A farm with a few silos - data silo concept
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Most brands want to implement an omnichannel strategy for seamlessly interacting with their target audience. In fact, PwC’s Retailing 2020 report found that the number of companies investing in omnichannel experiences increased from 20% to more than 80%.

But integrating teams, tools, and data across an organization is hard, and problems often arise. That’s why we’ve asked omnichannel experts what silos are, how they impact the business, and their best tips for fixing and preventing silos in the future.

What Are Silos?

“Organizational structure can have significant impacts on the way that a business can communicate or respond across the customer journey and throughout the customer lifecycle,” stated Kimberly Sutherland, Vice President of Fraud & Identity at Alpharetta, G.A.-based LexisNexis Risk Solutions. She believes silos can form between various business functions, geographical regions, or the channels that customers and brands use to interact.

Joel Varty, President at Toronto, O.N.-based Agility CMS also states that “things turn ugly when tools can’t talk to each other. Then folks start manually copying stuff to different places and changing formats. Varty believes that’s when silos are born, but he also believes that tools such as headless CMSs can help teams communicate better. 

Anand Janefalkar, Founder & CEO of San Francisco, C.A.-based UJET says most people limit their understanding of silos as occurring between departments. “These certainly exist,” he explained, “but silos also exist within teams themselves, specifically when it comes to data and tools.” For example, if the marketing team’s data and tools aren’t tightly integrated, they can’t get a full picture of their customers across multiple channels or touchpoints. Silos, therefore, can form in a variety of ways and have an enormous impact in today’s hyper-connected digital landscape.

The Business Impact of Silos

“Unfortunately, little about silos aligns with the customer’s desire for a trusted seamless, secure, convenient and complete experience,” Sutherland said. A siloed organizational structure negatively impacts the way a business can interact with customers throughout their buying journey. “In addition,” Sutherland continued, “it can impact a business’s revenue-generating potential and can either strengthen or weaken its shared intelligence.”

More specifically, Janefalkar says siloed customer support means companies are missing valuable information such as product or company feedback, suggestions, or frequently asked questions. “Being able to capture all of this not only makes for a better product,” he explained, “but it makes for a better and more personalized experience and interaction between the company and its customers.”

Related Article: There’s No Need to be Haunted by Silos

How Can Organizations Solve Silos?

Silos occur naturally in nearly every organization, so it’s crucial that business leaders work to prevent them from forming. Here are some tips from the experts.

Remove Communication Barriers

“Many businesses have found it effective to create cross-functional teams,” Sutherland said, “with representatives across multiple departments or business units.” This enables teams to incorporate multiple perspectives into their business processes to improve collaboration and decision-making. Sutherland believes there’s no one-size-fits-all for structuring the organization, but rather “it is often architected based on the organization’s culture, areas for needed improvement and leadership competencies.” 

Implement Data Sharing Models

Sutherland also suggests that organizations leverage consortium-based information sharing models to overcome regulatory limitations. “These consortia can be highly effective in being able to help structurally separate teams,” Sutherland explained, “and aid in the ability to share predefined insights and risks in a consistent, formalized manner.” For example, some companies implement cross-brand data sharing agreements so that each brand can leverage a larger dataset.

Assign Ownership

“Lack of ownership around events, data, and systems kill both employee morale and customer experience in an omnichannel strategy,” stated Al Sporer, Executive Vice President & General Manager of Digital Services at Blue Bell, P.A.-based Anexinet. Throughout the customer journey, it’s difficult to determine who takes ownership over a particular customer action. “The issue organizationally is there isn’t a single event owner,” Sporer added. Assigning specific owners for customer actions or touchpoints — whether it’s a customer service or sales representative — can help prevent cross-department silos.

Leverage the Right Technologies

For Janefalkar, investing in the cloud is critical for breaking down data barriers. “It is much more reliable and more efficient for cloud-native tools to not only capture critical information,” he explained, “but also to analyze it in real-time, and securely share it with the people who need it in order to make more educated and strategic decisions.” Cloud-based tools usually have robust APIs and other tooling that enable organizations to unify their tech stack into an efficient omnichannel platform.

Varty added to Janefalkar’s argument, adding that brands should have a content-first strategy that’s supported by good cataloguing practices, and the right technology, making content easily accessible to everybody in the organization. “Most organizations know what content is essential to their business, but rarely have I seen that knowledge captured and documented. Regardless of where content is stored, it’s crucial to have information about that content that’s available to everyone and up-to-date,” Varty explained.

“The next part of the solution is about how this content can be made available to the places it needs to go. That might mean that you need a headless CMS to store and deliver content that’s currently not being captured. Then you can start strategizing about how you want to get your content where it needs to go,” he continued. 

Be Intentional

“We see two very common characteristics of companies that mitigate the issues with silos and excel with their omnichannel strategy,” Sporer said. First, companies recognize that they may need to invest in improving legacy systems. Second, they apply modern business and architecture patterns to make the most of what they have.

“The core tenant of an omnichannel strategy is ubiquitous customer access, anytime, with unlimited switching ability in any single event,” Sporer concluded. It’s a tough thing to achieve, but with better communication, data sharing, accountability, and cloud tools, organizations can overcome any silos that form.