December 14, 2022
Successful businesses or organizations are always busy. They’re always employing the talents of their people to deliver the best outcomes, either for customers (in the private sector) or for citizens (in the public sector). They can do this in direct proportion to the abilities and skills those people have, and the effectiveness of the tools they’re able to use. The effectiveness of those tools is invariably tied into how they exploit data.
Yet so much remains unexploited.
Imagine that a client emails a salesperson with a heads-up about possible requirements that may materialize in say the next eighteen months. That could be a pretty valuable insight into the future relationship between the two companies. The problem is, the insight faces a fork in the road ahead of it.
Does it get logged, recorded, labeled, and ‘data-based’ or does the salesperson think “that’s good to know” and leave the email in the Old Emails folder? All remains good, however–some diligent and time-consuming searching at a later date may reveal the conversation–but then the salesperson leaves the company, or the client does.
The comment may have been worth nothing, just idle banter. It also may have been worth thousands of dollars, or tens of thousands. Ho Hum; off it went into the unstructured universe, and fizzled out.
Unstructured Data Is Not…
Is that a shame, or is it a broken link in the chain? If the latter, then the chain needs a bit of attention. Unstructured data is that which has not been seized and classified, and so is outside of structured relational databases and has not been subject to any sort of data taxonomy (“…hierarchical groups to create structure, standardize terminology, and popularize a dataset within an organization”). In short, unstructured data is not doing the job it could be doing; the job you want and need it to do.
That chain mentioned above is what enables your organization to harness its data to the highest degree. That annoying link problem may be something you never know about. You may never know you could have done better, or that no matter how efficient you believe your data governance to be, you’ll never be aware of what you missed.
Once you acknowledge that unstructured data is just a more scientific way of describing the lost opportunity,then nothing will seep through the cracks.
The power of the business or organization leans heavily on how the entity is structured around, and in line, with its mission. Where the structure is only loosely defined, forward momentum may not be as dynamic as it could be.
This is why the nature of work in a digital world is increasingly enriched by applications that facilitate collaboration, workflows that minimize the effort to maximize speed, and automation that removes the tedium of tasks to liberate people’s capabilities.
If data is loosely, or non-defined, the possibility of a momentum restraint also arises. Despite all the technology an organization may invest in to drive innovation, or improve customer experiences, while also managing risk (not least non-compliance), if it’s under-exploiting its data, it’s undermining the return on such investments.
A statistic that has passed into the vernacular of all discussions around unstructured data is that 80 percent of data is unstructured, or soon will be. Pretty interesting when you think about the remaining 20 percent.
No organization would be relaxed about its operations running at 20 percent efficiency or that it achieved 20 percent of its target. Yet, as a broad average, only 20 percent of its data is easily and readily accessible and valuable. Given the value of data to business, you’d have thought that is untenable. You may have thought also that surely it cannot be too difficult to ratchet that 20 percent figure up and lessen the restraint on forward momentum implicit in having information and not using it.
Structure your approach to unstructured data
Apart from granting permission for inefficiencies to reside within your business, your practices, or even your culture, with equanimity (hey, 20 percent analytic insight isn’t too shabby is it?) you may also be unwittingly planting little flags that will attract the attention of the regulators.
If giant chunks of your data are unstructured, do you have much of an idea of where and how they may be contravening regulations and compliance obligations? The chances are, you may not.
Even more of a concern is that due to the largely random nature of unstructured data, there’s a good chance it lies outside your security protocols; stored on individual devices, even employees’ personal devices, or in diverse systems, scattered in silos across the organization. Hackers look for these weaknesses; nothing they get more excited about than a broken chain.
Power from the people
Unstructured data doesn’t just spontaneously self-generate. People create it in their everyday communications. As with the example of the salesperson who overlooked the enormous value of the heads-up from the client, many see the by-product of their daily communications as being only passingly relevant. You have to decide if this is their decision to make. If it isn’t, then it’s time to introduce file-naming conventions and storage protocols to bring the data within the realms of structure. It’s time to ratchet up that 20 percent.
Whilst introducing efficiency disciplines to your culture you need to do the same with your data; bringing it into a standards-based, extensible format. With standards applied the data becomes searchable, it can be queried, and information you may never even know you had can enrich your decisions.
Unstructured Data has become an accepted term but it shouldn’t be an accepted facet of your data approach. Think of it rather as Unacceptable Data and then all you have to do is make it not just acceptable, but valuable; because that’s what much of it probably has been all the time it has been sitting there.