In the public and private sectors alike, information silos have high potential to cause negative consequences. Information silos are policies, technological shortcomings, geographic divisions, and other aspects of workplace culture that preclude the free exchange of information between relevant organizations and departments therein. For government organizations, an inbuilt tendency to hold certain data close to the vest can keep agencies with close working relationships from sharing critical knowledge with one another.
As most experienced responders will say, any mundane policy or practice that slows the acquisition of data can add complexity to the job, whatever the job may be. For one example, a lack of real-time data on potential hazard exposure may prevent firefighting teams and their respective commands from making the best possible decisions in the field. Applied at the organizational level, roadblocks like these can become glaring inefficiencies, with increased financial and performance costs that spread throughout the agency.
While intentional design and self-served reasoning may routinely cause certain data silos in first response, others simply occur when systems are not built explicitly to facilitate information sharing. Access must be accounted for in a governance system defined by numerous interrelated agencies, all of which create mountains of documentation by design. This is one reason why the TMS has become such an attractive proposition for agencies looking to de-siloize: considering the number of ways training and documentation touch on the organization’s ability to operate, anything that allows for faster access and centralized management has immediate value.
Exploring the causes of siloization in first response
As noted above, siloization can occur for any number of reasons in first response, with numerous intentional and inherent factors contributing to a lack of appropriate data sharing. In many ways, the huge number of factors contributing to siloed data represents the diversity of information a given responder may need access to in the course of their duties. In the same way government agencies must cooperate to achieve the best possible outcomes, so too must the data they generate.
However, the consequences of siloization can have serious consequences. For one tragic example, the 9/11 Commission’s famous report outlines several instances of the FBI, CIA, and other agencies withholding information that, in hindsight, might have altered the course of history. Unfortunately, many of the issues brought to light in the 9/11 Commission report continue to occur at the federal, state, and local levels to this day. Most pertinent is the simple idea that, in a system designed to generate large amounts of information, classifying, storing, and predicting every piece of data that may hold some sort of value becomes impossible. In the report, this idea is raised in the context of deciding which information should be included in presidential briefings. In other branches of response, meanwhile, searching numerous databases for all of a suspect’s aliases or combing through electronic health records (EHRs) for a specific aspect of a patient’s history in the field may present similar problems.
A lack of interoperability between systems may also lead to unintentional siloization. While it is not strictly a first response industry, healthcare’s continued struggles to integrate EHR systems reflects the challenges faced by modern responder organizations. Because a given healthcare facility’s electronic systems may differ wildly from another system, achieving even basic interplay can require a disruptive measure of manual intervention. A nurse may have to call in order to request a new patient’s records be faxed instead of accessing a shared database housing the information, for example.
In this instance, the silo represents increased difficulty in accessing data instead of a total inability to see it. To revisit an above example, the firefighter attempting to access structural or hazard data en route to a fire scene may experience significant difficulty finding what they need—let alone accomplishing this on the go—if multiple systems are not explicitly designed to share relevant data. By the same token, a detective needing to access a large amount of data from a court system or similar agency in the same municipality will undoubtedly have a harder time accessing what they need when electronic systems do not intermesh.
Basic human nature and the intuition’s natural tendency to take self-protecting measures may exacerbate the problems listed above. In the 9/11 Commission report, then-FBI Deputy Director Robert Bryant is paraphrased expressing a belief among government employees that too much information sharing [can] be a career stopper.” Confusion regarding information-sharing law and policy, along with fear of career repercussions if the wrong information is given to cooperating agencies, added to the clandestine attitudes highlighted in the report. Although a municipal response organization may have less need for secrecy than the average agency, there is no doubt a combination of privacy laws, state and local statutes, and even inter-agency competition or mistrust may lend themselves to similar concerns at the sub-federal level.
Even taking human concerns out of contention, however, it is still clear that siloization should be a major area of focus for any modern first response agency. Many such issues call back to the idea of interoperability. As with public-sector organizations, government entities have come to rely on a large-and-growing number of electronic solutions in the past several decades, each system that serves as an island unto itself. Tools that store or create data with no regard for other systems that may need to access it has potential to become another problematic silo in the end.
