It’s easy to get so preoccupied with impending data security threats and potential risks that you forget why your data is valuable in the first place. Unstructured data is frequently seen as a burden that should be sorted, packed, and stored away. In reality, it contains the valuable insights and business information that can help your team become more productive and more collaborative. The key to unlocking these critical takeaways is your ability to visualize their value clearly.
Changing your perception about unstructured data takes more than a shift in mindset. It comes down to user experience. After all, whether you are checking an enterprise IT dashboard or telling your friends about the latest smartphone app you downloaded, your personal experience tends to rely on the format and the value of the interface and visuals with which you are interacting. Regardless of your previous experiences with data visualization and insights, below are four ways to start treating unstructured data as a business asset rather than simply a hindrance.
- Reject the myth that the insights you need are located in structured data
Business intelligence (BI) tools do a great job of visualizing structured data. Traditionally, storage dashboards were filled with the fruits of this labor: quantitative graphs and charts that estimated data values, even if they didn’t reflect real-time results. According to IDC, unstructured enterprise data is growing at a rate of 60 to 80 percent per year, and it’s within this data that you’ll find intellectual property, strategies, research, and other key ideas. Luckily, today’s companies have access to data visualizations that are as qualitative, data driven, and data aware as the information they are storing.
- Know that the first step is simply finding the data you need
McKinsey reports that employees spend 1.8 hours every day searching for and gathering information. This adds up to 9.3 hours per week spent on a frustrating, menial task. When you research a topic online, you can quickly and easily find relevant information using common search engines and faceted navigation. Searching for documents in your company’s storage should be no different.
- Put your data to work
Unstructured data contains metadata and structure that improve visualization tools, as they’ll help provide reports about how many people have read a certain document, who has contributed to it, when it was last updated, and whether it contains sensitive information. However, the real value comes from applying this information to your company’s overarching goals. The priorities at your organization will always relate directly to the market you serve and the customers with which you engage, but certain overarching goals, such as employee productivity and improved efficiency, can benefit every organization in various ways.
For example, perhaps you are looking to launch a new initiative and need to identify subject matter experts within your company. Data visualization features such as user activity tracking and file analysis will tell you what’s happening within your company, when it’s taking place, and who’s involved, so you can quickly paint a picture of the teams that work together most effectively and which employees will best support the project you have in mind.
- Protect your crown jewels
If an intruder broke into your house and you had heirloom jewelry displayed on your coffee table, the risk of having your valuables stolen would be considerably greater than if your jewelry were locked in a safe in your basement. Data is no different. Protecting your information depends on your ability to recognize its value and store it accordingly. Running detailed audits and creating the graphs that highlight the location and contents of your data will help you move sensitive information to high-security locations. It also will help identify unusual behavior patterns that may be indicative of an intruder or malicious presence in your system.
It’s a tired myth that your only option is to leave unstructured data in the dark, but too many companies are falling for it rather than taking steps to become data aware. Right now, you may be storing critical business information that could help boost sales, inform internal processes, and improve security, but you’ll never fully reap its benefits if that information is always hiding just out of reach. It’s up to you to get proactive about identifying, managing, and protecting the contents of your data, and the fastest way to accomplish this goal is to create a more strategic data visualization process. With that taken care of, the insights will fall into place.
Jeff Boehm is the vice president of marketing at DataGravity. Jeff brings more than 20 years of experience with a rare combination of marketing skills, organizational leadership and technical background to DataGravity. Having shaped the BI and search markets working for industry pioneers and disrupters, Jeff is excited to be redefining the storage market.
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