Data silos: what they are, what causes them & how to fix them

what are data silos and how to fix them

Many businesses suffer from data silos – often without even realizing it. Instead, you might notice the side effects, such as disconnected departments, confused employees and reporting taking much, much longer than it should.

But what is a data silo? Why are they bad? And how can you fix them and ensure they don't come back?

What’s a data silo?

A data silo is a collection of data that one department has access to but others do not. This can lead to a lack of transparency, efficiency and trust within the organization and quickly cause business performance to dwindle. Data silos also drain your resources as you pay for extra data storage and the cost of inefficiency.

By integrating your organization's data and fixing silos, you can solve pressing issues holding your company back and put your team in the best position to grow and thrive.

What data silos look like

While data silos aren't always obvious, they can be behind some of your company's most stubborn problems. These can include lack of cooperation between departments, a slow pace of work and trouble with reporting.

Some of the most common signs of data silos include:

  • Team members not knowing where to find the right information
  • Having to check several places to find the right data
  • Lost confidence in data accuracy
  • Too much money spent on data storage and volume-based software
  • Data not matching up across business tools
  • Lack of transparency in how other departments are performing

What causes data silos in businesses?

Although they can be caused by using the wrong tools or processes, data silos can also be a side effect of otherwise positive things, such as improving your business tools or experiencing business growth. No matter the cause, they need to be identified and fixed. Here's what might be causing data silos in your company:

Company culture

If your company's departments aren't used to collaborating on projects, reporting to each other and setting common goals, silos can easily arise.

Using the wrong technology

A company's first tools aren't always right for the long term. Using the wrong tools or being stuck with outdated paper systems and spreadsheets can leave your team unequipped to manage a growing amount of data.

Using the right technology incorrectly

Having a top-of-the-range tech stack doesn't guarantee that your team will use the tools to their full potential or that data silos won’t ever come up. Using tools incorrectly or non-collaboratively is a quick way to create silos in businesses.

Scaling your company

As your company grows, data silos can become inevitable. The amount of data you have multiplies, you introduce new tools, and your team might also increase – which can all leave your data in a mess.

That said, even though siloed data can be part of the package for growing teams, it doesn't mean you can't identify silos and fix them fast.

How to remove data silos (and avoid them in the future)

To break down data silos, you need to find the best way to organize your data, connect it between departments and prevent new problems coming up. Here are a few best practices for removing data silos and avoiding them in the future.

1. Know the data everyone needs access to

To avoid and fix siloed data early on, make sure your company is clear on the data each department needs access to. This includes data from outside their own department.

Your sales reps might want to see how many qualified leads your marketing team is bringing in. Your marketers might want access to the feedback that clients are giving Account Managers.

Continually ask how you can give each role access to the data that will help them do their best work.

2. Using a central CRM between departments

A customer relationship management (CRM) tool is at the heart of most successful businesses. It's where you store all contact data, track customers throughout their journey with your business and collect crucial insights to report on company performance.

When used well, your CRM is the go-to place for anyone in your company to find out information about any contact in your database.

3. Clean up your data – and collect better data

The results you get from contact management systems comes down to the quality of data in each tool. This includes contact details, communication histories, customer information and any other data you’ve collected about your database over time.

Create a company-wide plan to clean up each department’s data and make it easier for anyone to find what's important, accurate and relevant.

Next, identify where you're collecting new data so you can keep things cleaner in the future. This might include forms on your website (e.g. newsletter sign up forms, demo request forms), webinar signup forms, lead generation tools and contacts from events or tradeshows.

For each place you're collecting data, make sure that:

  • Form fields correctly match the properties they're connected to and are standardized. E.g. is ‘first name’ unintentionally being mixed with ‘full name’?
  • Forms are user-friendly and people know what data they need to give you.
  • You have settings in place to reject incorrect data, such as emails without the correct formatting.
  • All data is synced to the right tools and the right people have access.

4. Improve the connections within your tech stack

A connected tech stack is a healthy tech stack. You need to make sure your tools play nicely together, otherwise you'll have messy data to deal with. To connect your business tools, you can:

5. Focus on collaboration

Fixing and avoiding data silos requires a collaborative culture between and within all departments. This starts at the top management level and trickles down to all functions. See if you can answer yes to these questions:

  • Does your team have regular inter-departmental meetings?
  • Do you have cross-departmental reporting dashboards in place?
  • Are all team members encouraged to work collaboratively rather than in silos?

To free your company from data silos over the long term, it starts with making sure you have a collaborative environment, organized operations and integrated tools. Then you’ll be in the best position to bring your departments together and reach higher levels of performance across the board.

To integrate your customer data between apps, get set up with a PieSync free trial and start syncing your data two-ways between your key business apps.

About Lucy Fuggle

Lucy Fuggle writes for PieSync, the two-way contact sync tool for hundreds of apps. She also works with her clients to make their brand matter with a content-rich marketing strategy.