Recently, I wrote a piece looking at the opportunity for business improvement which is now presented to us as production slows around the world. Nobody likes slowed production, however keeping busy while creating value – be it external value as in continued production, or internal value as in improved efficiencies and processes – is the best way to be sure off-time doesn’t become down time. And one of the ways you can discover internal value is identifying and then working towards the elimination of internal information silos.
One of the major issues our team has noticed in many factories is the limitations which arise from disjointed systems, all with their own isolated databases and processes. There’s usually a good reason or reasons for this situation which can include: technology advances at different rates, systems are introduced as they become available, ‘point solutions’ come into the business to solve ad-hoc issues, organic growth and the sheer ‘busy-ness’ of the factory necessitates a spot-fix.
As time wears on, these systems and point solutions, once so crucial to patching up a pressing problem, can conspire against your operations. Instead of making things easier, in other words, they start making them harder.
It’s a well-known issue which is generally described as ‘technical debt’. There’s a good overview of the challenge on Wikipedia, with technical debt described as ‘the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy (limited) solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer’.
In practical terms, these point solutions result in information becoming trapped in (conceptual) vertical towers: each application has its own database, each database is isolated from the others – hence the convenient description of ‘information silos’. There’s a good definition of information silos at Webopia (‘any management system that is unable to operate with any other system’) along with insights into why they occur and how you can address them.
Silos become problematic for efficiency for a number of reasons, but at the most basic level, it means difficulty in getting one version of the truth. When the design system doesn’t talk to the production system, in other words, the risk of error creeps in (and errors often equate to cullet, missed production schedules, reworks, unhappy customers and lost profits. Nothing good).
During regular daily production, many might recognize the reality and challenges of silos and the inefficiency of the inevitable workarounds. These often involve Excel spreadsheets, re-keying data from one system to another (which is rather amusingly referred to by the colloquialism of ‘swivel chair integration’ – because someone is swinging from one screen to another for data input) and difficulty in gaining a clear overall view of the business.
While none of us is likely to be enjoying the impact of reduced production and productivity, the current climate provides an opportunity to examine your systems and processes with a specific goal of identifying where and what your silos are.
What’s more, with time for reflection, and probably a good deal of your workforce at home, much of this can be done without actually being in the factory itself. I’d suggest a close examination and documentation of all systems, including analysis of what those systems do, why they are there, and how your processes are structured around those systems.
Documenting the issues is the first step towards clarity – and with clarity, you’ll set yourself on the path towards knowing where and how improvements can be made. In some cases, you might find opportunities for substantial improvement which don’t require substantial effort – and that means time well spent on delivering internal value, so your organization is ready for boosted future productivity.
If you are suffering from information silos, Soft Tech have a great team possessing the right skills, experience and tools to help you get a handle on your current information silos and move you to a better information destination.