Data silos need to be solved, but don’t boil the ocean before you begin

18 Dec 2017

  • Analytics
  • Data-driven Marketing
  • Data

As business has digitally transformed in recent years, data has increasingly come to the fore of the conversation. Yet the sensible application of data and analytics to improving marketing still tends to be more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

The question that must be asked is, what stops businesses from acting in their best interest and solving the data dilemma?

It turns out that the answer is simple: complexity. Breaking down organisational silos is difficult, from both a technological and, even more importantly, a cultural perspective.

Read more in The future of marketing: Data-driven decision making almanac

Take the healthcare sector as an example.

Gartner Research director Mike Jones told Which-50 earlier this year that one of the most common objectives of the healthcare sector is delivering a birth-to-death digital health record for patients.

“It sounds very simple but it is horrendously complex,” Jones said.

"Bringing information from many different healthcare systems [that have] different structures, different data formats, different approaches to sharing and governance is extremely problematic to deliver. But without that the rest of the objectives almost become unachievable."

- Gartner Research Director, Mike Jones

The next four objectives are just as revealing. In more than half the programs he studied, organisations were focused on patient ownership of data, big data and analytics platforms, open architectures and open standards for interoperability and developing new citizen services which could allow individuals the ability to access their records online.

Each of these objectives can only be satisfied once organisations have their data stories aligned.

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So what is stopping them?

According to McKinsey & Company research, culture is the most significant self-reported barrier to digital effectiveness. And three cultural impediments stand out.

In a report called Culture for a Digital Age, authored by Julie Goran, Ramesh Srinivasan and Laura LaBerge, McKinsey identified functional and departmental silos, a fear of taking risks, and difficulty forming and acting on a single view of the customer as three crucial digital culture deficiencies.

“Each obstacle is a long-standing difficulty that has become more costly in the digital age,” according to the authors. The narrow, parochial mentality of workers who hesitate to share information or collaborate across functions and departments can be corrosive to organisational culture.”

Executives surveyed in preparation for the report ranked siloed thinking and behaviour as foremost among obstacles to a healthy digital culture.

And there is a warning for those who cannot tame the data tiger. “Our research shows that cultural obstacles correlate clearly with negative economic performance,” the authors said.

The research also indicates that the way to think of the data conundrum is not so much as a problem with a final resolution, but as a process requiring continuous improvement.

Gartner says that no matter how far along a company is in its digital transformation, just about every organisation it sees “… has valuable customer data assets that could be put to better and more active use.”

The research group advises its clients that, “Companies don’t need to wait until they have the ‘perfect’ systems or technologies in place”.

Bain Consulting, meanwhile, cautions that too many companies are overwhelmed by the scale of the task and are unsure about where to begin. Analysis paralysis sets in, oceans are boiled endlessly, and too many executives are overwhelmed by a seemingly endless set of investment options.

“In our experience, the relative few companies that are setting the pace in digital transformation push past this moment of indecision and dive in, confident that they will gain a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs and use it to develop innovative, elegant solutions.”

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