An Unstructured Approach

Unstructured data is changing the face of IT and business. It delivers remarkable opportunities for companies but also enormous challenges.

The pool of unstructured data can seem infinite and overwhelming. A 2011 Unisphere Research/MarkLogic survey found that 86 percent of executives describe unstructured data as important to their enterprise but only 11 percent have clearly defined procedures and policies for handling it. In addition, 40 percent of the respondents admitted that they're not fully aware of the extent of unstructured data within their enterprise and only 45 percent say they're moderately or strongly committed to using it.

Rusnak says today's data environment requires an entirely different CIO mindset. "The primary focus cannot be on data scientists and statistical methods although both may play an important role. It's about the organization achieving competencies that aren't always clearly defined. It's necessary to find people who have a deep understanding of business processes and a high comfort level with manipulating data and combining it in new and unusual ways. They must understand how to draw conclusions and correlations from chaos and disorder."

It's often a journey into uncharted territory. For example, one agribusiness company now uses unstructured data collected through social media and combines it with a database of farmers to develop one-to-one marketing campaigns that focus on the specific needs of growers in a region. Meanwhile, telecos are turning to anonymized usage and location data to create new types of service packages and product offerings. And retailers are deploying next-generation analytics to understand spending patterns within demographic segments, when purchases occur and what triggers these transactions. "The right systems help organizations monetize their data," Millman says.

Chico's is a perfect example of a company that is diving headfirst into unstructured data and using it to transform the business. The retailer--which operates 1,350 stores within four major brands, including Chico's, White House Black Market, Soma and Boston Proper--is looking for ways to more effectively interact with its customers. The company has operated a loyalty program for years. Chico's acquires data about spending patterns and which promotions work more effectively with different customer segments. King says the company has a 90 percent success rate on connecting the person to the purchase.

But now Chico's is taking data collection and analysis to a new level. It is plugging in unstructured data from a number of sources--clickstream behavior at its site and on the web, customer-related social media posts, customer reviews, and sentiment data about its brands and products--in order to build a far more robust analytics model. The company relies on several SAS tools, including SAS Social Media Analysis, SAS Sentiment Analysis and SAS Text Analytics. "We consolidate all the data in a customer hub, conduct the analysis, and examine correlations between browsing behavior and purchasing behavior," King says.

By combining structured and unstructured data in unique ways, Chico's is blazing a path toward greater personalization of ads and promotions. It is also adapting its website to personalize products and offerings based on a combination of past buying habits, social media posts and browsing patterns. "By knowing how a customer reacts when we send an email or what type of web messages generates a visit to a store and leads to a purchase, we're able to engage in far more effective marketing," says King. Getting to this point, he says, has required "a new curiosity about information-driven decision-making" and a much more collaborative and free thinking process that cuts across organizational silos.

This article was originally published on 02-01-2013
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.

Click for a full list of Newsletterssubmit