Software Silos: How A Centralized Agency Management System Can Help

Working within cross-functional teams can quickly turn into a frustrating game of Telephone if different functions aren’t on the same page. An increased dependence on multiple people and systems can often lead to misinformation, double-entry, or sometimes no information at all.

This is most likely the result of what is commonly known as Information Silo or Data Silo.

What are siloed data in agencies?

Creative agencies are a great example of cross-functional teams collectively working on a project yet contributing independently. Such a scenario, if poorly executed, can be a traffic manager’s worst nightmare.

When agencies are using multiple, unintegrated systems to separately track and report timesheets, invoices, project progress, estimates, and resources, it is known to create multiple data systems. These data systems or silos software, while initially implemented to ease workflow, instead add more inefficiencies, such as double entry, to teams. Such segregated software systems further yield reports which too, are incompatible with each other; this ultimately delays the decision-making process for agencies, eating into crucial billable hours.

What is an example of a data silo?

Data siloed system are isolated data sets that don’t connect with other data components, for example: 

  • Systems that cannot interact with each other due to outdated or incompatible code
  • Data controlled by one team but sequestered from others in the agency
  • Lack of data management strategy development or implementation
  • Company politics that hinder data sharing
  • Absence of data governance

Data silos in project management occur when different teams in the agency have conflicting goals and priorities, which negatively impacts data accuracy and slowing down production.

Signs of data silos

To address data silos, you must first be able to identify them. Yet, because teams might operate as autonomous units within the organization, data siloed system can be difficult to discover. 

These are some signs indicating your agency is experiencing data silos: 

  • Your teams complain about a lack of data for new business initiatives
  • It is difficult to find data that depicts a broad picture of the agency
  • Departments report contradictory data with undetected errors
  • The team is uncertain about which metrics to employ
  • Your members cannot get access to information quickly

The problem with relying on siloed information

Using too many disparate software solutions can be a huge deterrent to efficiency mostly because this method of running your agency interferes with the following:

1. Holistic decision-making

Pulling out data from multiple sources can often feel like pulling teeth! The purpose of reporting is to accurately track progress and make necessary business adjustments for the future. Unfortunately, this process isn’t as straight-forward as it sounds especially when your data sources are spread out over multiple systems and tied to disconnected metrics. Decoding insights from such a diverse dataset can be confusing, and not to mention extremely time-consuming.

Moreover, the accuracy of your insights will always concern you because your data comes from different systems. This is a hindrance for business owners who are unable to make decisions based on reports that paint a holistic picture. Instead, you will have to rely on individual pieces of insights to draw a strategy that may or may not hit the mark.

2. Cross-functional collaboration

Agency owners, in an effort to simplify processes, have a tendency to choose software solutions that address one problem at a time as it arises. For instance, an invoicing software for the accounting team and a time-tracking tool for project management. This is a short-sighted approach to eliminating inefficiencies. The important thing to remember is that the accounting and project management teams are part of a larger ecosystem (your agency), where multiple different people (your functional teams) fulfill different needs (your service offerings) and are interdependent on each other to co-exist peacefully (ensure project success).

As an agency owner, while removing efficiencies is extremely important, equally significant is encouraging collaboration, because the success of each project greatly depends on it. If cross-functional teams do not have visibility into each other’s workflow and progress, your agency will struggle with utilization, billability, and meeting deadlines.

3. Incomplete picture of the business

C-level executives need consolidated company data to make decisions. If you make the calls, you know your sales team will talk about new clients, marketing will discuss the number of leads and traffic, and the accounting team can give you a summary of costs and profit. So what links all that knowledge together?

Managing an agency with isolated data is like trying to solve a crossword without clues. Data siloed system prevent you from getting a 360-degree perspective on your business.

4. Terrible customer experience

In a company, customers interact with multiple departments through various channels during their buying journey. This requires collaboration between teams, from the sales and marketing team who directly interface with the customers, to back-office units like a finance staff to handle invoicing. However, when data is isolated, the customer’s experience and history with the company can get lost. This can frustrate customers who have to repeat their stories to different employees.

5. Security threat

When employees keep important data on their personal devices, such as spreadsheets or documents, it can increase the security risk for your business. Data silos make it difficult to identify who has access to what information, and thus, harder for everyone to comply with data privacy regulations.

6. Daily operations

In addition to affecting project deadlines, using silos software can severely slow down daily operations overall. The more systems you have in use, the greater the probability of double-entry, inaccuracies, and miscommunication. With time, the margin of error grows dramatically, and this can gradually become apparent to your clients as well. If your agency’s reliability comes into question, it is possible that your agency loses its competitive edge, and in time, its customers too.

Related: 8 Easy Steps To Plan And Complete A Successful Project

7. Extensive storage space

If you don’t have a central system to manage data, employees may save the same data in different locations, wasting storage space and money. Using a single platform that everyone can access would save space and avoid duplication.

