How to Manage Unstructured Data Successfully

Have you ever thought about the amount of data surrounding you daily? How about your business life? Here are some staggering stats.

Every second of 2020, Facebook users sent 150,000 messages, while YouTube users uploaded 500 hours of videos (according to the Data Never Sleeps report).

The question is, how is it possible to handle content that’s out of your control and use it for your business benefit? That’s when unstructured data management comes into play. First, let’s look at what unstructured data is and what benefits it can bring.

What Is Unstructured Data?

Unstructured data is any type of information that is not stored in a traditional database or spreadsheet. Examples of unstructured files include text (e.g., user reviews, documents, or social media chat history) and non-text content (e.g., visuals and sound).

Even though unstructured documentation plays a crucial role in the growth of organizations, proper management is still a challenge for the vast majority of businesses. According to the survey results provided by SailPoint in collaboration with Dimensional Research, 99 percent of respondents experience challenges in managing unstructured data sets.

Structured Data vs. Unstructured Data vs. Semi-Structured Data: What Is the Difference?

The well-known term ‘big data’ comprises three data types: structured, unstructured, and semi-structured.

  • Structured data is well-organized and often contains numbers. In other words, it is already built in some structure (spreadsheets, PoS systems, SQL databases, etc.).
  • Unstructured data is not that simple. It usually consists of large quantities of text, images, or sounds that you can’t put into a spreadsheet right away.
  • Semi-structured data also can’t be inserted into a spreadsheet but is still organized to some extent using categorization, meta tags, or hashtags.

What Are the Key Benefits of Unstructured Data Management for Your Business?

We’ve defined the various data types, including unstructured data, but what is unstructured data management? These are activities aimed at collecting, organizing, and structuring files that have no established structure in the first place.

And here’s why it’s beneficial to your business:

1. Optimized workflow. With a system in place for managing unstructured data, your employees will always know where to find required information and how to use it.

2. Improved decision-making. Your employees will make professional decisions based on gathered facts.

3. Polished customer experience. Unstructured data management tools allow you to constantly monitor client communication channels: phone calls, live chats, reviews, emails, etc.

4. Safer information environment. Complete information transparency and regular backups significantly reduce the risk of cyberattacks.

5. Clear market vision. Social media and blog posts, press releases, or customer reviews of your competitors — you will quickly analyze all of these using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies.

6. Timely regulatory compliance. If your unstructured information is always on display, you’ll be aware of the areas that need to meet legal requirements.

How to Manage Unstructured Data Successfully

Clearly, the benefits are worth making unstructured data management a priority. Now, how does it all happen? Below, we have a six-step guide that shows you the unstructured data management process from start to finish.

1. Define your goal and required type of content

Gathering and structuring information should serve a definite purpose in your company. First, ask yourself why you need to keep unstructured data in order.

You probably don’t need to collect all the documents right away, but instead, focus on a certain type that fits your current needs. Start there and move step by step from one foreground issue to another.

2. Consider your business needs and capabilities

Now let’s look broadly at your business. There are several things to consider beforehand:

1. What security level is required for this type of information?

2. What budget for data management do you have at the moment?

3. Are there crucial business strategy points to keep in mind?

3. Take care of the storage space

Your answers to the questions above will help you decide on the storage space to use. The most popular data storage types are:

  • Public cloud: this option has the easiest accessibility and scalability. When your documentation grows, you can buy more space in no time.
  • On-premises hardware: a company buys a server and stores critically important files in-house.
  • The hybrid approach includes using the first two options for different purposes.

To make your storage user-friendly, provide it with metadata and a search feature with filters.

4. Clean up collected information

Unstructured data usually doesn’t follow any order and contains mistakes and extra characters that create challenges for AI algorithms. Hashtags, misspellings, HTML tags — all of it must be cleaned up before analysis starts.

5. Analyze content with AI/ML technology

You can find several ready-made solutions available on the market or create your own with a development team, depending on your initial goals. Sometimes, it’s better to have a custom tool if your business needs differ from the standard market demands.

6. Use the info to your advantage

Often, unstructured data analysis brings in unexpected results that hint at your organization’s weak spots. This is your golden opportunity — use these insights to fill in existing gaps.

Visit our blog to find more information on how to manage unstructured data, including possible challenges, detailed examples of unstructured info, and popular tools to use.