Why Single Source of Truth Data Systems Kill Team Collaboration

Why Single Source of Truth Data Systems Kill Team Collaboration

When every department in your organization uses different tools to carry out their tasks, you run the risk of creating information silos. To address this problem, some companies have tried to create a centralized database that holds a ‘Single Source of Truth’ (SSoT), aggregating data from all their other platforms to create an up-to-date view of what’s happening. This approach is a nice idea in theory, but in reality it’s problematic for team collaboration. Let’s look at why a SSoT does not actually solve the information silo issue that it’s supposed to, and why a distributive system is actually more suitable for solving this problem.

Why create a Single Source of Truth?

While the concept of an SSoT is problematic — and we’ll look why in just a minute — many organizations have still tried to create one. To do so, they use integration software which draws metadata from all their different apps and tools. It then creates a central, up-to-date view of company information. Why do businesses believe this is a worthwhile exercise?

  • Certain legal requirements: Businesses want an SSoT to store certain data, like the company’s annual income, costs, and profits. This kind of information is essential for paying taxes and is legally required.
  • Eradicate silos: If two teams are trying to work on different parts of the same problem (such as a customer who has reported a bug in the software), but are using different tools, they may well duplicate efforts.
  • Unified view of operational data: Many companies want an SSoT for their operational data. Whether it’s their latest marketing campaign, a client project, or customer details, they try to collect all this information into a single place. The SSoT then provides a dashboard where upper management can view what is going on in the organization, such as how many calls the Sales team are logging, how many bugs the Dev team have resolved, and how many newsletters the Marketing department have sent.

Why a SSoT is ineffective for team collaboration

The idea behind an SSoT is that if all the organization’s information is in one place, then leaders will have a high-level view of each team’s progress. Unfortunately, this concept doesn’t tally with the realities of how people use “the truth.” Let’s look at some of the key problems with the Single Source of Truth system, before looking at the alternative — a distributive system.

Technical challenges in creating an SSoT

The most obvious issue with creating an SSoT is simply that it’s incredibly time consuming and complex to create. Drawing together all the data from your various platforms and apps in a way that makes sense would is a major technical feat. Martin Fowler, a leading speaker on software development issues explains:

Trying to get an authoritative single source for data requires lots of analysis of how the data is acquired and used by different systems. System A may be good for some data, and system B for another. You run into rules where system A is better for more recent orders but system B is better for orders of a month or more ago, unless returns are involved. On top of this, data quality is often a subjective issue, different analysis has different tolerances for data quality issues, or even a different notion of what is good quality.

It creates another silo for upper management

While SSoT systems aim to eradicate silos they actually create another one. The system sends daily reports about all employee activity off to upper management, who then control this SSoT silo. This actually impairs team collaboration because regular employees and individual teams who are working on the data won’t see the big picture, won’t be updated on other teams’ progress, and won’t be empowered to make decisions based on that information.

It complicates workflows

Your workflow is your map for getting work done.  Having a single source of truth is a bit like zooming in on a specific section of that map. You lose sight of your destination, important landmarks, as well as how you’ll get there in the first place. Even if an organization decides to create an accessible SSoT, it’s worth asking if it makes sense for employees to actually use it in their day-to-day work. Why complicate employees’ workflows further by having them use a central SSoT database in addition to their own tools?

Extracting data from its context can make it meaningless

Taking data out of the context of the tools used to create and manage it — be it Asana, Trello, GitHub, or anything else — can often render it meaningless. The truth doesn’t exist in a single place; it moves around between teams and departments who add to and modify it.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Imagine a web design agency is tasked with resolving an issue with a client’s website. Let’s see how truth flows between different teams as they work on the problem:

  • The customer support reps will use CRM to record client details and register their query. They’ll then send an outline of the problem to the Dev and Account Management teams.
  • The head of Dev will store issue information in a tool or document that only the Dev team uses. The team will then create a project in GitHub.
  • The account management team will create a client satisfaction survey and follow up on the project in their own tool, let’s say Asana.

We can see that the truth passes between different departments, and is stored in different tools. Each team uses data in different ways. What is a simple support ticket to one team, may be a project to another, and a customer success story to yet another. Using GitHub projects is perfect for the Dev team, however if all of that information was transferred to a SSoT, much of it would be irrelevant and incomprehensible to other teams.

Being pragmatic with how people use data

To fight this, it’s important to recognize that there is no such thing as a single source of truth. Everyone in a team possesses a slice of the truth. Managers must avoid creating a silo between teams or silos where only the management team knows why decisions are made. Distributing power and authority through an organization as aggressively as possible keeps adds malleability, allowing teams to react and adapt more quickly. The goal for a manager should be to get team members thinking about how to share relevant information via a distributed system of truth. Data on its own is of little use for team collaboration — unless teams can share it in the right context, at the right time.

With a distributive system, each team can choose which data is relevant to share and keep other teams in the loop on their progress. Not every kind of data is a good fit for a distributed truth; inventory counts or order progress may be worth sharing across your team, but vendor data or financial data may not.

Teams will usually share work data — information on what a given team in a company is accomplishing so that the rest of the teams can consider that effort in their work.

So what is a team to do?

Instead of trying to force everyone into a single tool, you can use a workflow management solution like Unito to integrate the tools your team needs into your workflow.

By building workflows with Unito,  you can take advantage of deep, two-way integrations, meaning a project’s most important information is kept updated across multiple tools. With Unito, you can turn disparate tools into a single collaborative environment in just a few clicks. Want to find out how it works? Check it out.

What next?

  1. If you enjoyed this article, there’s a good chance your friends and colleagues will too. Why not share it on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn?
  2. Watch this video explaining the power of Unito
  3. Learn how Unito’s simple, no-code interface can help you sync tools in seconds
  4. Check out Unito’s pricing plans to see which might be the best for you (there’s also a two-week free trial!)

Sync tools in seconds with Unito's simple, no-code interface.

Try Unito for 14 days, absolutely free.

Try it free