B2B’s Digital Shift Realigns Structured, Unstructured Data

B2B’s Digital Shift Realigns Data

Knowledge is power, the saying goes.

For executives running a business, knowledge is stored in information — the verbiage, the numbers, the communications that flow inside a company itself. And information is constantly coming in from external sources. Used optimally, data-based knowledge can help guide day-to-day operations and give strategic direction to a company over the long term.

Jason Burian, vice president of product management at document processing firm KnowledgeLake, told PYMNTS that it can be difficult to make sense of the deluge of information that comes in documents and other formats. The pandemic and the work-from-home shift caught many companies off guard, said Burian.

“They had to really accelerate some of their digital transformations,” he said. “We’re used to storing invoices and paper, and nobody’s in the office to access those filing cabinets.”

Firms have been faced with what he termed a “glut” of data that are not aggregated.

Earlier this month, KnowledgeLake said it formed a strategic partnership with ibml, a global provider of intelligent information capture solutions. Under the terms of the pact, KnowledgeLake and ibml will collaborate on product development, marketing and sales initiatives, focusing on helping corporate clients modernize their data capture and extraction activities as they automate back-end functions, such as accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivable (AR).

Grappling With Information

Burian said the announcement spotlights some of the issues that confront enterprises grappling with the constant flow of information: They need to be able to extract the most important facts and data out of a document to be deployed in the cloud. Moving to the cloud, he said, can eliminate the costs and complexity around implementations.

“The modern software landscape has been changed with the introduction of vendors like Zendesk and HubSpot and NetSuite,” he said. “They really changed the perception of software — it doesn’t have to take six months [for an implementation]. It doesn’t have to require 40 servers, and cloud software really can solve these problems better and faster.”

Burian noted that data extraction is useful only if it can put data to use in a way that makes sense. He pointed to AP, where challenges are especially acute in manufacturing and retail.

The variety of content that they get from a large number of vendors can be significant, he said. Not every vendor’s content sent looks the same, and information/data can be varied in length and format. Firms that don’t rely on modern technology like machine learning or neural networks can struggle with organizing that data.

“With previous versions of software, you would teach the system or develop the rules, and it worked for that point in time,” said Burian. “But organizations change. They change week to week and month to month, new vendors and new data points. The systems need to be able to grow, learn and change with the organization and not require reworking.”

Integration is also important, he added. AP systems need to be able to extract, store and then transmit data across different workflows within an organization.

Drilling down into the nature of the data itself, he said, about 20 percent of that information within an organization is structured — it exists in databases, lines of business and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

“It’s the invoice, it’s the transactional data, the payment data, those kinds of things,” he said. “That information is ‘easy’ to get to because it’s rational, and you can ask that data questions.”

The remaining 80 percent of data comes in an unstructured format, originating outside a firm and arriving to the enterprise in varied ways.

Thus, a chief technology officer may know quite well how many invoices she paid within the past 60 days; she may not know with any clarity how many she will need to pay in the next 60 days. The data that would be needed to say with certainty is unstructured and floating around in different departments, in emails, paper documents and other places.

The cloud, and advanced technologies, he said, can help companies collect, synthesize and use both structured and unstructured data in ways that can improve operations, benchmark their performance against other companies, and reduce manual workflows. Moving to the cloud and automation makes it easier to capture operational efficiencies that need not be time consuming or expensive to achieve.

“Humans have many better things to do in their workday than type data into an ERP system,” remarked Burian.