Unstructured data: We keep hearing about what it is and how we need to be ready for it. But what’s the buzz about, and why should organizations care? Here, we’ll talk a bit more about the “why” of its growth, importance, and challenges. 

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1. Soon, The Volume of Unstructured Data Will Outweigh Structured Data

According to most estimates, unstructured data will account for 80% of all data in the next two to three years. It’s leading many organizations to wonder if they’re even ready for the unstructured data explosion

Unstructured data is information contained in your emails, online team chat conversations, free-form notes about specific service calls, internet of things (IoT) sensor data, satellite data, video and image files, and more. This data represents a vast untapped resource for organizations that have the tools to extract its value.

2. Its Growth Will Only Compound as Modern Technologies Advance

These data volumes are growing more than 27% annually, and that figure is likely to increase with emerging digital technologies that are just gaining steam, such as autonomous vehicles, chatbots, and data-hungry virtual reality applications. Other innovations are also big generators of unstructured data, such as the IoT and its many smart sensors, biometric scans, ticker info, and more.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools need extra-large data sets to refine their results. The more relevant data you can feed them, the better. These tools also create a substantial amount of unstructured data as output. 

3. It’s Tricky to Store And Manage

To avoid data sprawl, some organizations are even beginning to delete or overwrite this unstructured data because they don’t have room to store it. But simply adding storage capacity won’t be enough to manage your ever-growing collection of data.  

Others dump it because they don’t have the tools to extract its value. It’s not just about storing unstructured data, it also requires a modern data platform that makes it simple to utilize your data and can help you consolidate, organize, and optimize it. Legacy storage appliances aren’t equipped to accommodate the needs of modern unstructured data. This poses some challenges. IDG’s survey discovered that the top challenges of effectively storing and managing unstructured data are: 

  • Cost and complexity (81%)
  • Limited IT resources (76%)
  • Scalability (75%)

4. It Has Immense Business Value

One trend seems certain: Business conditions aren’t going to get any simpler in the months and years ahead. Faster, smarter, and even real-time decision-making will be crucial, and leveraging unstructured data will be at the center of digital success.

Unstructured data is incredibly valuable when it’s used effectively. It can deliver insights into every aspect of your business to show you where to streamline, adapt, and pivot. Using those insights, you can significantly improve: 

  • Overall decision-making
  • Business operations
  • Customer interactions
  • Bottom-line financial results
  • Competitive advantage
  • Regulatory and compliance requirements

Your unstructured data holds a wealth of next-generation business intelligence (BI) and operational intelligence (OI). This intelligence is the catalyst that drives innovation across the organization, including R&D, customer experience, marketing, productivity, security, and compliance/regulation.

5. It’s Going to be Critical to Successful Innovation and Digital Transformation

In a study of IT decision-makers conducted by Pure Storage and Bredin Research, a majority of enterprise respondents said they leverage internal and external data to generate business insights and analyze potential opportunities. But of that group, 38% said that while they have the data, it’s not structured or accessible, making insights hard to obtain. Some even cited this as a key barrier to digital transformation success: 

  • 36% cited non-digitized data as a key barrier
  • 33% cited their inability to analyze or learn from their data as a key barrier
  • 35% said they lack timely access to the data needed to drive transformation strategies

The whole point of storing, organizing, managing, and analyzing unstructured data is to ultimately use it to help your business grow and succeed. In fact, it might be the very thing that sets you apart from competitors. 

5. It’s Exacerbating the Skills Gap

The more unstructured data becomes central to innovation and successful digital transformation, the more organizations will need talent with the breadth and depth to understand it. 

In a Harvard Business Review article, the authors argue that “Transformation almost certainly involves understanding new types of unstructured data (e.g., a driver-supplied picture of damage to a car), massive quantities of data external to your company, leveraging proprietary data, and integrating everything together, all while shedding enormous quantities of data that have never been (and never will be) used,” which requires talent skilled in data science. 

But organizations also need data management solutions that can put insights in the hands of non-data scientists—creating citizen data scientists on the front lines. “Even more important is the ability to convince large numbers of people at the front lines of organizations to take on new roles as data customers and data creators,” the authors note, adding, “It also means helping frontline workers to improve their own work processes and tasks such that they create data correctly.” 

Unstructured Data Will Be Innovation Fuel for the Future

Businesses that can successfully leverage unstructured data will be able to innovate and adapt to future conditions with more agility and less wasted resources. And the key to that is a modern data platform that can consolidate these unruly data sets with ease and simplicity.

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