• Guest Author

Unstructured Data: The Abyss

The volume of business data worldwide is doubling every 1.2 years, according to Analytics Week, and poor data is estimated to cost businesses 20%–35% of their operating revenue. This may sound dramatic, but when you consider the implications, if left unaddressed, unstructured data can become a seemingly endless abyss. In addition to the costs associated with lost productivity and increased liability due to unstructured data collection, this influx could also be slowing down your IT systems.

Documents are generated every day at an increasing pace and every document, email, file, etc. that gets generated has potential liability concerns and costs for your business. Both the value and risks related to unstructured data are growing exponentially and can affect your bottom line. Harnessing that data can provide powerful information to improve processes and efficiencies. Ignoring it can be wasteful and can become very costly, especially in the case of a security breach.

Studies report that unstructured data accounts for an estimated 80% of all business-related information and the volume of that data is growing by 62% per year. Being informed about unstructured data is important so you know what you are dealing with, the risks involved, and the potential value of the crucial information lost in emails to and from client calls, meeting notes and documents shared between colleagues and clients.

So, what exactly is Unstructured Data?

Think of all the information received and shared via messaging apps, text, email, work submitted informally, client file submissions, phone calls, etc. We have so many tools used to collaborate and communicate remotely that if you don't have a system in place to capture that data it is considered unstructured data. Unstructured data has an internal structure but is not structured via pre-defined data models or schema. It may be textual or non-textual and can be generated by humans or machines.

To help get an idea of the breadth of what we are talking about, here are few examples of sources of unstructured content:

  • Proposals

  • Contracts

  • Legal documents

  • HR documents

  • Financial reports

  • Forms

  • Scanned Documents

  • Memos

  • Emails, Phone calls, Instant Messages

  • Correspondence with customers, vendors and partners

  • Collaboration software

  • Business applications

The Rapid Growth of Unstructured Data

Analytics Week Reports that data production will be 44 times greater in 2020 than in 2009.

Advancing technology and increasingly powerful devices in every pocket or wrist, are contributing to the problem of generating more and more digital content that is unstructured. While structured data is often stored safely in firewall protected servers, unstructured data is a substantial security risk for all businesses. Many businesses are aware of unstructured data but unaware of the value and amount that is unprotected in the cloud or on their servers. Making deliberate changes can make this data more accessible and improve security.

Forbes reports that 71% of enterprises are struggling to manage and protect unstructured data. Many businesses don't even know that they are collecting information that, if structured correctly, could be very valuable to their organization if it was searchable and available for analysis. That data cannot be utilized until businesses identify what they need to find, extract, organize, and store. Having organized access to that data can allow businesses to identify trends, strengths, and weaknesses that can drive process improvements and in return drive up revenue.

Data privacy regulations can also come into play when your team doesn't even know what they have collected. Many companies are not protecting unstructured data because they just don't know how much they have or where to locate it. Having a strategy and effective tools to manage information is crucial to identify, secure and track unstructured data. Setting guidelines for who has access to data, how to classify it and where to store it can result in drastic improvements.

Awareness is the First Step in Exploring the Possibilities

The Wall Street Journal reports that the average executive wastes 6 weeks per year searching for important documents and their employees spend 25% - 35% of their time looking for information needed to do their jobs.

Once your team knows that you are missing out on something big, you can identify the problem areas, estimate the potential value of making changes, explore your options, then develop a strategy to secure and harness your unstructured data with a comprehensive Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system. The right system will give you the ability to standardize the classifying and indexing of documents across your firm.

Solution: Comprehensive ECM Strategy

Capturing and organizing unstructured data in a secure, searchable environment helps protect against hackers and other cybersecurity threats that can result in losing customers, tarnishing your businesses reputation and costly law suits. Not only does it improve data capture for analytics, but it also gives you secure remote access to anything you need to get your job done. Additionally, version control and setting up system wide retention policies is a crucial part of a comprehensive document management strategy. The most successful practices have expanded their definition of document management to encompass all types of files that contain data across their organization.

Comprehensive ECM is not a single technology, methodology or process. ECM is a dynamic combination of strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver information supporting critical business processes through its entire lifecycle. Software solutions used for ECM used to be limited to working for businesses of specific sizes and each time you had to change to a new system you had to manage the pains of organizational change. Instead, choose a system that is scalable and can grow with your business saving time and money.

7.5% of all documents get lost by being misplaced, not filed or filed incorrectly, or due to unforeseen catastrophic events. It costs businesses in the US an estimated $120 in lost time and duplicated work to replace just one lost document. (That cost varies by industry.)

Benefits of Developing a Comprehensive Enterprise Content Management Plan for Your Firm:

  • Centralized content management

  • Reduced Risk of Litigation

  • Security and operational control

  • Integrations with other applications

  • Improved client service

  • Productivity gains

  • Exponential growth potential

  • Risk mitigation

  • Remote access

  • Improved turnaround times

Take Away

Unstructured Big Data isn't going away and harnessing it holds the opportunity for growth and improved decision-making. Your firm is likely to see Improvements in customer satisfaction and retention, bigger profits, lower overhead and significant ROI for technology investments. When engaging with ECM providers and consultants, find someone who will analyze your business processes and your specific technology needs because no two firms will use a system the same way. If updating ECM across your entire organization isn’t an option yet, due to budgetary constraints or lack of partner buy in, you can start with one business unit, prove your case and expand that existing product organization wide. If you want to learn more or have clients who could benefit, click here to get notified about upcoming webinars on this topic.


Ben Spoerl, Business Solutions Engineer, has been with Conarc since 2010 and has over 17 years of experience in the software space. Ben lives in NJ with his wife and two little girls. Ben utilizes his skill set as an experienced software consultant to hone in on what companies need to realize ROI quickly and increase profits. Connect with Ben now on LinkedIn or contact him directly at: bspoerl@conarc.com