What is Data?
In any business process where some type of transaction or information exchange occurs, a record is created and maintained for further processing as well as for future reference. The recorded information is a set of values that describes the business transaction. Many organizations use Online Transaction Processing systems such as SAP ERP where their business transactions are recorded in pre-defined structures, organized, stored and accessed to facilitate further business flow and decisions. In addition to these records in ERP systems there are also original documents, typically in paper form, that either triggered the business transaction to begin with or were generated as an output of the transaction or process. These documents also need to be filed away for compliance purposes, ideally with some reference to the recorded transaction and business context.
As the scale of operations and volume of business transactions increase over time, it becomes important for organizations to consider how all this data can be managed. To be able to do so, firstly it is important to classify the data based on its origin, use and type of content, to be able to arrive at meaningful policies for managing them. Broadly, all enterprise data falls into two classifications:
- Structured Data: These are records of transactions, that are bound to data models and structures which give meaning and context to records and explain how different types of records are related to each other. Structured data is organized, sequenced and follows a set of rules that support the business – Eg: data in SAP ERP systems such as financial accounting data, purchase orders, invoices, deliveries, sales orders, employee transactions etc. and even master data that describe entities such as Vendors and Customers.
- Unstructured Data: These are data that do not have a predefined data model, are un-organized and typically text heavy – such as original documents in paper form. They could also be images such as scanned invoice images, product images, marketing materials or more sophisticated files such as engineering drawings. There are often referred to as “unstructured content” or just “documents”. Emails may also be considered under this classification although they are “semi-structured” to be more exact.
Enterprise Information Management (EIM):
Enterprise Information Management is a set of practices and solutions that are geared towards making optimal use of information within organizations – to streamline business processes by making all relevant information available to the processing personnel, to increase productivity and efficiency in day-to-day business operations that require knowledge and business information and to aid decision-making processes by making them information driven. As a domain, EIM overcomes one major traditional IT-related barrier, which is the barrier between structured and unstructured information especially because information has been stored in isolated repositories (called information silos) based on their type or technical format. This barrier causes major inefficiencies in organizations as business users are unable to find all related information for any given process. It even puts organizations at risk of not meeting regulatory compliance requirements as important information is often lost or not retrievable. The barrier also prevents organizations from drawing valuable insights from all their enterprise information. EIM looks at information management holistically, at an enterprise level, irrespective of type and format but with an awareness of the business context. EIM encapsulates the management of both structured and unstructured data, through their lifecycle, ensuring a 360-degree view of information to every business process. EIM helps organizations move beyond just data, into the realm of powerful information and insights.