Leveling Information Silos in the Workplace

Opinion

Today’s mobile device technology has made it possible for both professionals and consumers to have nearly all of the information they need right at their fingertips. Moreover, the types of information now available to them are limitless—it could be work e-mail, travel itineraries, social media updates, or even the answer to that trivia question that’s been a bother all day. But, instant access to information hasn’t always been the norm, and most businesses are still locked into business practices that make the most important information the hardest to find.

Consider, for example, the pre-PC era in which nearly the only information easily accessible to workers was the stack of papers sitting at their desks or in their files. It required a conscious effort to gain information beyond what was sitting directly in front of them, so, by nature, workplaces were divided into information “silos.” The only way to learn the contents of a colleague’s “stack of paper” was by proactively asking for it, or by choosing to have a conversation with him or her about it.

This, of course, changed when personal computers, the Internet, and then cloud computing entered the workplace, but organizational structures and thinking have not kept pace with these changes. Despite the speedy access enabled by today’s technologies, business-improving data is still locked away and compartmentalized in private files, e-mails, and social media streams, just to name a few.

In recent years, the enormous amount of data that enterprises generate on a daily basis has only made the information silo problem more acute. Organizations have come to realize the value data holds, and many have put measures in place to glean insight from it, but most of the data remains locked up most of the time. For companies that operate in the cloud, the new opportunities are compelling, but they first must begin to level their information silos.

Eliminating Inefficiencies in the Cloud

For a moment, imagine working for an international corporation comprised of thousands of employees. You’ve spent years working on a complex issue only to find out, when the project was nearly complete, that an individual at your company on the other side of the world had already found the answer to the very problem you have been trying to solve.

Business inefficiencies like this are far too common. Enterprises need to start thinking about ways to make their cloud data available across the organization to those permitted to see it. This is the key to enabling cloud applications that mine vast corporate data archives for the insights you need at the moment.

With the right tools, workers can apply analytics that search within their company’s cloud archive to determine whether or not a never-before-met colleague is working on a similar project. Or perhaps the cloud archive could even provide that information proactively, without being asked. By facilitating a simple introduction between two employees, an organization could not only eliminate business inefficiencies and potentially save millions of dollars, but foster greater collaboration and better decision-making.

Of course, in parallel, organizations must find ways to safeguard sensitive company information during this process. This can be done with flexible permission management, allowing organizations to uncover value never thought possible, while still ensuring the proper levels of security and confidentiality.

E-mail as a Source of Productivity

Whether it’s an international corporation or a small business, over time, an organization amasses an almost unimaginable amount of information. And, for many today, this data sits unused in a cloud archive, e-mail inbox, or elsewhere, until called upon by its owner for a specific purpose. This, in itself, is a lost opportunity. Instead, what if there was a way for this locked-up data to accumulate value all on its own?

With a cloud-based archive that is able to build a database of seemingly insignificant tidbits of information about an organization, who knows what kind of opportunities will be uncovered?

Take, for instance, a translator-locating technology. It could work in the background to consistently analyze each employee’s e-mail communication and deduce what language the person is fluent in. Imagine, simultaneously, that another employee within the organization is in desperate need of someone who speaks fluent German in order to close an important customer deal. A simple search within the company’s cloud archive could rapidly produce a list of German-speaking employees who are available to help, and the employee could select someone with the right subject matter expertise.

This is one very specific example, but the value of this kind of analytical capability to bridge departments and make business processes more collaborative is clear. E-mail is often cited as a source of distraction, but with an application like this, it can be leveraged as a tool for increasing productivity and bettering the business.

Gathering Data Employees Didn’t Know They Needed

E-mail often acts as the backbone of a worker’s daily activity, so it is in the interest of an employer to do what it can to make sure the employees’ e-mails are accurate. In the not so distant future, a tool will be able to search an organization’s cloud archive as an employee composes a new e-mail, searching for relevant information they may need. With any luck, links and information will appear in a sidebar that offer ways to improve, or drastically change, the message based upon previously-unknown information… all before hitting “send.”

None of this can work without careful attention to permission management. Some information is too sensitive to share with the whole company, certainly. But today’s default—in which nearly everything is private to an employee or small group—needs to give way to a more flexible permission system, in which most documents can be made available to most employees if they’re directly relevant to the employees’ needs. By default, perhaps, documents will be private for browsing purposes, but widely readable if they are strong matches to a colleague’s search topics.

While we have a ways to go before some of these technologies and concepts are a part of our daily business culture, the message is clear. The information within an organization’s cloud archive is wasted when it is stored away in individual departments and inboxes. When the employer levels information barriers, employees can take advantage of the nearly ubiquitous access to data that the cloud brings. This will in turn help workers do their jobs better and uncover new opportunities for the business.

Nathaniel Borenstein is chief scientist at e-mail management firm Mimecast. Based in Michigan, he is the co-creator of the MIME e-mail standard and previously co-founded First Virtual Holdings and NetPOS. Follow @drmime

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