Has this ever happened to you? You're working in three different Excel books for four different communities, bouncing back and forth...when a homeowner calls with a question. So you open yet another spreadsheet, but it doesn't come up right away. In fact, it takes so long, you wind up telling the homeowner you'll have to call them back. And then you see it: the dreaded 'out of memory' error. I've been there, and it makes me want to scream in frustration. Not only did I lose time, I have also lost all the work I had done. Even if the auto recovery has it all, it's still going to be a pain in the you know what to get back to where I was.
Every time Excel crashes, I want to bang my head against a wall. Too many spreadsheets open at once can kill your computer fast, and that isn't even counting the Word docs, emails and web pages I'm sure you have open.
The technical term for all these open files is "information silos", but it really means that your important information is all over the place. Not only can you suffer from crashes, you might also find yourself entering the same information in two or three different places. It's a waste of your time, and if anything gets out of whack, you've got even bigger problems.
What Are Information Silos?
Any time important community information is isolated from your central data storage, you create information silos. So the printed files in your filing cabinets, all those spreadsheets you manage, your accounting software, your website, and even the information that lives only inside your head - each is an isolated silo.
When information is isolated like this, your business suffers. Whether it's lost worker time like the scenario above, miscommunication errors (like your receptionist not knowing what the manager promised in a phone call), or lost money due to duplication of efforts between your systems.
There's another term you'll hear a lot too, and that's Data Silos. For purposes of this article, let's define information silos as any isolated information that's stored (such as the info inside your head) and data silos as isolated electronic data that's stored (such as your website).
One Easy Way to Eliminate Data Silo Problems
I often praise the value of an all-in-one system. It helps alleviate data silo problems by unifying your different data sources onto one platform. Your accounting speaks to your management systems, so if a homeowner is charged a fine due to an architectural violation, or charged back for maintenance services, you don't have to go separately into your management and your accounting softwares and re-enter that charge. Your bank is tied to your accounting system, so you can just confirm transactions that have cleared to quickly reconcile your accounts. Your website is integrated to your CRM so when a home resale takes place, that change is reflected on the website. All of these are examples of ways that eliminating data silos through an integrated platform can save time and help your business.
But those are just the obvious benefits of eliminating information silos. Let's take a look at some of the information silos you have in your office, and how you can resolve them.
4 Types of Information Silos, and the Benefits of Eliminating Them
Benefit of Eliminating - Improved Homeowner Communications
For community association management, one of the best ways to keep the board happy is great homeowner communications. The board often doesn't start looking for problems until the homeowners start to complain. But when your homeowner calls and speaks to your admin, it's not helpful if your admin doesn't have access to everything dealing with the homeowner's account
Luckily, a communication silo is relatively easy to resolve through simple documentation. Each time a homeowner calls or is spoken to, your team should generate a note on their account in your primary data system. With the notes on the homeowners account, along with a full accounting of all activities and account history from your all-in-one system, communication breakdown becomes a thing of the past. Plus, it eliminates all those extra phone calls taking up your team's time - win/win!
Mental Information Silo:
Benefit of Eliminating - Your Business Can Run Without You
It's a bit morbid, but have you thought about what would happen to your business if you were hit by a bus today? With all the critical information that you keep in your head that nobody else has access to, your business would be hard pressed to keep running. At the least it would be a major inconvenience, at worst, you could lose the whole business.
Mental information silos are the worst kind to resolve for two reasons: First, it's tough to know what information is important until you actually need it. So it's not like you can just sit down and type up all the things that only you know. Secondly, you are already very, very busy - that's how all this stuff got stuck living in your head in the first place! So it's a challenge finding time to sit down and write it all down for others.
You'll never be able to fully resolve your mental information silo. Our founder, Jeff Hardy, has been 'semi-retired' for years now, but we go to him on a regular basis to pick his brain about past decisions. However, there are some things you can do to help reduce your mental silo. Consider taking on an apprentice who can follow you around and be your backup. Get in the habit of jotting down a quick note every time you need to remember something (I recommend Evernote). Respond in writing via email to every question. These paper trails will help reduce the information stored only in your mental silo.
Paper Record Silo:
Benefit of Eliminating - Take Back Your Floor Space
Most management companies I've visited have a space problem. Managers are doubling up on desks, accountants are crammed in three to an office, and everyone is feeling just a little cramped. Why is that? Because the biggest consumer of floor space is filing cabinets. A lot of people speak about going paperless in terms of 'going green' - saving trees, doing your part for the environment, etc. And that's all true, but there is a purely business reason for going paperless as well, and that's the silo - your paper records silo
Paper Record Silos cannot be fully eliminated in all states due to antiquated laws that still require you to store certain records in paper form for your clients. But even in those cases, you can still drastically reduce the amount of paper you are storing to help eliminate that information silo. A lot of management companies balk at the time and expense to scan all of those paper documents, but the long term benefit of having that information available electronically is undeniable.
Data Access Silo:
Benefit of Eliminating - Business Intelligence Becomes Possible
Analytics is a big buzzword in modern business. Companies use analytics to make important decisions based on everything they have on their customers: buying habits, data usage, trends, demographics, etc. But across the board, the hardest part about building business intelligence is simply getting access to all of the data.
For example, say you have a portfolio of communities you manage, and one community seems to take up more time and resources than any other community. How can you pinpoint the source of the problems? Is there some technological misalignment? Is the manager not up to the job? Or maybe it's just a bad client. Data analytics can help you answer those questions and help you make the right decision. Maybe you need to invest in technology to grant them more access to their own information. Or maybe you should fire the manager. Or perhaps it's time to let the client go.
An all-in-one system can also help you eliminate data access silos by putting your important information in one place. But it's not enough to have access to it, you have to be able to look at it in a holistic way so you can make decisions based on the intel. That's why you should look into a platform that will provide you with the key performance indicators (KPIs) that help you look across your entire portfolio to see the data as a forest, instead of individual trees.
For data access questions your system doesn't provide ready answers to, make sure you have a way to export your data to Excel so you can create your own pivot tables and charts to create your own business intelligence. Just don't open too many workbooks or you may find yourself back at the beginning, banging your head against the wall.
How about you? What information silos have you found in your organization, and what methods have you employed to help eliminate them? Tell me in the comments below!