Structured Data vs. Unstructured Data

Data is one of the most important resources at an organization’s disposal. It helps you make informed business decisions, problem solve, drive growth, and generate the results you want to see.

That said, the sheer abundance of data makes it difficult to navigate, and it’s easy to get stuck early on in the organization process. 

The first step to get moving is to understand the kind of data you’re dealing with…

Structured Data vs. Unstructured Data – What’s the difference?

Structured Data

Simply put, structured data is the meat and potatoes of any Excel spreadsheet. It is quantifiable information that’s organized in a way that’s easy to read and understand. 

Structured data usually comes from databases, where fields are clearly defined: text fields are separated from numerical ones; dates from times; addresses from phone numbers, and so forth.  

Given its predefined and highly organized nature, structured data is easy to search for and retrieve. It’s when you start digging into unstructured data that things get a little more complicated…

Unstructured Data

Unstructured data is information that doesn’t fit into a structured format. This data is stored in its native format, like freeform text and scanned PDF documents, images and design files, video files, and audio clips.

Basically, unstructured data is valuable data such as contract numbers, proposals, and data from engineering drawings — all of which is embedded in various files, documents, records, or other valuable media; but not organized in a way that can be easily found, extracted, and used. 

As you can likely imagine, this information is highly qualitative — meaning it’s subjective, and can be interpreted and organized in different ways depending on its unique characteristics. 

This makes unstructured data much harder to efficiently store, navigate and analyze within a content management system. 

The Challenges of Working With Unstructured Data

The overarching theme associated with unstructured data is that organizations are creating exponentially more of it — more documents, files, records, and media — every year, and storing it in a wide number of places including share drivers, personal drives, cloud storage, and ECMs. The proliferation makes it hard to know how much of it you have, what it is, where it’s located, and how to go about finding it. 

This poses a series of challenges for organizations and enterprises trying to streamline workflows and operational processes. 


The first challenge is volume. 

Unstructured data makes up approximately 80% of all data. The sheer amount of it makes it difficult to manage using traditional tools and approaches to data management

Put it this way: it’s hard to keep track of every piece of information that an organization creates — and it only gets harder as the volume grows.


The second challenge is variety. 

Unstructured data comes in many different forms, including text documents, emails, presentations, drawings, design files, and so on. 

These documents are hard to identify, tag, and classify by name and metadata alone. This makes it more difficult to locate specific pieces of information because there isn’t a common thread that links them all together and organizes them into distinct categories. 


Finally, we have the searchability challenge.

Unstructured data lives across many locations and content sources, such as: email, file shares, content management systems, structured databases, and homegrown systems. 

Since there isn’t an established structure for organizing this type of information, sifting through it becomes cumbersome and incredibly time consuming.

Why It’s Important to Organize and Connect Your Different Types of Data

Efficiency and Savings

Being a data-driven company requires an ability to access the right data at the right time, no matter how many different sources it comes from. 

For instance, if your company has a lot of different departments or functions that work with data — such as engineering, operations, marketing, finance, human resources, and IT — it makes sense for all of them to have access to the same information so they can collaborate effectively on projects together. 

But if one department doesn’t have access because it isn’t connected properly with other departments or systems within your organization’s existing infrastructure, then there will likely be delays and blind spots when trying to share and access documents. 

When that information is organized and connected, it becomes much easier to find, use, and reference. This, in turn, improves organizational efficiency and reduces overhead costs in the long run.

Informed and Innovative Decision Making

Proper organization and connection leads to informed decision-making regarding your organization. 

When you have a complete understanding of the data and its content sources across the company, you’re in a much better position to make informed decisions about what you’re going to do with that data — whether that’s discarding or disposing of it; retaining or refiling it.

Smart Data Governance

Data is everywhere. It’s in your company’s databases, it’s in the cloud, it’s on desktops and laptops; phones and tablets. 

At this point, you can likely infer that the unstructured data you hold is an invaluable asset to your organization. It can provide valuable insight into your customers, business processes, and overarching company culture.

That said, the more unstructured data you have, the harder it is to manage and safeguard from unauthorized access or misuse. 

Connecting and efficiently organizing your data helps you understand what information needs more security than others — which is crucial for reducing risks and acting in accordance with industry regulations. 

When it comes to the safety and security of your organization and its assets, data classification is key. 

How Shinydocs Can Help You Manage Unstructured Data to Deliver Valuable Insights 

Shinydocs is a data intelligence platform that helps you find, understand, manage, and enrich your data wherever it lives. 

Historically, it’s been assumed that the only way to get a handle on your data is to bring it into a structured and controlled system. Shinydocs, however, enables you to find and manage unstructured data right where your files, documents, records, and media already live, 

Identify, Visualize, and Cleanse Your Data

Whether you’re a quickly growing scale-up or an established enterprise company with multiple locations across the globe, Shinydocs can help you identify your content and records and then visualize and organize your information in one place—giving you a comprehensive understanding of what you have on hand — and how to best apply it.

Shinydocs helps ensure quality by supporting processes such as data cleansing. In this way, it ensures your data is organized correctly and consistently across all systems. This means that when it comes time to get insights out of your organization’s assets, they’ll be both reliable and accurate.

Additionally, you’ll be able to identify sources of clutter that might otherwise go unnoticed, such as duplicate versions of the same file or drives with poorly classified documents and records), then clean them up by moving them or defensibly dispositioning them at a large scale.

Connect, Enrich, and Empower Your Staff Data

From there, Shinydocs connects all types of information — data from email attachments, personal drives and individual share sites, network drives, and corporate repositories  — into a centralized search interface so that users can easily access everything they need without having to dig through various platforms and extract the data themselves. 

This makes different data much more useful to you and your organization.

Closing Considerations

Your data is part of a complex ecosystem. Your organization cannot make smart decisions unless you understand the different types of data you have and where all of it lives. 

Understanding and connecting different types of data is essential for business growth. It allows you to keep track of your information, make sure it’s connected and organized, and helps you gain valuable insights from which you can drive your business. 

This is where Shinydocs comes in.

Shinydocs connects the dots between different types and formats of information, so that you can manage at risk content and extract valuable insights from your organization.

Did you enjoy this article? Read this next:

Scroll to Top