Not so long ago, businesses didn’t care about information outside the normal structure of trusted outlets like print media, trade journals, academic research and other trusted system-generated information. In fact, I would go so far as saying that if it wasn’t structured, it wasn’t data. All of this changed soon after customers started to freely express their comments and opinions on websites and bulletin boards. Views became another data point to track and analyze to harness customer preference as an aggregate and per each individual. In some ways, unstructured customer data via connectivity and social media has multiplied the already growing challenge of big data.
Unstructured data now matters
Now businesses thrive or fail on what these un-controlled, unstructured data sources say. From retailers to job sites, what unstructured data says about a business and brand matters. Businesses don’t control unstructured data sources, and this scares them. But, just like structured data sources, business can ingest, understand, react, and even anticipate what’s going to happen if they are clever. The speed and pace at which unstructured data sources spread has increased due to the nature of the Internet and global connectivity.
How employee and customer knowledge becomes a data point
This is not new in terms of customer service; customers have always been complaining. What’s new is mass proliferation of this information to a social media following. What once would have been between one disgruntled customer griping to his friends and family has now become a status broadcast to hundreds that can even go viral and reach millions (the absolute worst nightmare for PR). To compound this shift in information structure, the once unstructured information of personal anecdotes now masquerades as a trusted, structured, information source based on the close personal relationship between the social media follower and the original poster.
To see the price of not knowing, look no further than Barings Bank, the oldest merchant bank in London, laid low by the behavior of one employee who lost $1.3 billion in speculative trading. Despite surviving the Great Depression and both World Wars, Barings was brought down in 1995 by its head derivatives trader in Singapore. It was reasonably clear something was amiss when employees started to clear their desks and leave the building, but the structured data sources like rating agencies did not, and could not, react faster than the word on social websites.
Combining structured and unstructured data for a single view
The Financial Service industry relies heavily on what rating agencies provide on the structured data side, however, it’s clear the structured and unstructured data sources have their place when time and sentiment matters. The ability to have high performance integration with low latency and the ability to process and understand unstructured data is fast becoming a holy grail.
Whether it’s a disgruntled employee whistleblowing corruption at a big bank or thousands of frustrated sports fan providing unstructured reactions to a structured news story about their team, unstructured data sources and how these integrate to better inform business decisions is going to be an area of extreme value to all businesses.