The Pitfalls and Possibilities of Unstructured Data

Unstructured data is a huge beast – indeed, it makes up about 80% of all data out there and is produced in vast amounts on a daily basis, meaning storing this information is costly. In this post, we take a look at the possibilities and pitfalls surrounding the mass of unstructured data.

The major problem is that companies largely don’t understand unstructured data and so aren’t getting as much bang for their buck when it comes to analysis, trends and customer insight. Those companies that have found a way to utilize this mine of information are finding themselves ahead of the curve.

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A report published by Aberdeen Group revealed that businesses using unstructured data were 60% happy with their ability to share said data and half were pleased with the accessibility, compared with 18% and 20%, respectively, of companies who hardly ever used unstructured data.

However, if it were possible – or even feasible – to transform unstructured data to structured, then harvesting the intelligence from the former would be easy. But structured data is similar to machine language, making information easier to deal with (like a spreadsheet, for instance) when using a computer. Unstructured data is usually in the form of human-made content, which doesn’t adhere to the usual strict, database formats so loved by structured data. The fact is, structured data is “relational,” so conforms to formats that allows pieces of data to be matched up to provide information.

So what is this unstructured data we speak of? Well, it is made up of everything that isn’t clearly defined records or that are created with an existing data model. Unstructured data is largely text that comes out of the digital sphere – things like social media. So, when a consumer mentions a product or company via a post on Twitter, for example, that comment becomes unstructured data that can be picked over to uncover important insights. However, it isn’t just limited to text – videos and pictures are all part of the unstructured cauldron too.

Another place that unstructured data likes to hang out is customer-generated content. By that we mean online reviews, comments on forums, feedback forms or enquiries and phone calls to customer services. These nuggets of information are unstructured data – regardless of format – and again can be very revealing if studied, understood and presented back in a user-friendly way. Put simply, unstructured data involves sifting through pools of information scattered in an unformatted was to glean insights on and the preferences of customers.

Because of its unstructured nature, tackling such a behemoth can be daunting, especially as the results aren’t guaranteed. So why would you waste your time?

The answer is that these golden nuggets that lurk in this unkempt pile of nonsense, could be the game-changer that your business is looking for. It could be the difference between your organization sinking or swimming – that and the prize that every business should strive for: customer satisfaction.

Unstructured data gives you a chance to really listen to your customers; it’s better than trying to second-guess their feelings and intentions. Those blog comments or tweets could be the information you and your team have been looking for.

Of course, once you discover your customer’s intentions and feelings, you can use that data to work on retention and satisfaction. Added to that, one of your customers might have a brilliant idea that could lead to your organization identifying and innovating a solution to cover a gap in the market. Creating the perfect customer experience should be at the heart of every company’s business strategy – unstructured data can help you achieve that, once you know how to crack the code.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding our Big Data practice or Technology Consultancy, and how we can help your organization make the most of the wealth of information available to you, please do get in touch with me – Ian Goodman – on: 07495 829 158 or drop me an email: ian.goodman(at) gibbshybrid (dot) com

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Ian Goodman
Ian Goodman is head of technology consultancy at Gibbs Hybrid.

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