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Out with the Old and In with the Agile: The Power of Unifying Unstructured and Structured Data for Business Intelligence

September 20, 2012 No Comments

By: Mike Urbonas Director, Product Marketing at Attivio

A dramatic shift is under way in the increasingly interdependent worlds of enterprise information management and business intelligence. Demand for information is booming, with business leaders, managers and line-of-business users all clamoring for new combinations of data types (structured, semi-structured and unstructured), drawn from new sources, in higher volumes than ever before. And to top it off, all of this disparate information must be easily consumable and actionable, presented to end users in agile and highly visual business intelligence (BI) tools, self-service dashboards and other rapidly deployed analytical applications.

Heavy reliance on relational data warehouses and long-winded processes of data modeling and centralized BI application development are no longer acceptable

[Organizations] must provide access, integration, and presentation capabilities for an extensive range of real-time, continuously changing, easily integrated, highly relevant information sources – internal and external, structured and unstructured. [1] The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI)

Unfortunately, the underlying IT infrastructure in place and the silos of information sources accumulated over time are simply not up to the task of satisfying these unprecedented and urgent demands for new returns on information. Meanwhile, the variety of information and analysis that BI tools can deliver is limited to the partial, database-centric information made available to them by these legacy back-end systems.

As a result, managers and leaders still typically work with incomplete information – mostly structured data – taken with great difficulty from some of the many silos of information across the organization. Valuable unstructured content (documents, email, web, etc.), typically siloed in document management systems, SharePoint, email archives, websites, etc., is often not utilized, even though such information sources comprise more than 80% of all corporate information.

Learning “what’s really important” – in other words, what really drives meaningful business value – increasingly requires the integration of this unstructured content with structured data in business intelligence analytics. A recent AIIM survey revealed 61% of respondents agreed it would be “very useful” to link structured and unstructured data, and 56% would find it “very valuable” or “hugely valuable” to perform sophisticated analytics on unstructured content.[2]

However, organizations’ desire for information is far greater than their technological capabilities to provide it. Only 2% (!) of respondents said they are able to work with structured and unstructured data at present. 70% of respondents reported that it is “harder” or “much harder” to access and analyze their own internal information. And a surprising 30% rated their company’s reporting and BI capabilities as “poor.”[3] Clearly, existing information infrastructures and traditional BI are failing to fulfill urgent enterprise demands for information.

A new approach is clearly required to enable highly agile BI, drawn from the entire spectrum of relevant sources – structured and unstructured, as well as internal and external.

Thankfully, this new, agile information approach essential for success is not some imagined futuristic dream; it is unified information access (UIA), a new breed of technology that freely indexes, joins and presents all enterprise information with no advance data modeling required.

Today’s best of breed unified information access platforms, such as Attivio’s Active Intelligence Engine® (AIE), integrate and correlate all enterprise information – structured data and unstructured content alike – for easy access and analysis by agile, self-service BI tools, enabling dramatically improved business insight and successful business actions.

This deeper level of insight delivers on the concept that PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) calls the new analytics:

New analytics “is about detecting opportunities and threats you hadn’t anticipated…It’s about learning what’s really important, rather than what you thought was important. It’s about identifying, committing, and following through on what your enterprise must change most.” [4]

UIA platforms enable new analytics in ways that legacy data warehousing and other back-end IT infrastructures cannot match.

Unified information access combines diverse information without relying on cumbersome integration layers and without sacrificing the relationships and analytics that make information more meaningful and usable. By ingesting all types of content and data and creating a universal index, UIA solves the problem of information isolation that limits business agility.

The universal index not only retains explicit data relationships, but extracts and links entities from content, so the aggregated information is intelligent and relational – which in turn means that users get all the insight they need quickly. Developers can apply either fuzzy search-style queries to optimize for relevancy or standard SQL to construct more complex and precise queries. Users, who can retrieve information with free form, search-style queries and advanced navigation techniques, gain on both ends: the method of seeking information is intuitive, and the pool of information is complete.

As companies continue to look to technology to differentiate how they do business, UIA can make insight that matters available on demand.


A gallery of self-service BI dashboards (from top left, clockwise: QlikView, Tableau and TIBCO Spotfire) using integrated and correlated unstructured and structured data sourced from Attivio’s Active Intelligence Engine® (AIE).These dashboards include insights only available from unstructured content, such as sentiment analysis, key phrase and entity extraction, and “scoring” the business value of documents based on various key phrases, relevancy, etc., presented as time-series charts.

[1] Jennifer Hay and Dave Wells, TDWI: Product Management for the Net Generation (2007).
[2] AIIM: Big Data: Extracting Value from your Digital Landfills (2012).
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.


Mike Urbonas

Director, Product Marketing at Attivio

Mike UrbonasAs Director of Product Marketing at Attivio, Mike is responsible for messaging and positioning of Attivio’s Active Intelligence Engine, including collateral, case study and presentation development as well as competitive analysis. Prior to Attivio, Mike served as Director of Marketing at Blackboard Analytics (formerly iStrategy Solutions) and Product Marketing Manager at Datawatch Corporation.

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