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Dismantling the silo effect

While business leaders recognise that digital transformation is a crucial component of any business strategy, for many Hong Kong organisations the journey to adapt to a digitally-driven business model is being hindered by silos — a term used to describe functions, teams, projects or geographies within the same organisation that operate in isolation from each other.

The significance of the silo effect is highlighted in the recent Digital Dysfunction APAC survey conducted by enterprise cloud applications provider Workday, and intelligence advisory service International Data Corporation (IDC) Asia Pacific. According to the survey, just over half or 53 per cent of Hong Kong corporate-level executive respondents believe their digital transformation projects are failing due the presence of silos or silo disconnects.

Donald Sullivan, general manager at Workday, Hong Kong and North Asia notes that, the survey findings support anecdotal evidence that many Hong Kong organisations are struggling to find ways to integrate cross-functional processes, which are fundamental to achieving digital transformation. For instance, the survey found while 77 per cent of HR, IT and finance leaders believe that collaboration between the three functions is vital, 80 per cent of respondents reported that they don’t see this happening.

While silos can pose obstacles to successful digital transformation, they can also have a negative impact on employee engagement and talent management strategies, core components for successfully implementing digital transformation objectives. While the existence of silos is hardly new, due to the inability to breakdown silos, 70 per cent of senior Hong Kong HR practitioners surveyed report that as a consequence, they have experienced organisational “pain”. For example, silo disconnect ramifications can impede talent development strategies designed to support business objectives and growth opportunities.

In order to dismantle silos, Sullivan says it is crucial for department heads from all parts of an organisation to work together. “Collaboration is pivotal,” says Sullivan who cites the tendency towards a risk adverse style of leadership in Hong Kong for obstructing the transformation thinking required to breakdown silos. “Organisations need to operate with a holistic platform to build cross-functional teams that actively project a unified vision and strategy for the future,” says Sullivan who emphasises that creating the vision is a vital step to ensure company-wide buy-in to overcome silos.

As the business function that interfaces closely with every department, business line and employee, Sullivan believes the HR function is ideally positioned to take a leading role in bringing department heads and executives together. However, Sullivan also notes to enable the HR function to take a more strategic role, it is necessary to reduce the time that many HR professionals spend on time-consuming, manual administrative tasks that could be automated through the use of cloud-based technologies. For example, manual data entry holiday booking, payroll and employee benefits. “While most HR teams recognise the importance of adding strategic value to their responsibilities, the time they spend on administrative routines is often a barrier,” notes Sullivan.

When administrative processes are integrated into a single cloud-based system, Sullivan says HR practitioners are in a stronger position to leverage collaboration and communication tools and make use of data insights that can help to remove the obstacles that cause silos. Importantly, Sullivan explains that, cloud-based technologies can be used to strengthen processes that align workforce initiatives with business initiatives — crucial components necessary for digital transformation and reducing the effects of a silo disconnect. “We are seeing some evidence of forward-looking Hong Kong HR professionals leading this vision for change,” notes Sullivan. Furthermore, he adds that, data can be leveraged to provide an organisation with a competitive edge, especially in the areas of employee recruitment, retention and engagement. A prime example is the use of datasets to identify workforce talent gaps that can be strengthened through training and hiring strategies, a process that Sullivan describes as “getting the right people on the bus and having them sit in the right seats.”

With no turning back from an increasingly technology-driven world-of-work, Sullivan believes the HR function could be missing a major opportunity if they fail to make use of technology applications to interact and engage with employees. For instance, in a similar way that companies focus effort and resources on building relationships with customers, Sullivan says the HR function can use technology to strengthen relationships with employees. For instance, with the ability to collect, track and analyse datasets, pulse surveys can be a powerful tool for developing and measuring employee engagement.

Unlike traditional paper-based employee surveys, pulse surveys tend to be short and usually consists of no more than 10 questions Thanks to cloud software, Sullivan says pulse surveys consisting of a few questions that focus on a specific area sent through a company app is a good way of gaining insights into morale and the “feelings” of employees. “Receiving timely feedback means that employee insights can be understood and responded to,” says Sullivan who points out that various surveys highlight a culture of asking for employee feedback helps to foster happier and more engaged employees, which in turn boosts productivity and reduces talent turnover.