A combination of the increasing IT skills of employees, as distinct from the IT department itself, and the user-friendliness of most business applications is resulting in the creation of employee- and department-specific micro-silos of data within housing associations, usually vital documents, spreadsheets or databases being stored on individual PCs or email accounts. The consequence of these silos is a wilderness of data outside an organisation’s existing policies and processes, resulting in decreased productivity, problems with compliance and an adverse effect on financial performance.
Housing association employees need to communicate efficiently with diverse audiences, from tenants, other internal staff and external contractors, to local authorities, trustees, industry bodies and government departments, but the silo mentality inhibits the smooth flow of information.
The are two types of silo mentality appearing. The first is created by employees harbouring critical information locally, leading to the value of the information being eroded over time or never fully realised. The second is the result of user manipulation, with employees creating new ad-hoc files outside existing processes. At best this simply causes unnecessary duplication of effort, but in many cases it can have a significant impact on compliance, data accuracy and data availability.
Housing associations’ IT departments also have the challenge of managing and administering business applications and the data they contain. However with the majority of employees having access to a makeshift server via their email inbox or PC hard-drive, the question is whether more stringent policing is needed or better education.
The answer for most housing associations is a combination of changes. The software and user habits that contribute to good workflow need to be identified, while simultaneously preventing or removing those practices that compound the problem of rogue application and data use.
For housing organisations concerned about the development of micro-silos in their own businesses, we suggest the following:
Encourage employees to save and share information centrally and to promote collaboration within and across departments
Create a written policy for the acceptable use of IT by employees; Investigate why employees hoard information, such as mobile workers saving documents on email because they are unable to access the business servers
Identify which data needs to be used either by more than one person or for more than one purpose, and choose an appropriate location and tool for that data to be stored without effecting employee productivity.
Tony Speakman is regional manager (Northern Europe) for FileMaker.