How to Manage Your Unstructured Data

Unstructured data is a common management challenge in any size organization across industries, and it impacts business operations and delivery of client services. When data is left to sit in an unorganized, unsecured location, it puts the efficiency and security of your business at risk.

Read on to learn more about unstructured data, and the best ways to manage it across your organization.

Unstructured vs. Structured Data

Both structured and unstructured data have a natural place in your business. Understanding the differences between them, and how to manage each, is essential to a well-organized and secure workplace.

What is Unstructured Data?

Unstructured data is information that does not have a pre-defined method of organization. Unstructured data is often text-based, but it also includes numbers, images, dates and other important details about business information.

A few examples of unstructured data include:

  • Documents saved randomly in a folder.
  • Images downloaded to a computer from online resources.
  • Meeting agendas and notes.
  • Scanned documents, such as receipts or client information, stored on a desktop.
  • Communication data from emails, social media or mobile devices.

What is Structured Data?

Structured data is information that is formatted or stored in a standardized manner, such as in a spreadsheet or database. Just like unstructured data, it can be text or visual-based, and can include additional details specific to the data.

Benefits of maintaining structured data include improvements in search and retrieval of business information, in data privacy and security and in the accuracy of your data.

Why is Unstructured Data Important to Manage?

Unstructured data poses a risk to the security and efficiency of an organization. When data is left unstructured, it becomes more difficult to locate specific information, to control access rights and to manage (or establish) protocol across departments for the storage and maintenance of data. Because unstructured data is often difficult to access, it can also be a liability in the event of an audit or lawsuit.

Tools to Manage Your Unstructured Data

Enterprise content management is a methodology of organizing and maintaining business data to provide structure, ease of access and improved security for important information.

The following each have a different role in helping to organize unstructured data, and can be used to improve business processes beyond accessing and storing important information.

Optical Character Recognition

OCR is a process which converts text in a scanned or photographed image into text that can be edited, stored or searched for electronically. OCR eliminates manual data entry and improves the speed and accuracy of capturing information from a non-native digital file (like a PDF received by email) or a scanned or photographed image. This allows employees and data managers to quickly provide structure to data coming into a system from alternative sources.

OCR makes text within an image searchable and categorizable, providing structure to extracted data.


Metadata is information assigned to a particular piece of data, enabling organizations to describe, categorize and understand important details about unstructured data, improving searchability and accessibility of information within a business. Examples of metadata attached to a file may include a date of birth, a document owner or a geographic location.

Metadata is “data about data,” in that it provides specific information about a digital file. This improves searchability and aids in the organizational structuring of data.

Digital Repository

Beyond a simple digital folder system, a digital repository provides a structured, easy-to-use, and secure location for various types of data within your organization.

A digital repository simplifies the editing, routing, search and storage of important data in an organization.

A quality ECM system should provide customizable options for managing data stored within a digital repository, such as federated search, intelligent capture and administrative access rights.

A robust digital repository should provide total system control over user access rights and more.

ECM Aids in Managing Unstructured Data

Whether you’re looking to simplify storage and indexing of your organization’s files, improve information security or decrease the time and effort it takes to locate a specific document, managing your unstructured data is a necessity for efficient businesses today, and ECM is an exemplary tool for achieving these goals.

To learn four additional ways to manage unstructured data with ECM, click here.

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