The War Against Silos

As businesses expand, a logical step for most is to manage growth through focused competencies that enable a company to scale by improving functional expertise. Many companies are structured on such competencies that span offices, including globally distributed capabilities. As companies look to implement omni-channel business models, they often opt to break down silos in their systems and organizational structure. But is that necessary to achieve collaboration? In a word, no.

It is true that functional specialization creates more “silos” for a company to manage. And unlike an assembly line, where pieces may move from one station to the next in a linear order, many departments have to work in unison where the workflow is part of the organizational network, not linear hand-offs. For example, manufacturing should be operating in conjunction with sales and marketing as they build out forecasts and manufacturing plans, and the information each provides often needs to be understood in real time. With distributed locations and personnel, it can be challenging to share data and content accurately and at the point of need across the various functional silos.

However, businesses can operate effectively by putting the right tools in place. In an increasingly virtual data sharing world, one option is to invest in an enterprise content network to promote collaborative sharing and effective governance over information in the organization. Among the key elements of such an enterprise network are master data management and product information management capabilities that are tailored to the competencies of their organization. With the right data and content technologies, organizations can stop fighting the silo wars and start learning the best ways to work together through a single view of content within an enterprise and across enterprise partners.

Strengths of Silos

In an “always-on” world, silos can be an effective way to organize internal communities. Silos provide:

    Specialization: First and foremost, distinct business departments allow employees to do what they do best. If marketers can focus on enriching content to drive great marketing campaigns, they can leave “back office” content to logistics and procurement personnel who set up the product in core ERP or supply chain systems (e.g., addressing base product descriptions, material specifications, units of measure, regulatory information, etc.)
    Ownership: Siloed business areas encourage logical ownership over workplace responsibilities. Departments can more easily keep track of their tasks when they are given the freedom to operate autonomously. It is logical for the “front-office” areas of marketing and sales to own customer-facing data and content, but the logistics group should have their own view of customer information to provide the personalized logistics needed for individual customer orders. 
    Consistency: If the organization has a common repository for master data that serves up information on product, customer, brand, locations, etc., there is no need to eliminate silos; rather, having various specialized teams access and update core content as a single source of the truth enables silos to collaborate effectively without tearing down the organization’s data infrastructure.
Enabling the Network

A modern enterprise content network addresses three typical challenges of legacy data infrastructures: 

    Fragmented Data: The most common discussion of silos centers on their isolated islands of data that draw from disparate systems. From one department to the next, valuable product data and customer information can get lost or differ. The disparate nature of silos makes it tough to foster consistent, persuasive messaging across digital marketing and sales.
    Disjointed Customer Experience: Every customer has different needs, and with siloed departments, businesses cannot always adapt to meet these needs. Lacking a common source of clean data, businesses can end up providing different or even conflicting information from every company branch. If the sales department is offering something different than what is depicted on the company’s website, the customer experience becomes confusing and inconsistent.
    Omni-channel Complexity: In order to address the unique content requirements of all channels – from direct mail and catalogs to mobile and desktop e-commerce sites – businesses need clear brand messaging. Interactions with consumers have to be channel-specific, which can be hard to maintain across a siloed business structure that lacks a common source of information.

With an enterprise content network that enables data and content collaboration across physical and digital channels, these challenges can translate to business strengths. This technology helps businesses create a common language across silos, which departments can then mold to their unique endeavors. For example, an engineering team will need more technical product information for design and development, whereas marketers require promotional, more digestible data.

Even as departments control information to different ends, content, images and messages are governed by a common content network within the organization and with channel partners. With this single source of truth, consistent communication, customer experience and omni-channel efforts support and sustain a common brand persona. Every department can continue to specialize and own processes after starting with common information, which encourages channel-specific operations. Together, departments combine to inform a larger business. Although separate, silos can work together in one language that maintains branding and presents a company in a way that is easy for customers to understand.

Ensuring a common source of data across departments also helps teams use information in personalized and time-effective ways. Instead of worrying about messaging or finding the right answer, departments can focus on finding consumer insights that drive financial success. When all business departments use the same data source, strengths associated with silos can be amplified, and their weaknesses will disappear. Resolving issues with internal content is also a much easier solution than renovating business’ entire structure. Investing in a robust content network enterprise-wide will position the organization to stay on top of trends in the market and execute at the speed required in today’s age. 

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