Welcome, data enthusiasts, to the dark side of data! No, we’re not talking about the Sith Lords or secret societies, but something equally mysterious and untapped: dark data. As an executive data and analytics consultant, I’ve ventured into the depths of this hidden realm, armed with a flashlight and a sense of humor.

Let’s dive into the fascinating world of dark data and discover how it can transform your organization from a data hobbit into a data wizard.

But first, what do I mean when I say Dark Data?

Dark data refers to the vast amount of unstructured and unexplored data that resides within an organization. Unlike structured data, dark data lacks a predefined format and is often left untouched, residing in silos, or being discarded altogether.
The reality is that far too many organizations are sitting on a mountain of dark data. In fact, a recent report notes that nearly half of all data can be considered dark. But the real magic happens when the data is unearthed, analyzed, and put to use to benefit the business, especially considering that storing data comes at a financial cost and increases compliance and cybersecurity risks.

Let’s dive into some of the insights that are buried within the mountain of dark data…

The Hidden Value of Dark Data

IDC predicts that the amount of unstructured data worldwide will grow from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes (or 175 billion terabytes) by 2025, an annual growth rate of 61%. Just think of all the insights buried within that unstructured data. Insights that would help build customer trust. Retain employees. Drive new product launches. Let’s talk about a few of these insights.

  1. Uncovering Customer Insights: Dark data holds valuable information about customer sentiments, preferences, and interactions that can provide deep insights into their behavior and needs. Marketers can optimize product placement, targeted promotions, and personalized messaging by revealing specific patterns in customer purchasing behavior, such as recurring purchases, seasonal trends, or product combinations insights from dark data. Another example — dark data from social media platforms can provide insights into customer sentiment, opinions, and preferences. Analyzing this data allows marketers to gauge brand perception, identify emerging trends, and tailor messaging to align with customer sentiment
  2. Enhancing Operational Efficiency: Dark data can provide insights into internal processes, workflows, and employee collaboration. Analyzing chat logs, support tickets, or project management data can help identify bottlenecks, streamline operations, and drive productivity gains.
  3. Identifying Business Opportunities: Dark data can unveil trends, patterns, and market insights that were previously hidden. Analyzing industry reports, research papers, competitor websites, or online forums can help organizations identify emerging market trends, anticipate customer demands, and spot untapped opportunities. A great example is when I was working with a pharmaceutical company launching a new cancer drug. Through dark data, we discovered that the emotion of sadness was more prominent among caregivers than patients. That insight helped us ensure that our messaging did not overlook caregivers, but instead acknowledged their mental health and provided coping tips.

Unlocking the Value of Dark Data

To harness the full potential of dark data, leaders need to be intentional about their approach. Here are 3 key building blocks in unlocking the full value of your data:

  1. Data Governance and Strategy: Establish a robust data governance framework that encompasses dark data. Define policies, processes, and roles to ensure data quality, privacy, and compliance. Develop a data strategy that includes dark data exploration and integration into existing analytics initiatives.
  2. Advanced Analytics and AI: Leverage advanced analytics techniques and artificial intelligence (AI) to extract insights from unstructured dark data. Natural Language Processing (NLP), sentiment analysis, and machine learning algorithms can be applied to identify patterns, sentiments, and anomalies within text-based dark data sources.\
  3. Data Integration and Collaboration: Break down data silos by integrating dark data sources into your data ecosystem. Collaborate with cross-functional teams, including IT, legal, and compliance, to ensure seamless access to and analysis of dark data.

As the world becomes more and more digital, the mountain of data we’re collectively sitting on is only growing larger and more unruly, and it’s not going anywhere. Companies everywhere are investing in data collection and storage, but those actions alone are not driving growth or impact. It’s time to invest in insights that will drive the business forward.

At SQA Group, we understand the immense potential of dark data and its impact on organizational success. Our team of experienced data scientists and consultants can help your organization unlock the value hidden within your dark data. Click here to brainstorm with us.