Silos Belong on the Farm, Not in the Office: Effective Strategies for Sharing Information
If you have two or more people in your company, you may suffer from information silos. What are information silos? When groups or individuals gather information but do not share it, it takes on the form of a silo. Obviously, there are cases where, for reasons of confidentiality, information is not meant to be shared, but information silos refer to the phenomenon where different departments unknowingly keep information from each other. Observe the following stories:
- Someone from Accounting saw that a bunch of seemingly inactive phone lines were incurring a sizeable expense every month. Without checking with anyone, she cancelled the lines. Too bad they were data lines. Her "incentive" cost her her job.
- Support, Sales, and Marketing work on different aspects of the same product. All of the departments create their materials from scratch, and in some cases, there is contradictory information.
Information silos are responsible for:
- Wasted costs, labor, and effort
- Misinformation or contradictory information
So now that we understand what information silos are and the dangers they pose, what can we do to prevent them?
Lunch and Learn
Schedule one communal lunch break every two weeks. Whether it is in the cafeteria, catered, or a brown bag affair, if done properly, it will be worth the cost. At each session, a different department (or individual) presents what it is working on and the challenges they face. This simple exercise provides you with the following benefits and opportunities:
- Employees who otherwise would not socialize to meet
- Outside insight and input to into each other's challenges
- Awareness of what each is working on
- Similar roles or projects complimenting each other, with exponential results
Supposedly, in the early days of PIXAR, they were not sure how to end one of their early animated shorts The ending they went with was one that their receptionist had suggested during an in formal group meeting.
The same way you do not want different departments doing the same thing, you do not want them writing different things about the same product either. Just as bad, you could have a single person writing two different pieces of conflicting information for two different needs or projects. Imagine if you sold office furniture, and your Assembly Guide and web site's product page had different dimensions for one of your office desk models. That simple mistake could result in a lot of returns, disgruntled customers, and unnecessary headaches.
The idea behind single-sourcing is that the information is written once, and then is stored in a central repository. People no longer have to create something new; they simply find the existing and authorized content and re-use to it suit their purposes. It's like copying and pasting information from Wikipedia or a Google search. So our furniture store has everything in one place, and both the marketing whiz and the technical writer each grab what they need to make the Assembly Guide and that blow-your-socks-off presentation.
It is beyond the scope of this article to develop a single-sourcing strategy, especially because each environment has its own set of factors, but here are several resources:
DITA stands for Darwin Information Typing Architecture and "is the official community gathering place and information resource for the DITA OASIS Standard." The purpose is to use XML as a means of standardizing the way in which information is created, catalogued, and retrieved.
nowIKnow is ClicKnowledge's online help system that is created from user guides and manuals. An online demo of nowIKnow can be viewed on the ClicKnowledge site.
- Business Process Management
There are hundreds of businesses and software suites that specialize in this field. Two links in this area are DotNet Frameworks Solutions and Global Business Mart
Disclosure: I have a business relationship with both of these companies.
In an ideal world, departments make sure that unilateral decisions like cancelling phone lines, do not affect other departments, and different departments, in fact, work together to create blended, multi-purpose solutions. My company, ClicKnowledge, has helped several of our clients with viable single-source solutions, enabling them to find what they want almost instantaneously.