Every company has silos. They separate people from each other and from information — and generally speaking, the bigger the company, the bigger the silos. They can exist along regional, country, business unit, product team or other lines.

Silos can even influence your digital operations. Many brands have separate teams for physical and online stores who rarely collaborate, and may even compete with each other. Or sub-brands and business units may try to optimize their experience instead of collaborating to create a unified user experience when the user journey could (and should) cross multiple business units or brands.

Silos Create Opportunity for Competition

Consider the example of a cosmetics company with disparate product lines that spanned the age when their customers first started wearing makeup to the time when they looked at ways to prevent the signs of aging. Instead of building a lifelong journey across all of their brands, each brand hoarded its customers. The company had several user databases, but they could not get senior executive-level support for a strategy that leveraged the data and insights from across the company. Instead, each brand, region, and country had its own strategy. Competition between them was — and still is — fierce, which creates great opportunities for their competitors.

Another client faced a similar issue. The silos in their company were preventing a great customer experience. They had a vision of leveraging reusable content, components and templates to improve user experiences while increasing the value of their investment and engaged us to help them achieve this vision.

They wanted to start with the Sitecore platform, but had a few problems. One division we worked with had eight business units (BUs). Funds to build out the Sitecore experience were allocated per BU, not at the division level.

Despite having one platform and implementation partner, business units still had no incentive to collaborate. Each BU was used to creating experiences autonomously and didn’t want to be slowed down by collaboration with other BUs. This resulted in the first couple of teams duplicating each other’s effort on the platform rather than building upon each other’s experience. This also created a disjointed customer experience with missed opportunities to cross-sell and upsell.

Once we helped the client understand the problem, we worked with their senior executives to help them modify their governance model. Together we developed a digital and platform strategy, set up a governance model for direction and collaboration across the BUs, and helped them get the most from their Sitecore investment. With that in place, they gave each BU a smaller budget to run campaigns — supporting their unique offerings — and started budgeting at the division level for strategy, platform build and overall user experience.

Rules of Thumb for Destroying Silos

1. Know the difference between strategy and tactics

Strategy is the art of the general and the diplomat. It lets one country defeat another on the world stage. It requires distance, restraint and the ability to see the big picture.

Tactics are the art of the soldier on the ground — how we win this fight, right here, right now. People tend to focus on tactics because tactics are clearly tied to the situation at hand, but this is where silos are born.

2. Demolish silos from the top down instead of from the bottom up

A major key to demolishing silos is working with people who are senior enough to understand strategy, who see beyond tactics, and who can sponsor strategic initiatives. People without these attributes may be able to help execute, but only once the strategy is in place.

3. Follow the user journey

Users don't care about your org chart, so don't have your site reflect it. Instead, focus on their journey. It will always tell you the best ways to connect data, experiences and all of the back-end stuff. You can’t destroy silos and create a great user experience unless you understand how to connect everything to the user journey and how technology can support it.

4. There are no right or wrong answers about sharing information ... if people actually share it

Technological tools are a vital part of the equation. But if people don't use them, then they're part of the problem, not part of the solution. Again, focus on understanding the user journey and this problem will practically solve itself.

Demolishing silos is simple in theory. But like all simple things, it can be very hard to do in practice. Silos rarely help anyone. Smart managers get rid of them by looking at governance from a strategic — not tactical — point of view.