Data Governance Breaks Down Silos (Data and Organizational)

Data Governance Breaks Down Silos (Data and Organizational)

StockSnap_86E7407493_break_data_silos_BPIn this post we’ll discuss the types of silos that exist at higher education institutions, data brawling, data culture, shadow systems, benefits of breaking down the silos and what actions can be taken to eliminate silos.  We’ll also discuss the importance of data governance in breaking down silos.

Silos can prevent the free flow of information and make alignment and collaboration difficult.  Data must be freed from silos and data hoarders should be a thing of the past.  Information is no longer power. Information sharing is power.  Faith-based reasoning gets replaced with fact-based reasoning that accommodates more diverse thinking and perspectives than in the past.  The proliferation of data systems over the last few years makes it impossible to consolidate everything in one place.  You will have silos.  They are never going away.  Deal with them the best you can.  But combine where you can.  Look for those ungoverned shadow systems.  Eliminate the unauthorized or small silos if possible.

There are all types of silos on a campus, including data and organizational ones (people).  Political silos, with the thinking of hiding and hoarding information secures one’s position, prevent the consolidation of systems.  The Educause article on Top 10 IT Issues, 2019 edition states: “Much of the work is strategic and political. Technical silos are easier to bridge than organizational silos.”

Some of the data system silos are non-approved shadow systems (such as spreadsheets) that may be created for good reason.  Delayed by the strapped data team and unable to access the data they need; departments often create their own rogue shadow databases.  There are issues with shadow system silos including:

  1. Not validated by others
  2. Unchanged when the underlying data is changed
  3. Quickly fall out of date, leading to inaccuracies, which can spread incorrect information throughout the institution
  4. No way to track how errors happen, when they happen or who committed them
  5. Difficult to share across the institution
  6. Not under IT control so might not be maintained properly (backup, security, etc.)

Shadow systems need to be known and understood why they exist so that these silos can be eliminated if possible.  Click here to view our blog post on shadow systems.

Breaking down silos has many benefits for students, institutional leaders, staff, departments and the entire institution including:

  • New ideas happen as people from different departments have a wider perspective than an individual would
  • Cost saving is achieved when systems or silos are consolidated (possibly licensing and support costs)
  • Large projects are easier to complete with a group from different departments rather than individuals from a siloed department
  • Better decision making occurs as better data happens with fewer silos (centralized connected information)

You want to make sure there is no data brawling at your institution.  Multiple departments request data separately with no collaboration.  Departments build their plans independently of each other.  When there’s no consistency in the data among departments, no one can trust each other’s point of view.  Data brawls between departments can happen with people arguing about data accuracy, the definition of shared metrics, and the underlying sources of their two conflicting conclusions.  And both might be right with their interpretation of the data.  When this brawling occurs, an analysis and actions should be done so that the situation does not occur in the future.

It is important that the institution have a data driven culture.  Everyone should be on the same page regarding cutting costs, making staff jobs easier, providing a better student experience, attracting quality students, making alumni feel included and improving the education for students.  Stakeholders must agree on data definitions and definitive, trusted sources. They must acknowledge the precedence of the institution over the department.  A shared-information environment requires a shared-risk/reward environment that can promote excellent team play.  Allow staff members to find the colleagues they need to communicate with on a regular basis, independent of the organizational structure.  Today’s staff are asking more questions and they expect instant answers.  Enable staff to ask and answer many of their questions quickly and if not, have a process to get those answers quickly.  Culture should be one of data transparency and accessibility where possible.  Breaking down silos is more easily done with a data driven culture.  Click here to view our blog post on data driven culture.

Actions to Take

Here are some suggested actions to take to remove silos:

  1. Implement just in time data governance – Data governance crosses many departments (such as IT/IR/Registrar) that don’t often collaborate. Data governance helps with the mapping and organization of an institution’s data.  Data governance ensures that you have more visibility and control over the data being gathered across your campus which helps share insights and eliminate data silos.  Proper governance enables collaboration across departments, fostering broader insights, fueling better decisions, and overall promoting a more data-centric culture.  A data systems inventory (including shadow systems) identifies what silos to remove.  Having a tool that has a consistent interface no matter where the data lies is helpful.  This reduces the barriers for staff to understand data.  Select tools that will aid in effective collaboration and break down silos such as the Data Cookbook.
  2. Encourage the proper data culture – Do you have the right culture to break down silos? Make sure staff is comfortable working bottom-up, top-down, and sideways in the institution with communication and community building.
  3. Involve everyone - People who are lower in the organization and are empowered can suggest improvements. Institutional leaders need to be involved to make sure collaboration is happening (not just an edict from above).
  4. Reduce overlap – Look at missions, activities, tools, resources and reduce the ones that overlap. Conflict over information is often caused by groups with highly overlapping missions, activities, and populations served.
  5. Identify areas of cross boundary work and collaboration – Start on the small silos or the ones that make the most sense to remove.
  6. Improve meetings (or cut down on meetings) - Allow staff to make decisions on their own or make decisions collectively without meetings. Valuable time is spent on setting up and preparing for meetings.  Watch out for the big committee meetings or the recurring meetings.  Be time conscious.  Don’t make cross-department meetings a waste of time as that will cause silos.

Usually at schools there are a lot of different silos (data and non-data).  These silos often affect the effectiveness and decision making on campus.  It is important to determine the silos and remove the silos that make sense.  Data governance, culture and people are key in removing silos.

IData has a solution, the Data Cookbook, that can aid the employees and the institution in its data governance, data stewardship and data quality initiatives. IData also has experts that can assist with data governance, reporting, integration and other technology services on an as needed basis. Feel free to contact us and let us know how we can assist.

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Jim Walery
About the Author

Jim Walery is a marketing professional who has been providing marketing services to technology companies for over 20 years and specifically those in higher education since 2010. Jim assists in getting the word out about the community via a variety of channels. Jim is knowledgeable in social media, blogging, collateral creation and website content. He is Inbound Marketing certified by HubSpot. Jim holds a B.A. from University of California, Irvine and a M.A. from Webster University. Jim can be reached at jwalery[at]

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