I recently heard a story about a company that created a new division as a result of a technology advancement and ran into a problem –– a “wall,” if you will. The problem was that, in its nascent state, the technology that was going to be used by this new division had been previously “owned” by the IT department. When employees in the newly created division tried to access the information that they needed, they ran into walls that had been set up by the IT department to prevent others in the company from accessing the technology and the information stored within that technology. In effect, the IT department was telling everyone, “This is our information, and you can’t have it!” even though the employees who needed the information worked for the same company.

This siloed approach to information management directly interferes with the ability of companies to govern that information in an appropriate fashion. An overall information governance system must have a robust document retention policy and a goal of breaking down the walls of these silos

A recent publication by the Sedona Conference, a research and educational think-tank in the field of information governance, highlighted this type of “silo” problem as a major threat to effective information governance. Information silos can result in redundant information being maintained by the company, uninformed decision-making and even possible regulatory or compliance problems if the department siloing information is not aware of the requirements in another area of the business. The proliferation of information silos is also a risk management issue –– especially if your company is ever involved in litigation where you could be subjected to discovery sanctions for not producing responsive documents that you are unable to locate.

So how do you prevent silos from forming? A good information governance and records retention program will not only include an analysis of all data sources but also solicit input from any stakeholders who will need or use the company’s data. All employees must understand that information hoarding will only create problems for the company if information silos continue to exist outside of an information governance program.

For these reasons, as the Sedona Conference report also states, it is important that information governance and document retention policies are supported at the very top of the company. This certainly means the C-Suite needs to be behind these efforts in terms of marketing, education and potentially even enforcement at some level. I would go beyond that point and state that the board of directors also needs to have a view to and support the information governance and document retention policies of the company. Only with that type of leadership can the walls of the information silos within many companies finally come down.