Every business has faced the dilemma of important information trapped in data silos caused by disparate IT systems. Data silos introduce several forms of business risk for an organization:

  • Different departments or stake holders use separate sets of data, but no one possesses the entire “big picture.” This can lead to ill-informed business decisions.
  • Swivel-chair data entry is required to manually transfer information between systems or to create spreadsheet reports. Employees introduce typographical errors as they rekey the data between systems.
  • When data sits trapped in silos, it becomes less timely, and therefore, less useful.
  • Difficulty in accessing the right data at the right time can lead to a murky, less-than-stellar customer experience.

Data silos were one of the key factors driving the best-of-class/best-of-breed versus software suite debate of the past decade. For example, enterprise ERP vendors made the case that their customers should also purchase CRM, HRMS, and other solutions from them in a fully-integrated suite. It wasn’t necessarily that ERP vendors made the best HRMS software; it was simply that the integration was certified reliable. The impetus was on the best-of-class software vendors to integrate with the key enterprise software players or risk losing sales.

Enter open standards and Cloud computing. The concept of being able to easily link multiple best-of-class SaaS solutions through open APIs created tremendous excitement in corporate IT departments. Demand for “open” Cloud solutions has exploded.

But increasingly, businesses are discovering that data silos can and do exist in the Cloud, just as they plagued in-house networks. Silos can occur as a result of a lack of planning before a new solution is brought into the IT ecosystem. Sometimes, the APIs are available, but there’s a lack of IT resources to plug into the data streams. Data silos also occur when individual business units select their own solutions, independent of a strategic, centralized IT plan. As “shadow IT” builds up, many times the IT department isn’t even aware the solutions are in use—nor does it have an integration plan for these solutions.

Billing and revenue management is one area with an undisputed need for integration to other front- and back-office systems. You can’t create a smooth customer experience if the customer service rep must pause and log into another system before answering a simple billing question. Likewise, the CFO and CEO need the complete revenue picture in order to make critical decisions—and they need it in the context of key information about customers, orders and costs.

To avoid getting stuck in a billing and revenue management data silo, choose an open, standards-based solution that allows for easy—yet secure—access to data streams. You’ll empower your organization to integrate systems and leverage the full range of business information for meaningful analytics. Of course, standards aren’t fully nailed down yet, so you’ll need to pay attention to what standards are winning the widest acceptance. Software CEO Dan DeLoach suggests that corporate technology executives “Look not only to specs relating to APIs and data access but those governing wireless and related power considerations (Zigbee, BLE, 6LoWPAN), device hardware considerations, operating systems, and data storage and structures. It's also critical to watch the mega-vendor-backed industry consortiums such as Open Interconnect Consortium (Intel), Thread (Google), and AllJoyn (Qualcomm), as well as the Industrial Internet Consortium.”

Strengthen your corporate technology governance to help prevent data silos. You’ll need to have process controls guiding the ownership, retention and integration of data. Henry Morris, a senior vice president with IDC advised companies to focus on creating a single, unified set of data across the organization. He said, “It’s not the proliferation of separate BI tools that is the problem. If you had an integrated, reconciled data set, you can certainly apply multiple BI tools to get at the data.”

A variety of business units, as well as front- and back-office solutions, need access to billing and revenue management data. It’s up to IT to take ownership of this vital data stream and create the integration roadmap and process controls that will make the information available and meaningful to the right parts of the organization.