8. Imprecise data

Data is a valuable asset that gives you insights into your prospects, customers, and partners. But when data is obsolete, partial, or missing, its value decreases substantially. 

Isolated data can become inaccurate over time, and different teams may have different versions of the same data, causing confusion. This makes your teams suffer from poor quality and disparate data. If your data is not integrated or in sync, you’re prone to encounter conflicting facts when cross-checking the information from separate sources.

Related: 8 Easy Steps To Plan And Complete A Successful Project

Break Free from Software Silos: From Chaos to Collaboration

Discover how a centralized management software can improve productivity and project success

The solution

How you address information silos depends on multiple factors- the size of your agency, availability of resources or capital, flexibility to implement change, etc. Keeping in mind these variations, here are 2 recommendations for you to consider:

1. Identify key datasets

Part of your problem is the amount of data you’re forced to work with. Just because the data is available to you does not mean it’s essential to your agency’s reporting. Identify the data that are key to your business, track these relevant datasets, and then proceed to rid yourself of all unnecessary data or white noise. As a rule of thumb, we recommend tracking as many of the following as possible:
• Project estimates
• Billable vs non-billable hours
• Billability (% of invoiced billable hours)
• Utilization (billable hour target %)
• Invoices
• Costs and margin

2. Assess viability of potential long-term solutions

While the above gives you a quick fix to streamlining your data, for a more lasting solution, you can choose to go one of two ways: System Integration vs. an All-in-One Software.

System integrations between existing software are great in that they offer each team member more flexibility within a system that is familiar and preferred. There isn’t much change involved and the transition can be quite quick. However, integrations require significant technical resources for maintenance. Moreover, not all systems are equipped to handle customized integrations.

All-in-one agency management solutions are a great way to centralize all data and truly have everyone on the same page. It is important to note that if you’re going down this route, ensure that the solution you choose is truly ‘all-in-one’. If not, you’ll find yourself investing in yet another software that only does part of the job. The other upside to picking a centralized management solution is that it does not require as many technical resources.
The downside, however, is that implementing a new centralized software solution is a big deal. It’s likely a significant change from what your team is used to and so, getting internal buy-in from your team might be an uphill task. Creating a team culture of embracing change and collaboration becomes key in such a scenario. Additionally, explaining the ‘why’ behind your decision to centralize data and break information silos should be greatly valuable in getting your team on-board with the idea.

If you’re looking for guidance on how to consolidate siloed systems, schedule a time with us to see what a centralized system should look like and the customizations you can include for your agency’s unique workflow.Schedule Time

3. Search for applications with native integrations

This one is tricky. For firms that design business applications, creating in-app or native interfaces across systems is complex at a technological level, even with open APIs. It’s impractical to create a native connection for every tool, given the abundance of apps available.

However, some applications develop customized ways to connect their data with another app for popular use cases. It is typical to see native connectors between CRM software and marketing tools, accounting and billing software, and e-commerce and billing apps.

4. Encourage a collaborative corporate culture

Managers should cultivate a teamwork culture within their organization. To achieve this, you can organize company events and recognize each employee’s unique characteristics. A more collaborative and inclusive workplace makes it easier for workers to share data with colleagues outside their teams.

5. Sort through old data

Sorting through outdated and isolated data can be overwhelming. However, to create an effective data management system, you must verify that all data is current and accurate. Therefore, it’s important to have your team gradually review all saved data and remove unnecessary information. 

How do data silos occur? 

Data silos are often caused by how enterprises are structured and managed, including the following factors:

  • IT strategy and technology implementation. If you allow different departments to purchase their own technology, it can lead to incompatible databases and applications. Even if IT staff is involved in the purchasing process, data siloed systems may still occur if specific departments have unique technology requirements. In addition, the variety of available data platforms, such as NoSQL databases, cloud object storage services, and special-purpose databases, can also contribute to data silos. 
  • Management and organizational framework. When your business units are decentralized, data silos tend to arise. This is typical in large corporations with multiple subsidiaries and operating companies, but it can also occur in smaller enterprises with a similar structure and management strategy.
  • Business culture and values. Organizational culture can lead to data silos if data sharing is not a norm in your agency. Without clear goals and principles for data management, departments may consider their data as their own asset, leading to the creation of data silos.
  • Acquisitions and business growth. Data silos are prevalent in growing businesses. As your agency grows, new business demands may arise, and new business units may be established. Both of these scenarios are ideal for the development of data silos. Mergers and acquisitions often introduce known and unknown silos into a business.

To wrap up

Eliminating data silos is a time-consuming process. You need to put a dedicated amount of time and effort into data analysis to ensure data is correct and in sync. To become more data-driven, you can adopt an all-in-one agency management solution to centralize data and promote a transparent, collaborative working culture. 

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