The key to harnessing unstructured data? Visualisation

Every business has unstructured data but how many organisations fully understand how to unlock its value? While unstructured data has traditionally been regarded as of lesser amount than its more orderly cousin, that’s starting to change. The value of unstructured data is quickly rising because as it grows unabated (Gartner expects growth of 800% over the next five years), it also holds a higher level of vital information within it. But why is it only now that organisations are trying to unlock this? And what’s the key to success?

As its name implies, structured data is disciplined, predictable, and repeatable. It generally consists of numerical information and is objective, easily organised and can be broken down into labelled rows and columns that are easy to input, store, use, digest, and analyse. About 20% of all data used in business decisions is structured data.

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Unstructured data, on the other hand, tends to be human-generated and people-oriented content – such as emails, reports, spreadsheets, medical records, in addition to data created by the Internet of Things (IoT), social media, and mobile apps – that doesn’t slot neatly into database tables. With no format, structure, or repeatability, it is difficult to store, compile, and analyse.

The question has to be then: why bother?

Benefits of unlocking unstructured data

The value of unstructured data is increasing because while analysis of structured data may be able to tell you what it is, that’s happening, analysing unstructured data gives you the why. Yet despite the valuable opportunities it holds, unstructured information is currently not being used to its full potential. A recent 451 Research survey commissioned by data-in-motion specialist Logtrust revealed that, while 89% of IT managers said they’d made structured data initiatives a high priority for their organisations, only 43% said the same of unstructured data initiatives.

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But to ignore unstructured data means missing out on potential business intelligence that can drive growth. Structured data holds revenue performance figures and operational metrics, yet unstructured data can show deeper insights such as customer feedback. Do customers love or hate a new product, for example, or what is known about new rival products and services?

With IDG Research predicting that by 2022, 93% of all digital data will be unstructured, this has serious implications not only for current and future data management but IT security too. Up to 78% of organisations have little or no understanding of what is going on across their unstructured data yet, without proper visibility into who does what and who accesses what, it’s almost impossible to keep sensitive data under control, which of course raises concerns relating to compliance with data protection and privacy laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

What’s more, because unstructured data is far more accessible and easier to share than structured data, it poses a significant risk in terms of vulnerability from cyber-attacks. With unstructured data spread across an organisation’s infrastructure and different devices in many different forms, it’s easy picking for hackers.

So what’s the answer? Data visualisation.

Dashboards turn unstructured data into something useful

One of the reasons that these business intelligence tools are so popular is that they offer a consolidated, visual display of all of a company’s data. By integrating data from multiple sources – both structured and unstructured – dashboards allow you to get an understanding of the whole picture, effectively corralling unstructured data and turning it into something useful.

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By taking large volumes of structured and unstructured data and turning it into easily digestible reports, dashboards deliver the insights that provide businesses with a competitive advantage. The ability to support data from multiple sources and join or overlay the results enables organisations to see their structured data figures. It also empowers users to learn more about the unstructured data behind them by drilling down to a more detailed view, enabling them to both address issues and harness opportunities. Combining structured and unstructured data means you can not only see, quickly and clearly, how an organisation is doing in real-time but also why this is happening and take any necessary corrective actions.

What’s more, with remote working continuing to rise, having this kind of information easily accessible via desktop, laptop, mobile or tablet, means that users can view data whenever and wherever they choose. This enables a greater range of people throughout the organisation to make sense of unstructured data more easily, with the likelihood of uncovering more valuable insights.

It’s time for organisations to face facts; the pool of unstructured data is only going to get deeper. Without visualisation, they run the risks of drowning in information, failing to keep up with competitors, and putting themselves at risk of both compliance and security breaches. Visualisation is your lifeline, use it.

Sourced by Robert Dagge, Managing Director at Dynistics

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future