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Oct 19 / heathgross

Connecting Information Silos

Illustration by M Gross

Over the last several years there have been a number of interesting articles written about breaking down information silos, in fact, I have even used that term myself in the past. However, the more I work with clients attempting to overcome the information silo dilemma, I am convinced the emphasis should instead be on connecting information silos. Let’s face it, if a company has invested millions of dollars in various IT systems, they are not going to be too excited about the notion of breaking anything.


As part of Sedulo’s standard operating procedure, whenever we kick off a new project, we ask the client to arrange what we call internal stakeholder interviews.  The purpose of the interviews is to provide our research team with the most up-to-date, in-depth understanding of the research scope and questions.  Generally these interviews are helpful in providing context for the research questions, and also to provide insight into our clients’ existing hypotheses and concerns.

Recently, during the course of conducting internal stakeholder interviews for a new project, we discovered that the client’s internal team members were able to answer nearly 80% of the questions we were being tasked, and paid, to answer!  Imagine that, they had nearly all of the information within the walls of their own company, and they were about to pay a vendor to go find the information externally.

In the end, we were able to re-scope the project to focus on confirming what information the client already had, as well as adding new Key Intelligence Questions that the client’s internal team did not already have the answers to.

This is not nearly as uncommon as one would think, but how does it happen?  The answer: Information Silos.

In the IT world, “an information silo is an information management system that is unable to freely communicate with other information management systems. Communication within an information silo is always vertical, making it difficult or impossible for the system to work with unrelated systems.”

From an intelligence perspective, information silos can extend beyond information management systems, to include organizational, departmental, and individual knowledge.

Five reasons for connecting information silos:

  1. You may have intelligence your colleagues need.
  2. They may have intelligence you need.
  3. Without access to their intelligence, you have no way of identifying the organizational knowledge gaps.
  4. Without all of the intelligence you cannot make an informed decision.
  5. Decisions based on partial or incomplete intelligence have a higher risk of failure.

How do we break down information silos and still protect sensitive company information?

  1. Build and encourage an Intelligence Culture:  An Intelligence Culture is one in which every member of the organization understands, appreciates, and participates in the intentional collection, dissemination, and application of intelligence findings.
  2. Designate a Chief Intelligence Advisor (or equivalent):  Every organization needs someone who can work with the CIO, the CTO, and the heads of the various business units, to create an atmosphere of mutual and beneficial collaboration.
  3. Motivate and incentivize:
    1. Gamification – Employees can be motivated to share intelligence by developing a gamification system, whereby individuals, or departments, can be rewarded for providing intelligence and insights.
    2. Control the Flow of Information:  While this may seem contradictory to the idea of connecting information silos, intentionally withholding intelligence from specific individuals or groups, that refuse to share information, can be an effective way to motivate slow adopters.

Is your organization’s ability to make informed decisions being impeded by information silos?  Take this self-assessment and see:

  • Does the leadership team have access to all knowledge platforms, or do they need the department heads to provide the information?
  • Does the company have a culture that encourages the free exchange of intelligence across departments and divisions?
  • Do department and division heads meet periodically to assess organizational knowledge gaps?
  • Does the organization have a knowledge platform that enables members to search for intelligence on-demand?
  • Do all members of the organization have a means by which they can help to answer outstanding organizational knowledge gaps?

If you answered ‘no’ to more than two of these questions, it is very likely that your organization is either paying for research they don’t need, or, even worse, the organization is making decisions based on partial or incomplete intelligence.

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