When clutter starts to accumulate in your home, it’s a nuisance. Within your data center? It’s a safety hazard. For many organizations, factors like company growth and a lack of comprehensive data governance policies cause unstructured data – information that is human-generated, difficult to automate and not easily processed by machines – to flourish. Not only can this information obscure security risks posed by sensitive data that goes unrecognized within a system, it can hold IT teams back from tapping into the power and value of unstructured data insights.

Whether your IT system needs a quick spring cleaning session or a full data hoarding intervention, a few practices can help keep your unstructured data in check and help your team overcome limitations. In either case, context is key. Below are five ways to use context to unlock the value of unstructured data:

  • Tracking: Consider where the data came from. How recent is it – and do you have a reliable way to learn its history? In many cases, some data belongs to people who are no longer at the company. Imagine what that costs to maintain. Hint: We’ve seen terabytes full of Lego movies. (Assume a terabyte of data costs about $10,000 per year, all things considered, to “manage and protect.”)
  • Inspection: Does the piece of data include metadata, such as previous customer interactions, links to structured data or sensitive elements (like credit card numbers)?
  • Accessibility: Often, unstructured data is text-based – and its value hinges on users physically accessing and applying it. Do users within your organization function as curators, going through data stores to uncover strategic insights and increase the company’s performance, or are they too unprepared to even get started?
  • Visualization: IT teams can use visualization tools to gain new perspectives about their data. By identifying patterns in unstructured data sets and drilling into specific pathways for more details, they can transform unstructured information into assets that increase the company’s bottom line. For example, researchers working in common areas of discovery might not know that other people have content that may shorten their time to discovery by months if they had better collaboration tools. Just searching for data can take days of productivity away from a research team.
  • Consolidation: When working with structured or unstructured data, consolidation is one of the most reliable practices to help improve data management. However, most IT environments encompass cloud platforms, shadow IT organizations and many other locations where data can reside. It’s imperative to build a governance plan that helps consolidate the organization’s most sensitive data in a location where retention and deletion policies can apply. Virtualization is guilty of aiding and abetting this situation. As data mobility increases in velocity, the probability that sensitive data is leaking into public domains increases too. Data curators need to know what’s moving, where it’s going and who owns it. It’s irresponsible to say, “I didn’t know.” Ignorance is not considered compliance.

Learn more about using unstructured data to improve efficiency and uncover insights.