Here’s the situation: you’ve been using spreadsheets to manage different parts of your business. You didn’t mean to, but you needed something in a hurry that one time, and it was easier to make a spreadsheet than to gather and sort through a database.
But then you needed to update something, and it was easier to update the spreadsheet than your ERP system. So you updated the spreadsheet. Then your colleague made updates to the spreadsheet. Then the spreadsheet was emailed out to the department. Eventually, the spreadsheet—and not the ERP—became the source of truth for that particular thing.
As time goes on—and more changes are made to the spreadsheet—the thought of updating your ERP (or CRM, or WMS, or MES) weighs on you. But it’s just too much work. At this point it would take hours—maybe even days!—to update every little cell in every little table. It’s easier just to keep working from the spreadsheet.
Then your boss asks you a question that you can’t answer with the spreadsheet alone, and you’re scrambling to find the data that will answer the question. But part of it is in the spreadsheet, part of it is in another database, and you can’t guarantee the accuracy of any of the data. And your boss is mad because she wants an answer to her question—and you can’t provide it.
If this sounds familiar, then you’ve entered into what we call a data silo.
How data silos hurt productivity
Data silos can—according to HBR—arise for multiple reasons:
- Structural: software systems are written for specific purposes at specific points in time. As a result, the data in the system is optimized for the system’s main function. Because of this, similar data may be stored in different ways in different systems. For example, work order data is stored differently in your MES than it is in your accounting program.
- Political: sometimes, people hold data back to increase their influence. Being the gatekeeper of certain pieces of information can make people feel important: losing that power can make them feel threatened. So, they hold on to information for dear life.
- Growth: as your company grows, you’ll inevitably replace old systems with newer ones. But there’s always that little bit of hold-over: that one task that can only be done in a legacy program, or that one event that requires deep historical data. These small, incompatible pieces can pile up if you don’t take care of them.
- Vendor lock-in: vendors know that knowledge is power. If you have full access to all your data in their system, it’s much easier for you to export your data to a different system whenever you want to. So, vendors don’t want it to be easy for you to extract all your data. This might be fine if the vendor’s system works perfectly. But it becomes a pain when you want to try something new.
Data silos hurt productivity because they make it hard to be adaptable. And when things are hard to do, we naturally avoid them.
Imagine your data is a car. If the car is big, old, heavy, bad on gas, has a bad turning radius and (worst of all) isn’t fun to drive, you’ll probably avoid driving it as much as you can. But if the car is clean, sleek and fun to drive, you’re more likely to use it.
Sharing is caring
When you break down these data silos and share information between your business systems, you help foster collaboration and efficiency. This increased collaboration provides a new perspective on how to use or leverage the data in different systems to improve your business processes. It also helps you get better answers to those big-picture business questions like “how can we improve productivity company-wide?”
For example: what if your sales team could walk into a customer meeting and be able to tell the customer, in real-time and with complete confidence:
- Pricing information for various combinations of goods
- Production and shipping times for custom-made goods
- Current inventory levels of goods on hand
They could make the sale, place the order, and schedule shipping for the customer right from the meeting. Talk about great customer service. Very productive too!
Most (hopefully all) businesses already have this data stored somewhere. The trick to improving productivity is to tear down your data silos. Data isn’t meant to be hidden away: it’s meant to be put to work. When you break down data silos, you can use your data to create new, productive, valuable business processes.
So, how do you break down data silos?
First, take a good hard look at your processes. Are there places where having information from other systems could make those processes better? No idea is too big or too small. For each process, consider how the process could add more value to your company. Ask if the process change will:
- save time
- increase profits
- improve customer service
- cut costs
- improve product quality
Next, look into business process management tools like Novacura Flow. Novacura Flow isn’t another add-on tool: it’s a system-agnostic way to manage your business processes and connect data from multiple systems together—even if those systems are a mix of older, legacy systems and new innovations like smart sensors.
With Flow, you can use the data in all of your systems to enhance, influence and optimize your business processes. And when you decide to change or upgrade your systems, migrate information to a new database, or make other changes to your IT infrastructure, you don’t have to re-build your business processes: just connect the new system to Novacura Flow, decide how you want the data to flow, and get back to work.
Want to learn more ways a business process tool like Novacura Flow can help you extend the life of your ERP? Schedule a meeting today.