eradicated data silos yet.

India, for example, is seriously considering new regulations that require localization of personal data. If the law is enacted, consumer data will need to be kept within national borders which could result in additional silos, not to mention the other challenges this would pose to companies doing business globally. And, as enterprises adopt more IoT-driven technologies and mobile devices, these newer technologies also tend to create new data storage processes rather than one consolidated approach to data management.

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Ethernet cables connect a computer server unit inside a communications room at an office in London, U.K., on Monday, May 15, 2017. Governments and companies around the world began to gain the upper hand against the first wave of an unrivaled global cyberattack, even as the assault was poised to continue claiming victims this week. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Data silos have grown more unpopular in recent years because they are a hindrance to effective business operations. Organizations are increasingly trying to break down silos that throw up barriers to collaboration, accessibility and efficiency.

Recently, data silos have faced increasing criticism not only because they impede productivity but also because silos negatively impact data integrity and security. When two or more in-house silos exist with the same data, their content is likely to differ, creating confusion as to which repository represents the most up-to-date version.

The question organizations need to address ultimately is who is in charge of the data and what systems and processes are used to protect the data? If organizations are unable to answer these questions, it is highly likely they will have issues with daily data management, data retention compliance and data protection.

The only way to break down silos successfully is to enact data consolidation while also building in processes that will prevent silos in the future. Before organizations create this plan, they must be able to map everything from data creation to data end-of-life. If silos are identified during this mapping process and can be removed, efficiency and control will increase.

However, there are risks related to breaking down silos. These may include:

  1. Version Management Failures – It’s possible to inadvertently end up saving older versions of data and removing more recent versions.
  2. Residual Data – It’s not uncommon for data to be left behind during the migration process especially if a secure data sanitization process is not in place.

Organizations can avoid making mistakes during the data consolidation process by not underestimating the complexity of the process. There must be a thorough analysis of the bigger picture and the overall data lifecycle to be able to come to the right conclusions around how the data should be used, stored and managed. One mistake could put your organizations in the position of violating data privacy laws or regulations, as well as expose potential data leaks due to poor processes.

In fact, data consolidation has a very strong connection to data security. Companies trying to manage silos that have been put in place because of organizational inefficiencies and legacies are increasing their risk exposure. Data is most likely your biggest and most valuable business asset, so it needs to be managed with up-to-date processes and compliance in mind. Without a consolidated overall view, it will be a challenge to leverage security technologies such as encryption, data erasure and data protection.

Communication and coordination are required within and across teams to make sure you arrive at centralized and consolidated processes for data management. In order for IT departments to successfully rid their organizations of data silos and achieve data consolidation, they should:

  1. Constantly work on their technology platform. Do not solve growth requirements by regularly adding new solutions and databases, for example.
  2. Try to upgrade and migrate into platforms that can handle all new requirements and try to centralize these into a common architecture.
  3. Work actively with your vendor map. Centralize the services you are buying/using and avoid contract lock-ins.
  4. Conduct regular trainings to make sure the organization really knows updated processes and can use them correctly so that well thought out consolidation efforts are executed as planned.

To successfully break down data silos and move towards a “culture of consolidation,” it is critical to work with change management and make sure you have the right technical approach and platform. Consolidation won’t happen overnight. Patience, processes and adherence to the plan will bring the results you want and will go a long way to help your organization avoid the chaos and increased risk of having isolated data silos.

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