Monday, September 12, 2016

Tear Down Information Silos at Your Agency

I originally wrote this post for a software company’s blog in 2014. This company was bought out and recently their blog and website have been removed from the web permanently. I am reposting it here for posterity. 

For the past few weeks I have been working with several other agencies and a company that produces police records management system software. We're getting ready to replace our existing system with a brand new system.

As part of this process, the company providing the software interviewed persons from every functional unit within all the agencies on this shared system. We discussed workflows within these units, how data is captured, how it is stored and how it is accessed. Even though we are all part of the same shared records management system, there are differences in each unit and in each agency. Some were pretty sophisticated. Some were less so.

As I sat through these meetings over two weeks I recognized several instances where units within agencies had either intentionally, or unintentionally built Information Silos within their agency.

An Information Silo is a term that was coined to describe how oftentimes an organization structure inhibits the flow of information between separate parts of the organization. Information gathered by one unit often times does not get communicated to other units within the organization. Just like grain stored in a silo, information ends up being gathered and stored without spreading to other parts of the organization.

In law enforcement agencies, these Information Silos might be that the Patrol Division is not sharing information with the Detectives or the Narcotics Unit is not sharing information with the Training Division.

Information Silos develop for a number of reasons. Sometimes, organizational structure and proximity prevent the ease of information to flow within an agency. If your Detectives are in a separate building from your Patrol guys, don't be surprised if  they don't see or communicate with each other very often.

Another reason Information Silos develop is that people in the organization don't recognize the need for this information to be communicated with other units. Patrol officers who begin to see an uptick in calls centered around a certain location may not recognize the relevance this might have for the Detectives. Narcotics detectives who see a new street drug might not see the need to get this information to the Training unit so they can develop new training materials around these drugs.

Information Silos also develop when there is no easy way to share information across these units. Most detectives at my agency work normal business hours on weekdays. They are not likely to run into a midnight shift Patrol officer in the hallway. If there are no designated channels to communicate information between units, then it's lot likely to happen spontaneously.

Another more problematic reason Information Silos develop is due to "turf wars". One unit may not share information within the agency in order to "protect their fiefdom" or avoid interference , either real or imagined, from other units.

Whatever the reason, Information Silos reduce the efficiency your agency has in it's mission. As a crime analyst, your position is often uniquely suited within your agency to ensure that these Information Silos are  not an impediment to your organization.

Here are some suggestions on how to reduce the impact these silos have on your organization.

  • Make it a point to visit with key players in the various units within your agency. Drop by the different units and spend time with the officers and their supervisors. Query them on the cases they're working and offer your assistance where you can. When you recognize related cases, or new trends make it a point to get this information to them. Let them know you have an open door policy and encourage them to come by if they need assistance or just to talk shop. If necessary act as a liaison between differing units.   
  • Develop ways to share information between units. These don't always have to be technologically sophisticated or expensive. An email bulletin, a centrally located whiteboard or bulletin board, or regular meeting can help get information flowing in your agency.  
  • Ensure your agency understands the importance of information sharing between units. Develop training and policy documents that stress the importance of communication within the agency.  
  • Recognize and reward those persons and instances where information sharing made a difference. If a Patrol officer's Field Interrogation Report (FIR) was key to identifying a crime suspect, make sure that you ensure they and their supervisor knows about it. An "attaboy" memo for their personnel file can go a long way to motivate an officer.  

You may not be able to completely rid your agency of Information Silos as some of them come with the structure of an organization. However, you can reduce these damage these silos due to communication within your agency.

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