Unstructured Data

What It Is and Why It’s So Important Today

Focus on data privacy
  • Type: Blog
  • Date: 19/03/2022
  • Author: Rhys Jordan
  • Tags: data security, data discovery, Cybersecurity, Unstructured Data

When managing private and sensitive data, dealing with unstructured data can be challenging. For the most part, this is because of the sheer amount of it a company can generate.

For one, we’ve mentioned that the average employee creates on average over 1,000 files during their tenure — and so companies handling 10,000 employees will have to handle tens of millions of files in as little as one year. When you add data privacy and security concerns, this task is made even harder.

Conversations about unstructured data in the mainstream have only popped up in the past 2 or 3 years. Yet it has and will continue to be instrumental in your day-to-day operations, so it’s crucial to know exactly what it is, where it is and why it’s so important today.

What is unstructured data?

You might be familiar with structured data. This type of data is highly specific and usually organized in accordance with a certain format. Examples range from inputs on an Excel sheet to relational databases that contain information on names, addresses, and credit card numbers. Conversely, unstructured data is difficult to quantify and can’t be easily stored in a particular format.

Some examples include open-ended (as compared to straightforward) survey questions, as well as text, photos, videos, and audio. It has consequently been more difficult to manage and analyze up until recently. Today, AI-powered analytics tools can be specifically programmed to glean insights from unstructured data — which is expected to be the most dominant type of data by 2025.

Why is it important today?

Unstructured data is vital to businesses today simply because the world generates so much of it. By leveraging the insights it holds, the decision-making process can be informed in a way that makes companies more relevant to their target audiences. It can therefore be seen as a necessary tool for businesses to remain competitive in an increasingly digital world. To harness the benefits of unstructured data, one needs to understand the impact it’s had on the field of data management. Businesses initially hired database administrators to manage structured data in company databases.

With the amount of unstructured data growing at exponential rates, the role of these professionals expanded. Today, database administrators are trained in emerging technologies like AI, which helps them accommodate new business needs and information. Ultimately, this means integrating unstructured data into existing databases or building new database structures to this end. By doing so, businesses gain the ability to efficiently manage their unstructured data by making their insights accessible to key stakeholders.

What are some challenges it poses?

There are a couple of challenges businesses must be aware of, as well. One is growth — or storing unstructured data while maintaining access and mobility. The cloud is a good option: since you share your provider’s infrastructure with others and only pay for the storage you use, it’s cost-effective, scalable, and allows you to access your data remotely. On the other hand, unstructured data often contains personally identifiable information and comes in large amounts that are often difficult to protect across the board.

Your business thus needs different security practices for structured and unstructured data. For example, IT departments — especially those in the financial industry — often use keywords to flag potential issues in a database. When redacting sensitive information like a person’s PII and PHI files on a large scale, AI tools can be trained to spot and redact special category information like political alignment or religious belief. Basic practices like centralized permissions management and user activity monitoring practices can help spot potential risks internally.

In the end, it’s clear that unstructured data will play a key role in your business as time goes on. By familiarizing yourself with how it works and how to use it securely and effectively, your business can benefit from the growth it promises.

Ohalo is on a data mission to create order out of data chaos. Our Data X-Ray intelligent platform helps organisations automatically discover, classify, manage, protect, and gain insights and value from their regulated, sensitive, personal, and critical data across their unstructured data landscape.

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