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Information Governance

Unstructured Data – The need for data governance in the digital economy


As the volume of data worldwide continues to increase exponentially, businesses are feeling pressure to start taking more proactive measures in the area of data governance. Much of the current focus on data governance relates to security concerns, but managing unstructured data also presents a potential competitive advantage for businesses.

Data is a tremendously overlooked asset for many modern businesses. Organizations may be sitting on extremely valuable sets of data but, without proper organization, this resource cannot effectively be put to use.

Unstructured data is everywhere; emails, spreadsheets, videos, text documents, images and web pages are all unstructured data. When organized and analyzed methodically, the information from unstructured data can help provide valuable insights. Data from social media networks and web logs can help organizations collect and understand consumer information. Hospitals, for example, have mined unstructured clinical information to build models that allowed for interventions with high risk patients, leading to savings. Banks have begun to use unstructured data relating to customer interactions to predict the needs of customers. Governments have also recently been looking for ways to use their unstructured data to better deliver public services.

In the absence of proactive data governance strategies, organizations may be lagging behind in the modern economy, one which is based, in part, on cloud computing and mobile technology.

One of the biggest hurdles with unstructured data is the element of the unknown. The notion of trying to organize mountains of unstructured data can be daunting and security concerns are always looming. Organizations need to methodically plan ways to meaningfully capture and share their knowledge. Tools like NoSQL databases and emerging cognitive computing technology are providing new ways for organizations to organize and understand their data.

Practical Tips:

1) Strategize.
Organizations need to plan for how to collect and manage unstructured data. Unfocused attempts to manage unstructured data will likely lead to frustration and limited results. Setting organizational goals and understanding data as a tool to achieve those goals provides a more concrete way to integrate data governance in an impactful way.

2) Always keep privacy and security concerns in mind.
Maintaining privacy and security in the context of cloud computing can present a number of challenges. Unstructured data will often contain sensitive information that organizations need to protect. Data loss prevention strategies including systems for cataloging data and tracking access can help businesses protect themselves.

3) Keep an eye on rapidly shifting regulatory compliance requirements.
Local and international regulatory standards are evolving as governments attempt to manage privacy, security and economic concerns. Organizations should keep a close eye on legislative developments at home and in any other jurisdictions that might affect their data management affairs.

Contributors - Lisa Douglas, J. Andrew Sprague, and Ben Sakamoto