Companies must get rid of their data silos, otherwise they will lag behind
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Companies must get rid of their data silos, otherwise they will lag behind

For several years, Tomáš Mátl (Colours of Data) has been helping companies understand and leverage internal data and enrich it with external information. However, he often encounters occasions where the internal data itself is fragmented. This results in business opportunities being lost and lagging behind competitors.

In today's world, data spews at us from all directions, and it is critical for businesses to have a good grasp of their data. Data expert, Tomáš Mátl, a co-founder of the start-up company, Colours of Data, which operates between Prague and London, identified this issue some years ago.

"I used to be one of those frustrated business people in a big corporation where I was in charge of creating customer propositions. My bonus depended on how much the proposition ended up making. But, I didn't have a way to manage its performance, and although I knew where the required data was, I couldn't access it.” Tomáš Mátl recalls the time when he decided to leave the corporation and instead start on his own gradually tidying up data, so to speak, for many other companies.

As he says, today it is still common for many companies to operate on the principle of so-called data silos, i.e. they do not have interconnected databases and thus cannot obtain a comprehensive overview of what is happening in the business, or what the customer needs.

“Data-mature companies have removed their silos," explained Tomáš Mátl in an interview for who, for the second year in a row, is also helping to advance the role of women in data analytics and thus gain a foothold in company management structures across Europe via the European Women on Boards platform.

On the big data front, what are the demands on companies today?

For everyone today, it's mainly about the ability to leverage the huge amount of data, which is constantly being created everywhere. Companies must know their customers, be able to initiate an interaction with them, in a way which is precisely targeted or personalised for a particular person, and be able to speak to that person in a friendly, relevant and welcoming way. Anyone who can do this will benefit greatly from the digitalisation trend.

Also, equally important is connecting internal data with external data, but this is a complicated process, as the company must undergo not only a technical, but also a cultural transformation.

However, today's problem is that many companies cannot handle this huge amount of data well.

No matter what company you look at, its business always generates data. When we were working on a project for a large Czech bank five years ago, we agreed to take their data and enrich it with something from outside. The hardest work was to find out what specific data we could use for the enrichment, because whatever we came up with, the bank already had this data internally!

However, at the same time, the bank was completely unable to utilise the potential of this data. They had the data stored, for example, in isolated databases, depriving themselves of a comprehensive picture of the business, how the product works, how to treat the customer and so on, and I think that it is still the same problem today, where companies operate in such a siloed way.

In data silos?

Exactly, each silo has its own database, its own system, and what is not covered by the system, is covered by Excel spreadsheets, which employees send to each other. But this will never work!

Data-advanced companies have torn down these silos. It works with the data, which is common for everyone, where it is clearly defined what it shows, what the content is, who owns it, how it fits in the decision making process and how such a decision will be reflected in the business.

This is a trend that I consider important. Eliminate your silos and make data flow through the company in a way that makes sense to everyone.

It seems to me that a lot of managers know about this need, but it is hard to get things moving…

Indeed, there is a need to make a broader transformation of the company. You don't just tear down the silos. You need to explain to people why this is such a key process and get them to really start working in cross-team manner.

Many large companies have therefore switched to an agile structure, but this is a very difficult process for any company. The need for change is usually understood and welcomed by 20 percent of employees, however 20 percent will never accept it. So, the battle is for the remaining 60 percent of employees, to be able to adapt and see the benefits as soon as possible.

What if the silos cannot be torn down?

Then these companies will not be able to connect internal data, will not be able to enrich it with external data and thus will not gain a comprehensive business overview, leading to the competition getting ahead of them.

Today companies that operate naturally without these silos, such as start-ups or fintech companies or digital banks, are essentially redefining how each industry works, and if you don't break down your silos, then you will lag behind the competition even more and more.

