In this blog post, I look at data silos, how they emerged and the problems they can cause within an organisation. 

I consider this challenge through the lens of payroll data, but the issues and insights are equally applicable for other business services data.

Looking in the rear-view mirror

A data silo typically consists of stored data that is not available to the entire organisation but only to some parts, such as departments, teams, or even individual employees. 

Importantly silos are not a bad thing in themselves; they come in different shapes, sizes and materials and typically are systems that sealed off from the rest of the environment.  

Unlike physical silos, which are purposely created structures for safely storing and securing bulk materials, data silos are usually created unintentionally as data is collected or created by an individual or group in an organisation and continue to grow over time.  Think back over the years as IT systems were rolled out to solve a dedicated problem in a particular function.  At the time the best approach was typically to implement a specific standalone solution. However, this then becomes a problem as more and more of these silos are created. Ultimately, this practice has led to more and more storage space being required and, at the same time, certain data being stored that no one else in other parts of the organisation can use or see. As you can imagine, this is problematic, expensive and typically gets worse with time because these silos frequently contain valuable information such as sales, supply chain or HR and payroll data.

To bring this to life, no matter what department or function you work in, it’s pretty likely that your work generates data daily. This could be data from Microsoft Office or other tools and IT systems that automatically generate data, such as task organisation, marketing activities, customer relationship management or all the different HR-related employee reporting for gender, race and equality

It is also fair to say that not all data is important and relevant by itself – much of the data that accumulates every day is negligible, but added value can be gained from looking at the bigger picture. However, this requires bringing it together and integrating it to enable a holistic look and gain new insights and information. This extraction of the data is like mining for precious metals or gems. If you get it right, you can generate some incredible insight and value for the organisation. 

The road ahead

The challenge of living with ever-increasing data silos doesn’t have to be the case.  New innovative Cloud and specialist business software-as-a-service solutions have sprung up to enable connectivity and interoperability and are typically designed to be plugged together so that data can flow across the organisation. This change in approach enables employers to support employees more effectively.  This can happen along all stages of the employee journey from on boarding, career development and reward and recognition.   When these cloud-based solutions also incorporate the latest user-experience behavioural design features you can really supercharge the experience. A positive outcome from the new platforms is that employees are increasingly comfortable in self-serving themselves, rather than engaging support desks and back-office functions. 

For organisations who embrace it, this power to analyse and gain insight from the data brings with it the opportunity to increase competitive advantage.  For employees, this typically translates into workplaces that are rewarding in both financial and non-financial terms.  

How do you get there? 

This vision might sound fanciful, but it is eminently doable when you have a plan and the right partners.  Organisations should typically look to answer questions such as where the data generated from your daily work stored? Who decides what data is stored, what is shared and in what format? Answers to these questions, and many more, are the components giving you the chance to improve your businesses’ intelligence.

In this age of digital transformation, data is constantly accumulating everywhere, often automatically, without anyone really noticing. Increasingly it’s operational data that can provide highly valuable insights on business performance and revealing opportunities for optimisation. However, gleaning these valuable insights from this data requires that the data is up-to-date, consistent, and centrally available within the organisation.

In my experience, the nature and history of payroll data and its supporting systems has meant that it is particularly susceptible to being held in a silo. Understanding the reasons why can be a complex process, which involves asking probing questions of the organisation’s decision making. 

These reasons need to be identified, discussed, and where necessary, eliminated. The needs of the respective stakeholders also need to be carefully reviewed. It helps to understand what advantages a uniform data logic and a single version of the truth can provide for the team and their tasks across the entire organisation. The key is to involve all stakeholders in the planning process for a unified solution to centralised data management. 

To find out more about CGI’s HR and Business Service capabilities, visit their website here or contact the author directly.