Avoiding the Pain of Data Silos

ProEst News - October 2021

In today’s information-rich business environment, data silos are a fact of life for organizations—and contractors are no exception. As we’re about to see, the separation caused by data silos can have negative and far-reaching impacts. The good news? You don’t have to live with them.

So, what is a data silo? Simply speaking, it’s a collection of data held by one group of people that’s not readily available to other groups in the same company. Your development team, estimators, project managers, executives, field personnel and other groups all need information to do their jobs—yet too often, that information is stored in separate locations known as data (or information) silos. Here’s how that can hurt you:

1. Data silos deliver mixed messages

When information is separated into silos, it’s likely that multiple databases are being used, storing the same information in different locations. The problem? Updates can be sporadic and unsynchronized, which often leads to variability. If your estimators are using one database and your accounting team another, for example, it’s only a matter of time before inconsistencies emerge and accuracy suffers. 

2. Data silos don’t tell the whole story

Good business decisions are based on having the right information—the more, the better. When data is siloed, valuable information can be hidden from view, and decision-making can be less than informed as a result. What one group knows—based on the data in their silo—can be very different from the next, and even worse, it can be difficult to sort out the inconsistencies. Without a single source of “truth,” each group is limited to their own version of the facts. 

3. Data silos waste time, space and money

When your teams store the same project data in different locations, and when users download data into their personal or group storage, efficiency suffers. The better way? Consolidate data to create a single source of information for everyone, eliminating the time, cost and effort of maintaining duplicate data banks.

4. Data silos make collaboration impossible

Most contractors know from experience that when their teams work together, everybody wins—from sales and project managers to field personnel and customer service reps. After all, collaboration can help avoid duplicate effort, support better decision-making and accelerate project timelines. But when information can’t be shared, individuals and teams have to think, act and make decisions in isolation— and complications can arise.

Breaking Down Your Data Silos

We’ve already seen that maintaining project information in multiple locations can lead to a host of problems for a construction business. Teams can’t collaborate. Data accuracy suffers. Project timelines slow down. But how did those silos happen in the first place? The answer is twofold: 1) culture and 2) technology. And in order to rid your company of data silos, you have to address both. Here’s how:

Create a culture of collaboration.

If your project teams are still working separately—storing and using their own data sets, with little or no sharing of information— data silos are inevitable. By encouraging a “same team” mentality that values collaborative work and decision-making, you can more easily eliminate the time, effort and cost associated with redundancies. And as we’ll see next, that requires the kind of technology that makes it possible.

Make sure your systems work together.

Many construction companies are still using data management systems that push information into separate silos— legacy point solutions that make it difficult to share data sets with project stakeholders in other parts of the business. If your current software doesn’t integrate easily, or lacks import/export capabilities, data silos will remain. The key is to choose cloud-based software for estimating, project management and accounting that are designed to work seamlessly together. That way, data is transferred automatically from one application to the next-- and resides on a centralized platform that’s easily accessed and shared by every project stakeholder. Result? Repetitive work is eliminated, collaboration among teams is supported, workflows accelerate, and problematic data silos are a thing of the past.