I will give you an example from my own experience. Personally, I will never go to a traditional bank in England again, because it took me about three months before I realised that I would not be able to open a business account there. This problem was solved for me in about two hours by a digital bank with an absolutely amazing customer experience. The same digital bank gives me the same accounts in Germany, the Czech Republic and anywhere else we want to operate. In the future, one bank will provide me with complete business banking for Colours of Data.

This is the effect of the bank riding the wave of the digitalisation trend and being able to build its business around the needs of its customers. It's about the right use of data, understanding who I am and what I need, and the right communication ensuring I build, an essentially, emotional relationship with its brand, and therefore I don't have the need to go anywhere else.

Women lead in soft skills. 

You are one of the mentors of the platform called European Women on Boards (EWoB). How did this happen?

With growing experience, I feel more and more that I want to pass it on to others and lead those who want to improve and learn. Some time ago, my colleagues and I started working with the Czech platform, Czechitas, where we teach data analytics amongst others to junior professional women. Through my former Vodafone boss, Muriel Anton, I got involved with her platform My Oddysey. Muriel is also on the EWoB board and suggested that it would be nice to expand our cooperation in this direction.

What exactly are you trying to achieve with EWoB?

This platform seeks to make it easier for women to take up leadership positions and become great managers across all disciplines. EWoB works toward the European Commission target, which is to get 40 percent of women into management roles. At the moment, we are about halfway through this, and today 6 to 7 percent of CEO roles are filled by women.

Therefore, the purpose is to help women to improve, in order to accelerate this process and from my point of view, this exactly corresponds with the trends which are now evident in data analytics.

And the main ones are?

Some years ago, analytics was still a relatively technical discipline, but now data analytics is becoming more of a soft discipline. It's more about the ability to interpret data, the ability to find a story in it, the ability to separate the important from the unimportant, and this is something that women are capable of doing much better than men.

And what exactly was behind this change?

This is a good question. I think one of the reasons it that data tools available on the market today are targeted more at the users themselves, i.e. business analysts, marketing and so on, rather than the person who used to produce reports by programming or scripting, which they then forwarded to others.

This trend has also turned to real time-data. The person who has to make a decision on something needs the information, if not immediately, then by tomorrow at the latest. They used to wait for several weeks, which is no longer possible today. In this respect, it was necessary to eliminate the step involving a technical person who knows how everything works in detail, and at the same time get the data into a language that can be easily understood.

You said that women are better at separating the important from the unimportant. What else makes women better from an IT perspective?

Of course, I can't generalise, but what I see is that women are much more patient, more creative, and can look at things from multiple angles. So if you give them a dataset and ask them to find out interesting facts or create data stories from it, it may take them longer, but as a result they will bring you an interesting output, which is also very carefully and well presented.

Men, including me, often function in a more pragmatic and rational way, and when we see something in the data, we take it at face value, we don't examine further. However, combining these two approaches works much better than just having a purely female or male team.

Diversity is therefore welcome …

I am a great supporter of diversity. Not only gender, but also national diversity. The best employee I ever hired was a Syrian refugee. Absolutely brilliant analyst. In many ways he was a lot different from us, but the combination of different approaches and methods bears the best fruit.

Does this mean avoiding tunnel vision?

Exactly! It's very important to see things in context and not be fooled by the first impression you get from the data. It often happens that men have an idea, which is often guided by what their interests are, and then they follow it blindly. This is a faster and more straightforward path to the goal, which has its advantages, but it’s one big disadvantage is that when they get it wrong, everything is wrong.

Historically men have often been part of the teams, which built the older solutions. They own a set of skills for practical and technical things and know exactly how to configure everything, so it works according to the set rules, and they are good at creating such rules. From my point of view, women perceive it more softly.

And from your experience, are women appearing more and more in management positions?

When I look around, it seems to be so, and not just in management positions. They are appearing more and more often in senior management. Here, I somewhat reject the view that positive discrimination and quotas are needed to help women. In my opinion, women don’t need this as they are more than capable enough.

Source: (originally published in Czech)

24. 9. 2020
Author: Tomáš Mátl
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