“Smashing silos” is often presented as a critical step for creating exceptional customer experience – once a marketing team has access to customer data it follows that they will be better able to create personalised, contextual experiences across a customer journey.
The task, however, is easier said than done.
Ask an IT professional about smashing silos an you will likely solicit less enthusiasm than people on the business side calling for silo destruction. Those with an understanding of the practical requirements of data access and integration are forgivably less optimistic about the speed of change and the resources required to do it.
The lack of consensus is a reflection of the disconnect between business and IT, according to Eric Thoo, an Australian based Gartner analyst, who argues an enterprise level data strategy can help considerably.
“Business think it’s IT’s job to have a vision for data. IT thinks it’s business’s job to have a vision for data,” Thoo told Which-50.
“And at the end the whole responsibility fell into a ‘no person land’. At best it falls into the lap of a data administrator.”
That’s problematic, Thoo says, because data administrators don’t tend to connect data policies to the strategic vision of the organisation, nor are they supposed to.
As Thoo argues, data is increasingly being viewed as a strategic asset and a fundamental part of enterprise strategy. Gartner predicts that by 2021 the value of an organisations data will warrant internal information valuation and auditing practices. Early movers on data valuation and leadership are already outperforming the market.
Put simply, the value and importance of data strategy to an organisation means it should exceed the remit of an administrator.
Indeed, any high level conversations regarding the strategic use of data now warrant involvement, or at the very least understanding, from executive leadership.
Data integration, Thoo argues, is only a part of an overall enterprise strategy around data, but it too requires a collaborative approach from departments.
“It’s not just an IT issue, business of course share that burden too,” Thoo said.
Often that means a paradigm shift to accompany new technology and its application, one that is consistent with an overall data strategy.
IT and business need to take a more collaborative approach in both procurement and application, while adopting a “data centric” mindset in order to fully leverage the technology by going beyond automation, according to Thoo.
“Otherwise it’s not a complete picture. I can automate everything, I can serve my customers. What happens to the data? Well I assume somebody else knows. That somebody else doesn’t exist.”
Unfortunately, this holistic approach to data integration is not common, Thoo says. When he asks organisations if they view data as an asset, most agree but many are still failing to treat it as such.
“Your data is not just bits and bytes sitting in a hard disk in a cupboard or in files. Your data is actually the asset of the company,” Thoo said.
“You won’t turn data into an asset just because you kept [it] in a database. Just because you put in some data quality tools,” Thoo said.
Once organisations recognise the potential of data and treat it accordingly it’s value will be unlocked. However, Thoo says, that change can only occur through a more holistic, collaborative approach – one where data is not the sole responsibility of IT.
Build data roads
From IT’s perspective there is data everywhere and changing applications or where the data is stored is often not an option. Getting to the point where data is integrated across several systems and accessible to multiple stakeholders means “data roads” must be built, Thoo explained.
“What’s left to be done is to build roads to these different premises where the data is,” he said.
“That construction of freeway, construction of bridges is what data integration is about.”
But while creating data roads, it is also critical to ensure data quality, according to the Gartner analyst.
“While moving the data and creating a good traffic flow is good, it’s like delivering a courier package to someone’s home on time. You also want the package that you open up to contain the right thing. So data quality is the other side of the coin.”
So while access and smashing silos may be the goal there is an equally important consideration of data quality for IT, Thoo said.
There are of course other considerations for IT but these factors are “taking up the lions share of the pain points in a lot of the companies right now”.
The market is responding. Data integration applications are “growing phenomenally”, according to Thoo.
“These integration technologies, they don’t help you build application, they don’t automate the business process for you or give you analytics. But what it really gives you is the ‘glue’.”
However, becoming enamoured with integration applications presents the risk of organisations repeating the mistakes which created the original data silos and the subsequent need for integration solutions.
Culture is key
There is no universal approach to data. Its collection, integration and application will all be dependent on the organisation’s use case, existing systems and budget.
For marketers, for example, off the shelf personalisation products offer an instant solution much more accessible than customised data systems.
However, the trade off is often inflexible applications and rigid algorithms unable to be adapted to organisational or even market specific nuances.
The ability to ingest data must also be considered. Some solution are unable to ingest first party data and vice versa with third party data.
Gartner’s Thoo argues the data strategy and culture to support it are paramount, rather than the technology.
“Technology will come. We are not short of technologies out there today. What we are short of is this ability to think flexible modes of working with people, process and technology.”
Thoo’s point is a salient one. Success will not necessarily follow new technology. In fact, adding technology has the potential to worsen the silo problem.
As the strategic importance of data becomes more and more apparent, sustainable improvements will rely on organisations developing a “data centric” culture – where the lines between business and IT are blurrier than ever and data systems are just one of many collaborative efforts.
About The Author
Joseph Brookes is a writer for the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit, of which Adobe is a corporate member. Our members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply.