What are the risks or owning masses of unstructured data? Part 1

Gartner, the world's leading research and advisory company, estimates that today over 80% of enterprise data is unstructured. That means that most of information held by organizations isn’t easily searchable nor held in secure sources. It’s a difficult area to manage given that not all data that is created or collected can be structured easily. For example, consider that close to 270 billion emails are created daily. Many of these holds personally identifiable or sensitive information. On top of that, unstructured data is growing year-on-year. Every PDF, video, Word document or even social media post created adds to the problem. Typical modern working practices within high-pressure environments are also to blame. The mindset of creating a data-driven culture becomes problematic. So does the approach towards data security.

Employees requiring data when out of the office – perhaps while they’re working from home or at a meeting – has the propensity to take data from a structured source and put it into an unstructured format. The data is then no longer protected or secured and cannot be easily accessed or managed.

What are the risks? 
Owning masses of unstructured data, and not having a system that tracks when it is generated, makes organizations vulnerable to several risks.

Unstructured data is a challenge simply because organizations don’t know where much of it is held or what it contains. This is contrary to creating the much-sought single source of truth. Not knowing when it is generated, or when data is copied from structured sources to unstructured formats, makes it difficult to know how big the issue is and whether new measures need to be introduced.

Personal data protection is an increasingly hot topic, particularly with the introduction of GDPR. If an organization can’t find data in unstructured sources, it risks not being able to provide somebody with information they have requested within the compliant timeframe. Also, organizations that share data with partners might pass on unstructured data to them and no longer have access to it themselves. A legal issue could arise with a customer or partner that relates to terms agreed over email at the beginning of a relationship. With data held in unstructured sources, it will be difficult to search for and retrieve the information required as evidence.

Cyber criminals are finding it increasingly difficult to access corporate networks and data due to increasingly effective security solutions. For that reason, they’re looking for weaker routes, and unstructured data is a prime target. This is due to it not being protected by the same security measures as structured data. A prime example is when sensitive corporate information listing Salesforce’s acquisition targets was leaked from the email account of one of the software company’s board members, Colin Powell.

Organizations that collect data without managing it in structured sources risk their digital estate expanding year-on-year. That means needing to pay for more space and technology to store the data, rather than solving the core problem. If an organization extracts data into structured sources, it can keep only the data that it requires and be efficient in its use of storage capacity.