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Breaking Down Worker Silos

Data silos diminish workplace efficiency. Worker silos are worse.

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Data silos occur when data stored in separate servers or services can’t interact with information in other systems. They’re a major problem that causes limited workplace collaboration — according to a recent Oracle survey, in the past six months, 54 percent of IT execs have been forced to stop working when cloud apps weren’t properly integrated with other apps in the enterprise. Another 83 percent say they can’t get the most out of the apps their department uses, because of integration issues.

While data silos are a major purveyor of diminished workplace efficiency, “worker silos” may be an even worse problem. These are organizational human architectures that prevent employees from collaborating. Luckily, three megatrends of tech — mobile, social and video technology — may offer a recipe to end such disjointed systems. To explore how, I spoke with David Boyll, director of digital media technology at Oracle, and David Birnbaum, vice president of learning at Coldwell Banker Real Estate.

Worker silos isolate employees and kill collaboration

Like data silos, worker silos cause separation and isolation when it comes to sharing information that can help enterprises operate more efficiently. But new technologies are helping even the largest businesses.

“Mobile, social and video technologies have allowed companies to break down worker silos,” Boyll said. “There are benefits we don’t even know about yet, and time will tell how this will help the business.”

For years, traditional workplaces have separated employees in cubicles, cutting them off from key information and relationships with colleagues that could help them to improve the enterprise overall. Separating employees into insulator units effectively cuts off opportunity for collaboration — squashing workplace innovation.

At Coldwell Banker University, the real estate company’s training program, a key goal is to provide excellent customer service, and “the best way to do that is to have agents learn, train and collaborate together using video,” said Birnbaum.

Mobile and social technologies are tearing down cubicles

Mobile technologies allow employees to check in with their work from anywhere, anytime. (Unless they work for Yahoo, of course.) The majority of American adults — 61 percent — now own smartphones, and the devices are helping them to become more collaborative and engaged workers. Cloud technologies, online project management spaces and enterprise social networks are all pushing the movement forward. Plenty of IT departments are creating bring your own device programs that allow employees to use their gadget of choice on the job.

At Oracle, employees are using an open collaboration platform. All employees have access to the Oracle Social Network, which workers access on desktops and mobile devices. Boyll said this allows employees to have conversations, share and store files, and more easily collaborate on work.

“Using various collaboration platforms, including Oracle Social Network, we are breaking down geographic work silos, and facilitating creative and process collaboration,” said Boyll.

As mobile, social and video technologies translate to the enterprise, they’re helping organizations to dismantle worker silos by creating an organizational culture that focuses on a social aspect and allows for cross-departmental collaboration — not isolated cubicles.

Video-sharing portals put the spotlight on collaboration

At a recent conference, Boyll said that the emergence of desktop video and the iPhone means an internal social video-sharing platform is a good idea for companies. After all, employees are already creating tens of thousands of videos on topics related to their jobs. They’re using video as a timely and easy way to showcase technical processes, demonstrate how to use applications, or improve navigation flow.

Video-sharing portals offer a centralized and common platform on which to use, share and extract the value of that content. For many organizations, this means better avenues for sales enablement and training, allowing for on-the-spot information about products, including best techniques, elevator pitches, or recent wins.

Over the last two years, Oracle has rolled out videoconferencing options for employees and upper management, which are now easily available to every Oracle employee. Many meetings are now held over live video streaming using a standard video platform. Top executives at Oracle regularly conduct town-hall-style Webcasts, and president Mark Hurd conducts a quarterly live Webcast that draws in more than 5,000 attendees.

“We’re now experiencing a rapid uptake and level of comfort in using video,” Boyll said. “Seeing oneself on camera and understanding how a productive videoconference should go is becoming a skill as essential as using a telephone or operating a PowerPoint.”

Videoconferencing allows the company to break down geographic work silos, facilitate creative collaboration and improve overall processes. Video fills the need for self-service creation, management and publication of videos for all Oracle employees — that’s more than 120,000 worldwide — and usage is expected to go through the roof, Boyll said.

Coldwell Banker employs a similar platform. Its social learning portal, available via mobile or desktop, allows agents to share best practices and ideas with each other using short videos, upon which agents can “Like” or leave comments, said Birnbaum.

“We’re going from a world where our university would just push out training, to a more collaborative process of informal learning,” he said. “Most learning in the corporate world happens in informal ways. Video allows our agents to connect with each other more easily, facilitating superior customer service.”

The real impact of the new tech landscape: Cultural shifts

Offering employees mobile, social and video platforms to allow them to share ideas, produce great content and collaborate with others doesn’t just dismantle worker silos, and the positive results don’t just affect the bottom line. It also creates something that isn’t inherently measurable: Morale.

Emotional satisfaction and job satisfaction are just as important in the enterprise — and these three pillars of tech are reinforcing those ideals among workers. Companies that eliminate worker silos with these new technologies show employees they belong to a supportive community that values their knowledge and experience — and it may forever change the way they do business.

Shay David is a serial entrepreneur, specializing in collaborative and open-source information and communication systems. A co-founder and chief revenue officer of Kaltura, creator of the world’s first open-source video platform, he can be reached @Kaltura.

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