How a whole brain approach to your unstructured data can drive real value

Berry DiepeveenSocial media is filled with immensely popular clips of “fails” — people who capture their missteps, such as mistiming their skateboard moves or falling over while dancing. Searching for “best fail compilation” turns up hundreds of clips of people making silly — and often painful — mistakes. But in recent years, a new category has been emerging: insurance claim fails.


A common theme involves disability benefit claims. People claim for anything from depression to back injury, and are then caught out after posting pictures or videos of themselves merrily partying away. One tennis enthusiast made regular claims for a recurring illness requiring time off work. He was caught out after his insurer spotted his Facebook updates about his tournaments, all of which mysteriously took place the day before a claim was made.

Insurers have found clear value in social media and other unstructured data. But so have many others in different sectors. And sophistication is rising quickly. At the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, police matched geolocation information with social media analysis to help identify where protestors and activists were clustering. This helped to ensure that resources were on hand where they were needed most.

But for many others, much of the potential of unstructured data remains untouched. Firms are overwhelmed by the diverse information they’re rapidly accumulating: Twitter posts, online videos, Foursquare check-ins, phone location data and much more. This isn’t solely external. Internal channels include customer emails, customer contact center feedback, call recordings and website tracking data. So how can we turn this around?

In my experience, the firms getting the most out of this are deploying what I call the “whole brain” approach to social media and unstructured data analytics. They’re matching their logical and analytical “left brain” thinking with intuitive and thoughtful “right brain” insights. For CIOs, this has several practical considerations:

  1. Free your mind. One of the biggest challenges that companies run into is simply working out what the problem is that they’re trying to solve. Using intuition and instinct can help here, by opening up fresh ideas. One UK bank had huge amounts of information on its customers’ spending habits, but didn’t know how to share this information without either overwhelming or alarming these individuals. In the end, the most useful insight was just a simple calculation of the likely net value remaining in their account, taking into consideration their typical spending patterns each month.
  2. Connect all your neurons by linking any silos. Just as few marketers today would let IT create a social media app without their close involvement, so too should other teams weigh in with their perspectives. The most successful deployments often have a cross-functional team at their core – from technical experts through to customer experience specialists.
  3. Tune in to others’ perspective. As a recent post from Allianz’s Group Data Protection Officer points out, even when customers legally click away their rights when submitting their information on an online form, you still need to act cautiously on their behalf. You must use your intuition here to avoid betraying their trust. And make sure you involve your privacy and compliance folks in the process.
  4. Be open and transparent. Unstructured data analysis can bring massive opportunities. But firms need to be open about what they’re doing. A bank in Hong Kong has developed a popular credit card program that provides context-sensitive offers and deals to customers. If you visit several Italian restaurants, it’ll likely serve up a specific deal on Italian dining. While a badly executed program like this could alarm customers, the bank is highly transparent about what it intends to do. The offer is part of an opt-in scheme and customers are free to choose.

We all develop our learning as kids with a mix of both logical and creative approaches – making use of our whole brain. So as you learn this new field, are you doing the same? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.


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