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 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.
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. Daily operations
In addition to affecting project deadlines, using siloed 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. The margin of error increases significantly over time and this can slowly become evident to your clients too. If your agency’s reliability comes into question, it is possible that your agency loses its competitive edge, and in time, its customers too.
The way you choose to address the issue of 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 %)
• 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.
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