The Dreaded Information Silo

Being a knowledge worker means that I desire to be inundated with insights that will help me produce better, more precise work and without having to context switch too much to find the answers I need. Hence when I see information silos sprouting within an organization, I always see this as a threat against that. It is the anti-pattern of free flowing, knowledge driven work.

ID-10081848There are many definitions of an “Information Silo” on the web, so I won’t bore you with that. In fact, if you have worked in an office before, you will be well aware of the definition, the problem that it causes and the frustration that goes with involuntarily building them higher and wider every day. There are however, many strategies for working with informations silos, working around them and helping to prevent them. Then again you could also go and jump off a bridge. Ok, that was a bit too much sarcasm for this early in the morning. Information Silos are the just a pest, a virus and we are on a mission to provide the vaccine. Too often in organizations we sit back and fight fires, we accept the status quo and we wade through mud instead of pass our hands through clear waters. This literally is what CluedIn is here to solve, we don’t accept status quo, because status quo does not bring business value.

How to spot the symptoms?

Unintentionally, we all setup information silos without us even being aware. In fact, I just did it then! I started to write this post in our Content Management System and no-one knows that I am doing this – for all I know, one of the other CluedIn guys might be doing the exact same thing as we speak. So in fact, it is not hard to spot the signs of an information silo because we literally commit the information silo sin regularly throughout the day.

ID-100175313#Symptom 1: Tool Explosion

Do you use a lot of different tools to help you manage your work? Yes, me too. Currently I am writing a blog in our Content Management System, while talking on Slack, writing an email in Outlook and I just got off a Google Hangout with a coworker who lives in outer Copenhagen. I know that when I have finished this post, I will check our Trello list for tasks to take on next and track the progress of them in Pivotal Tracker. Once that is done, I might follow up by updating our OneNote with some ideas for our news feed algorithm.

These are all information silos!

They hold information, knowledge and decisions in a self contained silo that makes it great for the people using that tool, but a sunken treasure for the rest of the organization. Let’s not forget that the tools I use above, are the tools that I use. I know for a fact that my co-workers use a completely different set of tools because those tools are more catered to their way of working. EvernoteSkype, GoTo Meeting – the list never ends, all it does is grow, transition and pivot!

#Common Solutions that just do not work: 

One typical discourse is to align the organizations tools. So, drop what you are doing and go and let your employees know that everyone now has to use tool X for communication and tool Y for document management. In theory, I am sure this would be great. It does not work. 

Another common action is to schedule regular meetings and updates. This is definitely better than nothing but despite best intentions is still only a bandaid solution. The problem is that these updates are typically run so infrequently that by the time you hear the updates, you have already pushed your work in a completely different direction. It does not work.

#Symptom 2: Everyone starts from scratch…every time.

ID-100100445Let’s use a practical example. How often do you start a new task, search for 5 minutes for an existing template and then just start from scratch because you yielded no results or just no good material. You sir, have an information silo somewhere that holds some golden treasure, just wanting to be plundered. 

#Common Solutions that just do not work: 

You broadcast your work to different groups or to the entire organization on your tools of choice e.g. Yammer, Slack or Lync. I love knowledge sharing as much as the next person, but this is not knowledge sharing. This is empowering the information silo, making it more full of useful information which just makes the siloing that much more painful to work with and exponentially harder to break down.

The next time you are at work and you experience one of these symptoms, do yourself a favour. Don’t just push through the mud.

Jump over to CluedIn and register for an invitation. You are only months away from breaking down internal information silos when our spring release hits the public.

Tim Ward

Founder, Developer and Loudest Employee at CluedIn.