Today’s small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) sit atop mountains of stored data. With recent advances in deduplication, compression and hard drive density, as well as plummeting prices for solid state drives (SSDs), SMBs can now store nearly all of the data they create – and they’re creating lots of it. Much of this data – about 80 percent by most measures – is unstructured. It’s a vast and potentially valuable store of social media feeds, emails, blogs, Microsoft Office documents, photos, videos and other material that embodies the organizational insights that could help push those same SMBs into bigger and more lucrative markets. Unfortunately, these businesses have had far more success storing these data reserves than with actually tapping them for intelligence.
Many technologies have emerged over the last few years that are designed to aid SMBs in capturing insight from unstructured data. This movement toward putting intelligence into the hands of those who’ll use it won’t require a dedicated data scientist or budget-busting investment. Armed with these tools, SMBs may be able to:
- Make more informed decisions about business strategy;
- Reduce costs while improving employee efficiency and satisfaction; and
- Drive growth.
To make this a reality, SMBs need to ask some focused questions of their infrastructure and their unstructured data.
1. How are we capturing data, and are we sharing it?
It isn’t easy to collect or disseminate unstructured data across an organization. To date, SMBs have approached this task by configuring crawlers to scan through their file shares and applications, looking for new or altered material. Once found, this data is loaded into a search engine or moved into big-data processing frameworks like Hadoop. Unfortunately, this complex approach is difficult to get right and keep fresh, and it puts a heavy load on the IT infrastructure. It also creates multiple copies of the original data, which can lead to a cost and governance nightmare, while contributing to ever-expanding storage and maintenance costs. As better options come onto the market, SMBs need to rethink these processes and look for more efficient solutions.
2. Who owns the data, and how are they using it?
The context – the metadata containing the source, creator and other properties – of all of this unstructured data is often as important as the content itself. With the right tools in place, SMBs should be able to determine, for example, which employee knows the most about a key customer, or where to find the most recent version of a big contract and determine which stakeholders have yet to sign off on it. In other words, SMBs need to extract information from data and understand how that information is being used. This is a critical need not only for operations, but also for compliance and legal staff, who need ways to spot sensitive data and monitor how it is consumed.
3. How can we use visualization to find value in unstructured data?
This is a question that SMBs haven’t been able to answer in regards to unstructured data until recently. Visualization tools, while valuable, were previously confined to structured data tasks. They could show you trends in stock prices or sales records, for example, but they couldn’t help you relate that kind of information to unstructured data, such as news articles or other contextual sources. As this capability spreads to new kinds of data, SMBs will be able to see what is happening in the organization AND understand why it’s happening – a content-in-context capability that will empower SMBs with the kind of information previously only accessible by trained data scientists and the enterprises able to afford that level of expertise.
With the plethora of structured and unstructured data being created each day by SMBs, it’s no wonder they’re hearing plenty about big data challenges and opportunities. Yet with all the noise, the conversations they need to tune into are those that focus on how to identify and extract game-changing insights. How can SMBs derive more value from all the data they’re storing? How can they leverage the unstructured data, in particular, which holds deep business value? And how can they get started soon, so they can gain competitive advantage in fast-moving markets?
SMB-focused resellers can learn more about how to answer these questions by applying for the DataGravity early-access channel program.