How to make progress on managing unstructured data

Long-time Forrester analyst and Elastic CIO discuss strategies for realising value from data with search-powered technology

We asked a longtime CIO and a leading analyst whether organisations today are getting results that matter from all of their data, and the conversation was illuminating. 

Less than 20 per cent of enterprise data is finding its way into applications that provide actionable insights for businesses, estimates guest Boris Evelson, vice-president and principal analyst at Forrester. There are “a lot of opportunities for all of us,” he said. 

A recent study of technology leaders, conducted by Forrester Consulting and commissioned by Elastic, found that managing unstructured data was the top challenge respondents are trying to address with search-powered technology today.

Evelson and Matthew Minetola, a CIO for 20+ years, now at Elastic, recommended three strategies to make progress in addressing this challenge. By applying search-powered technology to unify, visualise, and scale data, organisations can start to tap into that data opportunity.

Unify data

For 77 per cent of survey respondents, information silos prevent them from using data to accelerate business growth. Organisations with structured data in data warehouses and unstructured data in data lakes may require different tools for analysing and managing data. Search-powered technology can offer a unifying layer that brings structured and unstructured data together.

“As the CIO, your job is to be able to provide the information a business needs in order to make decisions,” Minetola said. “The ability to now see into that 80 per cent of the data and make decisions based off that . . . is significant.”

Unifying data can help accelerate digital transformation — an objective for which 84 per cent of organisations say they rely on search-powered technology. When thinking about all the data sources an organisation needs to grapple with as part of its transformation, it makes sense. For instance, consider a bank with thousands of computer systems in over a hundred countries. 

“You need technologies that close silos,” Evelson said. “Whenever we talk about digital transformation, data and analytics platforms that unify everything that I just talked about, like search-powered technologies, are at the top of everyone’s mind.”

Visualise and take action

Search-powered technology should bring two critical capabilities to the table: a visualisation layer and machine learning. Visualisation improves the ability to extract insights from large volumes of data. “It’s one thing to be able to have data,” Minetola said. “It’s another thing to understand it.” Furthermore, machine learning such as natural language processing or vector search can help join data sources to create more relevance and context. 

Together, these capabilities can help organisations be more adaptive and responsive in real time, as opposed to predefining database queries upfront and relying on historical views. Minetola describes the change as progressing from looking at data “in the rearview mirror to looking at it through the front windshield.

“Without the ability to link that data, to see that data, and understand it in real time and action it and be able to make insights and create relevance, I don’t know how in today’s world, let alone tomorrow’s world, a company is going to be able to survive,” Minetola said.

Scale with cloud

Cloud, as Minetola said, enables “the ability to scale up . . . and not worry about where a limit is” when it comes to storing and managing data. When asked which features are most important to the success of their next search-powered solution, 85 per cent of respondents named high storage capacity and a cloud-based platform. 

McKinsey identifies the potential value of innovation driven by cloud computing at $770bn, including faster product development and hyper-scalability. Imagine being able to see telemetry data on what people are doing on a website, then tying that to product data, and then being able to see product utilisation over time. By massively scaling with search-powered technology on the cloud, there are ways to better understand patterns of behaviour and apply those insights to product innovation.

Aspiring to insights-driven business

Using search-powered technology to grasp the 80 per cent of data just beyond our fingertips can help organisations be more insights-driven. Evelson explained that being an insights-driven business goes even further than being data-driven. 

A data-driven business transforms data into metrics and indicators. An insights-driven business makes decisions based on those indicators. For 83 per cent of organisations, search-powered technology delivers important insights that improve the speed of decision-making. From those decisions stem actions.

“And then, hopefully,” Evelson said, “those actions are affecting tangible business outcomes.”

Download the study to learn more about how search-powered technology is enabling the digital future of business.

This article was written as part of a content campaign with Elastic.


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