Tool Silos: What They Are and How to Smash Them
Companies of all sizes are moving their infrastructure, digital assets, and work processes into the cloud. Gartner expects companies to spend $116 billion on SaaS tools in 2020. That massive investment represents multiple tools all being used at the same time. The average mid-market business used 137 SaaS tools in 2019. That’s an increase of 30 percent from the year before. This increase isn’t just present at the business-level; individual employees are using 10 apps or more. The sheer number of tools used by the average organization creates a new obstacle for collaboration: the tool silo.
Let’s define tool silos, then look at strategies to help your team get rid of them.
What is a tool silo?
A tool silo is a barrier around each tool that leads to the isolation (and sometimes duplication) of ideas, information, and work caused by the use of multiple tools.
Each tool you use serves a specific purpose. It’s tailored to specific tasks and teams. But when multiple tools don’t communicate with each other, teams are in the dark about what the rest of the company is working on. Each team’s work is stuck in a tool silo.
Even within teams, using multiple tools could mean that your project notes are in one app, the project management timeline is in another, and status updates are in a third tool. Unless you do a lot of copy-and-pasting or signing in and out of apps, you can never access all of the information you need at once. Each set of information is stuck in its own tool silo.
Here are some key symptoms of a tool silos:
- Stalled information: Has information ever been stuck in one person’s (or team’s) tool, so others can’t access details they should know? A prime example: if you’re storing key updates in your inbox, the rest of the team is in the dark.
- Redundant work: Do teams (or team members) duplicate effort because their work or communication is not in a shared environment? Have you lost time working on outdated information about projects that have been canceled or heavily revised? In addition to being a waste of time, this can sap motivation for remote knowledge workers.
- DIY workflows: Are team members improvising their own workflows and tools to try to organize their work? Are you sure?
- Tool dictatorship: Are you forcing teams to use tools that don’t work well for them just to try to keep everyone on the same page?
- The dreaded copy-and-paste: Do team members have to copy-and-paste information into multiple tools? This leads to issues with version control, lost information, out-of-date data, and wasted time. Copy-and-pasting between tools can eat up to a full day every week.
- Difficult reporting: Do you have to mine data from multiple tools every time you report out to stakeholders?
- Multiple sign-ins: Do team members sign in and out of multiple tools per day? It’s more likely than you think; the average knowledge worker spends more than three weeks of time every year switching between apps.
Break out of tool silos for smoother workflows and happier teams
Smashing tool silos is all about improving communication between teams and between tools. Here are some key strategies to make that happen.
The most low-tech way to avoid tool silos is for team members to communicate about their projects.
When your team is sharing office space, that communication can take the form of quick stand-up meetings, desk drop-bys, or lunchtime chats. When your team is working remotely, you can recreate those interactions using chat apps and communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
Informal chats are great for immediate information sharing, but they can be disruptive and make it difficult to find information later if used incorrectly. Asynchronous communication options give staff an organized way to check in and update coworkers on their projects and learn what everyone else is working on, without losing focus.
For example, channels in Slack and Teams keep discussions on-topic and make sure all the communication about a specific topic stays in one place. When you’re looking for details or documents, you know exactly where to find them. And since anyone who joins the channel can access all the information it contains, new team members have everything they need to hit the ground running.
Work transparently — and collaboratively
Rather than letting information get siloed in private tools like email, focus on improving transparency and enabling better collaboration:
- Enable shared access: Keep documents in a shared platform so everyone works from the same file and can see the work others have done.
- Choose more transparent tools: Use collaboration and project management tools to make sure everyone has access to the same information and understands how a project is progressing.
- Embrace agile methodologies: Regular communication through daily scrums and ongoing feedback keeps everyone on track and makes sure information doesn’t get stuck. This also avoids the need for lengthy meetings, which break up the workday and are especially draining for remote workers.
- Align teams: A weekly all-hands update helps employees understand the bigger picture of what they’re working towards. This makes people more likely to reach out and ask for ideas or assistance across the organization. It also helps break down the silos formed when teams use different tools.
Improve integration with workflow management
Every task performed by your team, from project-specific tasks to regular daily work, is part of a workflow. That workflow is your map for getting work done. When that map involves multiple tools, you’re probably going to run into tool silos.
That’s because many of the tools we use weren’t designed to play nice with each other. You find yourself jumping from tool to tool throughout the day to get the information you need, provide updates, or just check a project’s status.
So what’s the solution?
Integration is just the beginning. With the right integration, you can keep information flowing from tool to tool. But for your workflow to smash through tool silos, you need a more holistic solution. You need workflow management.
With workflow management, you go beyond integration. You get a simple, visual way to map out your workflows, so you can identify blockers and tool silos. You get workflow analytics, so you can see the impact of your efforts.
Unito is a workflow management solution that does all this and more. With Unito, you can turn a collection of disparate tools into a unified, collaborative environment. Each team gets to keep the tools that they need without creating silos around the information they need to share.
The apps and tools we use are meant to make work easier, not more complicated. But when these tools aren’t integrated — or better yet, part of a workflow management solution — silos develop. Information is invisible or hard to find, and team members spend too much time switching between tools.
When tool silos are smashed, teams work better together. There’s greater trust, more collaboration, and less wasted time. Use the strategies in this post to get your tools — and teams — working in sync.
How can you smash tool silos?
Here's how we use our own integrations to do that at Unito.