Positive Aspects of Information Silos

The phrase ‘working in a silo’ generally has negative connotations and information management policies usually seek to eradicate a silo culture. This post explores whether there are any positive aspects of information silos.

The term ‘silo’ is used to refer to individuals or groups working in isolation from the rest of the organization, with clearly defined boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ (referring to those outside the ‘we’ group). The ‘we’ group maintains coherence within the silo, establishing a clear identity that separates the group from the rest of the organization. The silo grouping is a system that seeks to minimize its interaction with the rest of the organization, which may be splintered into multiple silos.

Silos have a reluctance to share information; this includes receiving or using information from outside the accepted grouping or by giving information to those outside the group. Although this causes problems for information management, there are also positive aspects that need to be considered before taking action to break-up silos.

First, the silo seeks to become self-sufficient wherever possible, moving towards a closed stand-alone system. In order for the silo to become self-sufficient, it tries to collect and control all the data it requires to operate. Silos are often very focused and the data used in the silo therefore reflects the information requirements of the silo, providing a starting point for information management activities.

Second, the silo is likely to maintain its own local copy of data. Although data redundancy causes problems, the silo may have captured amendments to the data that have not been captured elsewhere in the organization.

Third, staff in the silo may believe that the data they use are more accurate and reliable than the data used in other areas of the organizations. Although this may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, in striving to maintain this belief, the silo is likely to have developed processes to maintain the quality of data it uses. The accuracy of the data, within the limitations that can be achieved whilst working in isolation from the rest of the organization, is therefore likely to be quite high.

Four, silos often evolve as a reaction to poor information management in organizations. Finding out why the silo emerged and why staff feel the need to maintain data separately to other areas of the organization, can provide valuable insight into the information management problems in the organization.

A silo culture works in isolation with ‘their’ data. Information management practices aim to move away from the notion of data being limited to use and under the control of individual areas of the organization. However, whilst encouraging data to be shared and used across the organization, care is needed to ensure that the specialist knowledge and skills, the detailed understanding of the data and the practices in place to maintain data quality in the silo are not neglected.

Different systems within the organization need to work together effectively rather than hoarding data in silos, but within a silo there may be some good information management practices that need to be maintained and extended to other areas of the organization. Silos can be the cause of a number of information management problems, but they may also be at the heart of improving information management in organizations.

Further Reading: information silos are discussed in Chapter 7.

Please use the following to reference this blog post in your own work:
Cox, S. A., (2014), ‘Positive Aspects of Information Silos’, 8 August 2014, http://www.managinginformation.org/positive-aspects-of-information-silos/, [Date accessed: dd:mm:yy]

© 2014 Sharon A Cox