Among the vast amount of challenges that modern IT teams have to deal with on a daily basis, the risks posed by unstructured data can be critical. As well as opening environments up to the threat of data breach, organisations could be missing out on valuable insights by not knowing what data they have and where it sits. Despite the use of expensive management applications, unstructured data is a minefield of an organisation's most critical information and most obsolete, invaluable data.

Unstructured data refers to data that is not stored or contained in a database or a different type of data structure.

Data in the dark

A lack of understanding of the data within a business can stem from and be caused by many factors. As businesses grow and expand so does their data, and the policies in place to ensure control, and protect, may become outdated, unsuitable or improperly enforced.

Data becomes harder to track over time. In the modern business, data (files, folders) are in constant use and are continually being shared and collaborated on by third parties. This decentralisation of data starts to contribute to the lack of control systems administrators have when it comes to knowing what data they have and where it sits.

To avoid growing pains and keep up with growing demand and the need to achieve more with less, more quickly, IT teams need to implement solutions and technologies that will complement existing systems. It is more likely, however, that solutions will be implemented as a “quick fix” or without long-term data management strategies being established. This can often result in systems becoming overly complex and cause administrative challenges.

The speed at which data is growing is a contributing factor in many of these challenges and the overriding risk is reduced security and a higher chance of data breach occurring. Under the Data Protection Act (DPA), data breaches can currently be penalised with a fine of up to £500,000; when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect in May 2018 this figure could be up to €20 million or 4% of global revenues.

With algorithms and artificial intelligence quickly changing the way businesses see their data and extract value from it, having a lack of understanding into the data in your environment is costing businesses money. Algorithms may be costly and technically challenging but businesses of any size can gain insight from understanding customer data and buying patterns.

Nike recently benefitted from Instagram’s use of algorithms; using the Snapchat platform Nike had 66,000 views on digital content, with Instagram’s algorithm backed stories the same content reach 800,000 views in its first 24-hours. That’s over 10X more viewers. (source:

How to improve visibility of data

For an organisation to gain more visibility of data, unstructured or structured alike, it is important to decide on policies and procedures that can be implemented and that will continue to work in the long-term. Centralising data, implementing policies and consolidating solutions can help to give an organisation insight but if the output of the new insight isn’t utilised or kept properly it can just as easily add to the problem, it’s more data at the end of the day.

Identify and locate

The first step in improving the visibility of data on a network is to identify and locate what data there is. By identifying what data has the highest value first, you can prioritise how to protect it, after you have located it on your network that is.

Identifying risk

Identifying the different types of data on your network and locating them gives you an opportunity to start structuring unstructured data. Doing this should shed a light on some of the possible security risks and ways that data could be lost or accessed by an unauthorised person.

Monitor and control access

Once data has been identified, located and structured you can begin to implement processes to monitor and control users who have access to sensitive data. This may act as a deterrent to any disgruntled employees planning to steal data and will give an overview of who is accessing data and for what purpose.


The processes outlined are susceptible to human error but fortunately, automation is on hand to help. By implementing data tools, you can efficiently audit the data on your network and quickly prioritise where you begin protecting and securing all of your data. Implementing policy-driven data management regimes will give your business valuable insight and reduce the threat of data breach.

Shining a light on data

Following these new processes will quickly give your organisation more insight into the data in your network and some of the value that can be extracted from it. It will be easier to take value from cleaner, more structured data and there will be efficiency gains from the processes put in place to save time. Combining these aspects will allow you to cut down on the amount of redundant data on primary storage, saving money while benefitting from increased revenues off the back of data insights.


By Paul Evans, managing director at Redstor

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