Why Unstructured Data is Big for Business

The rise of big data has propelled new conversations around how we source, organize and analyze information. With advances in natural language processing, machine learning and artificial intelligence, organizations are now able to apply computational power to process large amounts of unstructured data, something that was previously beyond our capabilities.

Let’s explore precisely what unstructured data is and why it’s so valuable to today’s businesses.

Unstructured Data Is All Around Us 

While the term may be unfamiliar to you, you’re actually intimately familiar with unstructured data. Unstructured data is qualitative by nature and comprises text, audio and video – basically the types of data that can’t easily be parsed by traditional computer analysis. And while humans are great at analyzing unstructured data, it’s difficult to do so at scale. We may be able to pull out the prevailing themes and topics of one or even a few dozen videos but analyzing all of YouTube would take multiple lifetimes. 

The limitations of our time and computing power are precisely why so much of the world’s data-crunching to date has focused on structured data. As the name suggests, structured data is the opposite of unstructured data. If unstructured data is qualitative, then structured data is its quantitative counterpart. It’s the value-based information you’ll typically find in surveys, spreadsheets and databases.

The quantitative nature of data lends itself to easy analysis by computer – you just run a script, and the computer quickly and easily returns the results you need. However, while structured data is simple, efficient and cost-effective to analyze, it’s limited in the insights it can provide. That’s where unstructured data comes in.

The Business Case for Unstructured Data 

Unstructured data makes up 80% of the world’s data, which means that if you fail to incorporate it into your business model, you’ll be making business decisions based on incomplete information. This is only going to become more problematic as the data we have access to continues to grow. 

So, what precisely does unstructured data offer decision-makers that structured data can’t? Basically, the complement to the information that you’ve gathered using more traditional channels. While the quantitative nature of structured data gives you insight into the “what” of a business problem, unstructured data is what you need in order to obtain the “why.” A model that analyzes unstructured data can reveal insights that reveal customer needs, market trends and competitor actions. 

For example, the structured data found in your CRM may indicate a high level of customer churn. You may be able to pick out key points such as who is churning and when. When you add unstructured data such as customer tweets, emails, phone call recordings and even local news items, you can start gleaning why people are churning. Perhaps a major employer in the area has closed down, making your service untenable to your customers. Maybe your renewal period coincides with other significant expenses. Or perhaps there’s an issue with your service provider that you’re not aware of. 

Layering the insights provided by unstructured data over those outlined by structured data will help you fill in the bigger picture, letting you make predictions, outline projections and make informed business decisions.  

An Extra Level of Insight 

Building unstructured data analytics capabilities into your organization may seem daunting at first glance. However, the growth of commercialized products in the natural language processing and artificial intelligence fields have drastically reduced the cost and difficulty of doing so. These systems can be tuned to the specific needs of your vertical and your business, tapping into critical text- and media-based data sets to provide the “why” to the phenomena shaping the everyday experience of your business. This is precisely what our Billwatch and Mediawatch tools can deliver to our customers. 

When used in tandem with your existing structured data analytics capabilities, unstructured data analysis can offer actionable insights that can allow you to act responsively, pre-emptively and from an informed perspective – setting you apart, and ahead, of the competition. 

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