Training, documentation, and centralization: How Acadis combats siloization
Besides giving law enforcement officers, EMT professionals, firefighters, and others the continuing knowledge they need to serve the public effectively, training and related records can shield the organization from legal liability. It can also serve as a stepping-stone or division point when creating specialized posts, such as the mental health-related training needed to create and deploy a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model within the community.
From these factors alone, it is easy to imagine how a de-siloized method of data dissemination and access would be beneficial within a rigorously-trained, highly-accountable first response agency. Being able to produce training records electronically and on-demand is a benefit unto itself. However, when we explore the meta aspects of training—that is, the logistical and data-centric aspects of training management—the benefits of a modern TMS like Acadis become even more apparent.
Looking through the list of benefits and associated modules Acadis offers, centralization becomes a running theme: the decidedly cohesive ability to quickly view, manage, and administer various data and tasks from a single point. By giving stakeholders the ability to manipulate several systems’ worth of data, the organization can manage the errata of training far more efficiently, leading to productivity and financial benefits that would not be possible with disparate electronic systems or manual processes.
Take scheduling, a cumbersome process that observers outside first response may never even consider. While getting responders, trainers, and equipment in the same room—let alone booking the room itself—can require constant negotiation and tweaking via generic tools, Acadis intermeshes the task. With the right modules in place, the platform can check availability for human and material resources alike, then use the data to automatically build schedules that optimize availability on both ends. Compared to emailing back-and-forth and constant edits of generic calendar tools, a centralized, non-siloed approach can cut the time personnel spend on scheduling by up to 90 percent.
Then there is compliance management, a time-intensive practice that can involve data from numerous disparate systems. Checking an individual employee’s qualifications against the skills needed for a task can take an inordinate amount of time and effort, with each tick in the box requiring a different step: checking age against paper personnel files, generalized training in the current standalone LMS, and specialized skills against the individual offices providing the training, for example.
Meanwhile, the Acadis Compliance module vastly simplifies the steps needed to ensure the skills and trainings available match the situation calling for them. Instead of poring over multiple sources, decision-makers can simply include the criteria they wish to search for, and filter from a pool of current personnel. This can be a huge boon for harried supervisors, especially in crises and other situations where time is limited and immediate response is required.
Other times, physical separation, such as a main location attempting to check a field office’s training data may create unintentional silos if the appropriate digital solutions are not in place. Acadis portals give stakeholders and their personnel a simplified way to view, add, and edit data that would otherwise require manual entry or access to disparate systems. The Acadis Online Registration Portal, for instance, enables employees to register directly for courses while In-Service Reporting Portal helps relevant personnel monitor training compliance from a centralized location.
Finally, personnel are not the only thing that need effective management in a competent training regimen. Inventory management—including availability, condition, certification, and chain of custody—are also a critical part of readiness. Acadis Inventory meshes these tasks into the TMS, turning a burdensome individual task into an integrated aspect of your larger training efforts: instead of verifying via paper records that range weaponry has been adequately maintained, for example, a stakeholder could confirm verification through the platform, or assign various ready-tagged items for designation during emergencies.
Siloization is not a single-cause phenomenon, or even an intentional one in most cases. Instead, numerous factors can create an environment where information is hard or impossible to access through the preferred channels. In turn, this can make carrying out mission-critical tasks that much harder. It is difficult to check personnel qualifications against the skills an emerging event requires when their data is locked away in a combination of isolated computer systems and file cabinets.
Taken through the lens of training, an upgraded TMS like Acadis breaks the silo walls, so to speak, and does it in several ways. By streamlining, intermeshing, and automating information-related tasks that are unnecessarily difficult in their current state, the platform and its modules introduce efficiencies that might be unreachable otherwise—a considerable benefit in a first response field undergoing rapid technological innovation. If siloization has kept your organization from achieving a desired level of training- or readiness-related efficiency, contact Envisage and see what Acadis can do for you.