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Visualisation: the key to unlocking the true value of unstructured data 

Andy Richardson
financial

Unstructured data 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, leaving many organisations to question if unstructured data really holds any value at all. Contributor Andy Richardson, CEO – Dynistics. 

The fact is that every business has unstructured data lurking in its systems; analysts from Gartner have estimated that upward of 80 percent of enterprise data is unstructured. However, many organisations aren’t aware of the volume of unstructured data they actually possess, and because of this, many don’t fully understand how to unlock its value. While unstructured data has traditionally been regarded as of lesser amount than its more orderly relative, that’s starting to change. The volume of unstructured data is quickly rising – by as much as 800 percent in the coming years – and with this comes the increase in its value, too. But why is it only now that organisations are trying to unlock this and what’s the key to success?

Benefits of unlocking unstructured data
Whilst analysis of structured data may be able to tell you what’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 survey from 451 Research last year revealed that, while 89 percent of IT managers said they’d made structured data initiatives a high priority for their organisations, only 43 percent said the same of unstructured data initiatives.

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? And, what about other stakeholder feedback? In the education sector, feedback from staff, parents and pupils is vital for schools and colleges to take stock of what they’re doing and the impact it’s having, which in turn can be communicated to the leadership team or Governors to influence change.

Preparing for the future
IDG Research predicts that by 2022, 93 percent of all digital data will be unstructured, which has serious implications not only for current and future data management but IT security too. Many organisations have little or no understanding of what is going on across their unstructured data yet, and 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?

Enter data visualisation
One of the reasons that 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 – visualisation allows organisations to get an understanding of the whole picture, effectively corralling unstructured data and turning it into something useful.

By taking large volumes of structured and unstructured data and turning it into easily digestible reports, organisations are able to gain insights that provide a true 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 organisations can not only see, quickly and clearly, how various departments in a business are 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.


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