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What is Unstructured Data?

Blog >What is Unstructured Data?
Unstructured Data

Data is what drives business, and businesses are generating and consuming more data all of the time. The explosion of collaboration tools and big data analytics has only accelerated the desire for more employees to share more data across the enterprise. So it’s no surprise to IT teams that we are being asked to retain more data, of all types, make it freely available to employees in different departments and with outside business partners and, oh yeah, secure it all, without any more budget. The fastest-growing type of business data is unstructured, and to fully understand what unstructured data is, we must first take a look at structured data.

Structured data is information that is categorized, organized, and stored by data type in a database application. The ‘structure’ is provided by the database that enforces certain requirements (specific data type, or data length) in a predefined way that can be easily searched and analyzed. Employees feed data into the application, where it is formatted, and stored in the database, for later retrieval and analysis. For example, when you purchase something online, you put various bits of information into the purchase website (part number, quantity, credit card number, address, etc.) and all of that gets stored in a database, enabling the retailer to send you what you ordered.

Now several departments get involved, and they all may use a common ordering/fulfillment/shipping application or there may be multiple applications involved in the actual delivery of your order. The point is, your order information gets copied, forwarded, moved around, exported and imported into a variety of other departments across the organization. You will likely get an email confirmation of your order, and likely a tracking number from a shipping partner. An invoice will get printed (or digitally transferred) to accounting for credit card processing, and an order request will get sent to the warehouse. Business analysts will export data from these various departments to look for trends that could make the business more profitable and the finance team will aggregate orders by geography or order type to report back to management. Your single order has now moved from a fairly secure structured data environment to several unstructured data repositories, which in most organizations are department-level file shares.

Business data that is stored in word docs, spreadsheets, emails, .pdf files, and PowerPoint presentations, is unstructured. It’s still the same data, and may contain sensitive information (customer ID, credit card info, and billing address) but may not be as tightly controlled as it once was when stored in the initial ordering application. Large order entry systems are typically centrally managed by a dedicated (production support) team, but when the data moves out into the organization and into other applications, it moves into department-level storage systems which may not be as securely managed, or not managed at all.

Do yourself a favor, and look at your department level file shares. Look into the shares that are open to everyone, and see what’s out there. What you find, may surprise you.

For information on how STEALTHbits can assist with your organization’s structure and unstructured data needs, contact us today.

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