New Tools Help Companies Manage Unstructured Data

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New Tools Help Companies Manage Unstructured Data

Ten years ago, it appeared that corporations were about to enter the golden age of information management. For decades, businesses had been gathering data about their customers, expecting that someday they would find a way to make sense of it.

Finally, it seemed, that day arrived in the mid-1990s when developers of databases grandly announced that they were on the verge of creating a solution that would gather all of a company’s unstructured data into a central repository.

What happened? At most companies, very little. In fact, analysts calculate that 85 percent of corporate data is still unstructured.

But now, according to a Reuters report,1 there is reason for renewed optimism. IBM has developed new search technologies that will simplify the way people can scour the data inside the corporation for the information they need. Instead of using keywords, the new tools rely on facts and concepts. Most significantly, they actually analyze the information to discover subtle relationships, facts, and ideas that are hidden in the unstructured data.

Structured information is the data that is stored in databases, such as personnel files, shipping information, and so on. Most of the corporate world’s data is unstructured, in the form of e-mail, memos, newspaper articles, reports, and anything else that is not entered into a database.

IBM’s new technology is called Unstructured Information Management Architecture, or UIMA for short. With UIMA, the company’s executives believe they have the market to themselves, at least for the moment. The head of search technology at IBM Research, Arthur Ciccolo, told Reuters,2 “I don’t see any of the major players moving into this area,” including Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Those companies’ search engines allow users to search the Internet, not an individual company’s data.

It took four years for IBM Research to develop UIMA, with support from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Other organizations that were involved in the research include several leading universities, The Mayo Clinic, and three defense contractors: Science Applications International Corporation, BBN Technologies, and Mitre Corporation.

Another tool that IBM has recently introduced is WebSphere OmniFind. With this software, users can search for information stored in unstructured data in a variety of languages and formats. For example, a manager doing research for a report could search for data in the company’s databases, e-mail archives, videos, pictures, and audio files...

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