In the past years, more of life moved online. So did brands, healthcare, schools, and even government services. This created huge amounts of unstructured data from transactions, customer service inquiries, deliveries, video calls, and web traffic. 

That data didn’t sit idle, though. Unstructured data insights became a vital currency and will continue to be as we move forward and embrace digital transformation. You could say it’s kick-started the unstructured data revolution, and forward-thinking organizations will be the ones using it to their advantage

Here are six ways industries and organizations grew and innovated with unstructured data in the past year:

1) We Listen to (and Understand) Users Better Than Ever

Consumer companies often rely on qualitative consumer research to create new products and campaigns. The last few years made research through in-person focus groups or mystery shopping activities impossible, so qualitative surveys and analytics that harness online chatter to gain insights are the advantage.

Traditionally, very little of the unstructured data from social media chatter—besides quantifiable metrics like shares and likes—has been fully utilized. Thanks to improvements in unstructured data processing, companies are better able to tap into insights contained in the content of conversations online. Tools like sentiment analysis, for instance, help companies learn from consumers and understand how to reach consumers at the right place and time. This was prevalent before, but became a critical capability in the last few years.

Take meal delivery apps, for example, the top four of which doubled their combined revenue during shelter-in-place restrictions. Say a meal is ordered but never arrives. A customer may post online about her experience, and sentiment analysis can help to pinpoint that post and alert someone at the company to address the issue immediately.

2) We’re Improving Healthcare

Unstructured data abounds in the healthcare industry, from doctor dictation to X-ray images to nursing notes to notes in the EHR about patient complaints. This data can provide a wealth of insights that help caregivers deliver a higher quality of care. Now more than ever, these are critical improvements, particularly to support the rise of telemedicine.

Parsing this complex data requires machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and other tools such as text mining and natural language processing (NLP), which enable computers to process and analyze data such as patient notes, uncover contextual layers, and extract insights for better decision making overall. ML’s ability to rapidly dig through and analyze huge volumes of data helps healthcare organizations to identify and address anomalies and outliers more quickly. It empowers caregivers to respond immediately to care gaps and work on prevention, instead of only being able to provide care once a patient’s illness has gotten worse. 

Using unstructured data more effectively in healthcare can lead not only to better patient outcomes, it can also streamline determination of insurance eligibility processes, make reimbursement reviews more accurate, and identify good candidates for clinical trials. It is also enabling modern approaches to healthcare such as predictive and precision medicines.

3) We’re Streamlining How News and Information Is Shared

For media organizations, unstructured data–in the form of articles, photos, videos, audio files, and more–is their business. As early as mid-March 2020, news page views were up 30% from the previous year. The amount of time people spent scrolling, reading, and clicking through articles was also up by 30%¹. Even traditional television news had record-breaking years. With a thirsty audience eager to consume ever-increasing volumes of information, media organizations used unstructured data to deliver the news in more targeted, effective ways. AI and ML helped improve how these organizations generate, produce, publish, and share information. 

AI systems are good at identifying the structure of real news content. They can quickly confirm information by finding additional sources and pinpoint patterns of misinformation to flag articles as potential fake news–which came in very handy for many reasons in 2020. News aggregator companies can employ “truth-checking links and sources” and rate news stories with a score to gauge the likelihood of being legitimate.³

Consider TownNews, a content management platform that helps media organizations deliver the news. The platform processes and analyzes tens of billions of unstructured data points to deliver the insights that drive media to make well-informed decisions about their audiences and the types of news that keep them coming back. 

4) We’ve Enabled a Transition to Remote Work (and School)

As employees rapidly shifted to work-from-home environments, SaaS platforms were challenged with making data transfer efficient and maintaining the quality of their services, given the congested bandwidth.4 This was especially true for video conferencing applications like Zoom, which saw dramatic increases in their user bases early on. Supporting this excess demand was made possible, in part, by the analysis of troves of data that helped providers make the best use of the bandwidth available. 

This improved worker mobility in other ways as well. Live monitoring of unstructured data from video feeds, for example, enabled Zoom to implement features like attendee attention tracking to allay employers’ fears amid an unprecedented workplace shift.5 Take Deakin University—with 60,000 students, 25% of whom attend classes online. They leveraged data to enhance and expand services. As part of a sweeping digital transformation, the university created a high-performance platform for new AI-powered apps, including a virtual assistant to help students manage their schedules. 

5) We’ve Got More Visibility into Disruptions and Delays

From the collection of raw materials to delivering the final product to consumers, supply chains can be long and notoriously complex. Lately, supply chain disruption is on everyone’s minds—but better data collection and analytics can hold the key.

Organizations leveraging advanced analytics have a clear advantage over those that don’t. With robust forecasting models in place, companies can head off gridlock or other problems before they arise. It’s also easier to know when to pivot according to changing conditions, support strategic planning, and adjust procurement processes and vendors to  quickly respond to global supply shortages.

6) We’re Better at Protecting Our Data 

Today’s hackers are definitely organized networks who are doing their homework. Cybercrime increases every year, but during 2020 it increased by a shocking 600%. It turns out that unstructured data8 is pretty easy for hackers to locate and encrypt. It’s critical that organizations: a) know where that unstructured data resides in their systems, b) delete data they don’t need, and c) make sure they strictly control who can access or modify it. 

Bottom line: attackers are innovating year after year, but so are we. Smarter security logs powered by fast, underlying data platforms are helping organizations locate and eliminate threats faster. This means logging everything in a system, around the clock, and rapidly parsing all of that data to find the anomalies before they become a costly attack.

Harness the Power of Unstructured Data – and Thrive

How organizations use their unstructured data will be a critical element and the difference between surviving and thriving in this new digital-first reality, leading to ultimate growth and success for a long time to come. 

Download the paper to learn more: Harnessing Unstructured Data is Critical for Business Success