5 Strategies for Managing Unstructured Data

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Managing unstructured data is crucial for companies to unlock valuable insights, improve decision-making, and enhance efficiency. Strategies like understanding data, cleaning, enriching, organizing, and using standards-based tools can maximize the value of unstructured data.

One of the major challenges today’s companies face is trying to harness unstructured data, digital information that can’t be stored efficiently in relational databases because it doesn’t use pre-set data models.

Most companies have been accumulating massive amounts of unstructured data, including images, audio or video clips, emails, social media, documents, and more for years. And as such, they’re sitting on a treasure trove of data that they’re not putting to good use.

All this data contains valuable information that can help organizations make better, more informed business decisions, enhance their processes and products, and operate more efficiently.

However, because of the volume, variety, and velocity of unstructured data, organizations often find it difficult to uncover the insights they need to make the best business decisions. Additionally, the quality of this unstructured data is not as good as the quality of structured data, which means companies need to clean and enrich it to make it usable.

Challenges of Unstructured Data Management

Companies face a number of challenges when it comes to managing their unstructured data. These include:

  • Data stored in silos: Each department or team typically collects its own data and stores it in different formats and in different systems. However, enterprises should store their data in one location so workers can access it quickly.
  • The quality of the data: Unstructured data often needs to be cleaned before it can be organized. It can be challenging for companies to clean and prepare massive amounts of data; however, data cleaning is necessary to get the most out of the data.
  • Costs of data: As organizations’ unstructured data increases, they’ll need to store it somewhere, which adds to the costs of managing their data. Companies should compress their data to reduce the amount of storage and minimize the amount of space they’ll use. This helps organizations manage their data efficiently and keep costs down.

Why Companies Should Manage Their Unstructured Data

Companies can use unstructured data to analyze customers’ social media behaviors to help them develop more targeted marketing campaigns, for example, by identifying the demographics of customers talking about certain products. Organizations can also analyze contact center audio recordings to uncover marketing insights.

Having a good data management strategy for collecting, organizing, and analyzing unstructured data can help enterprises increase productivity because employees know where the data they need is located. Workers can search that data easily because it’s all in one place.

Also, companies that use tools to analyze unstructured data in real-time are able to detect critical issues quickly and take action to resolve them. And organizations that ensure their unstructured data is organized and up to date are better able to maintain compliance with current standards and regulations.

The bottom line: Organizations that manage their unstructured data effectively can glean more value from that data and translate it into business opportunities.

Here are five strategies to help organizations manage their unstructured data:

Know Your Data

To effectively manage their unstructured data, companies must first understand their data and establish visibility into such things as:

  • How much data they have
  • Who owns the data
  • Who is able to access the data
  • How old the data is
  • Where the data is stored
  • What types of information the data contains
  • What it costs to store the data

This visibility is key since unstructured data is typically housed in data silos, which means each department stores its own audio, video, documents, application data, reports, etc., making it difficult to share across the business. If companies don’t know what unstructured data they have, they can’t make informed decisions about how to manage it. (Also Read: Data Silos: What They Are and How to Deal With Them)

Clean Your Data

Organizations need to clean their unstructured data before they can organize it. Duplicate, unreliable, outdated, or inaccurate data leads to poor quality data that will alter the results when organizations analyze their unstructured data. Cleaning their unstructured data is critical for companies to get the most out of their unstructured data.

Companies should use data cleaning (also called data cleansing) and scrubbing tools to get rid of obsolete, redundant, inaccurate, incomplete, and/or irrelevant data. Eliminating this surplus data enables companies to more easily sort through and assess the pertinent data in their systems. Cleaning their unstructured data makes it easier for organizations to handle the data because it also fixes structural errors and typos.

Enrich Your Data

Data enrichment improves the accuracy of data analysis by combining organizations’ data with additional data from other sources, including external third-party sources. This allows companies to amass more data points to enable more informed decision-making by enhancing the existing data. Enriching data, or adding data to data, brings structure to unstructured data, improves its reliability, and makes it more valuable.

Organize and Catalog Your Data

To retrieve the data they need quickly, companies should organize and catalog their unstructured data. There are numerous cloud-based content management systems that automate organizing, cataloging, and storing unstructured data files, making it easy for users to access and search the data. As this is an easy solution to implement, companies should consider this strategy when it comes to managing their unstructured data.

Use Standards-Based Data Management Tools

Companies should choose tools to manage their unstructured data that are based on standards. This ensures that they can migrate their data from one platform to another platform without relying on specific vendors to enable that functionality. Managing unstructured data with management tools based on standards is particularly important considering data platforms and tools are constantly evolving.


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Linda Rosencrance
Technology journalist
Linda Rosencrance
Technology journalist

Linda Rosencrance is a freelance writer and editor based in the Boston area, with expertise ranging from AI and machine learning to cybersecurity and DevOps. She has been covering IT topics since 1999 as an investigative reporter working for several newspapers in the Boston metro area. Before joining Techopedia in 2022, her articles have appeared in TechTarget, MSDynamicsworld.com, TechBeacon, IoT World Today, Computerworld, CIO magazine, and many other publications. She also writes white papers, case studies, ebooks, and blog posts for many corporate clients, interviewing key players, including CIOs, CISOs, and other C-suite execs.