What is Unstructured Content?

Content really does come in all shapes and sizes, and oftentimes the term “unstructured data” or “unstructured information” is thrown out to describe what this content holds.  In order to understand what these terms mean, it is helpful to first look at what “Structured Data” is defined as.

Simply put, Structured Data indicates a database, a table with rows and columns that include specific information in a specific format. As a rule of thumb, if you would logically put a piece of information into an Excel spreadsheet for manipulation and review, it potentially could be a piece of Structured Data.  This data, oftentimes contained in core systems like ERPs (SAP, Oracle, etc.), CRMs (Salesforce, etc.), HRIMs (Epic, Cerner, Meditech, etc.), and/or other line of business applications, can be manipulated and retrieved by computers as needed through a code base.

But what about everything else?  Outside of these core systems is a mix of what we refer to as unstructured information or data (aka Unstructured Content).  Day-to-day business activities include emails, attachments, faxes, and other modes of communication and record-keeping, all in paper or digital form, that contain critical business information that core systems cannot capture. Unstructured Content can be a huge productivity killer, as some consultants say as much as 80% of the information within any company is unstructured, and 70% of most processes are manual-based and disconnected from core systems (aka unstructured).

Unstructured Content includes articles, email attachments, videos, spreadsheets, Microsoft Word and other Office files, reports, rich media, CAD drawings, claims, x-rays, MRI scans, post-it notes, phone conversations…the list is endless.  Enterprise content management systems have thrived by capitalizing on the need for businesses to connect this unstructured content to their core systems, so they can act intelligently on it.  Unstructured data can be scanned or captured by a number of different ways into an enterprise content management system and then tagged with relevant information, linked to other documents, and grouped into folders for easier search when needed. The key to making large productivity gains is integrating this Unstructured Content into the core system, so end-users can seamlessly retrieve the supporting Unstructured Content to the business transactions that are captured within the core.