What is Data Discovery, And How Can It Apply to Your Business?

By Nathan Roberson | Small Business

What is Data Discovery, And How Can It Apply to Your Business?  image Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 9.08.03 PM 600x210What is Data Discovery, And How Can It Apply to Your Business?

Data discovery is a relatively new term in the realm of business intelligence. Though the term has been used in certain highly specialized sectors for most of a decade it is only within the last few years that this particular term has found common use in the broader world of business. Simply put, data discovery tools allow people to interact with a body of information, typically through sensitive search functions.

More than just a search engine

The idea of searching through a body of electronic data has its most familiar form in the modern search engine. Simply typing in a word or short phrase of interest is enough to generate thousands of useful results in the form of webpage links. A search engine delivers results by combing through the content present on each of the sites listed in its master index. This index is referred to by the search engine’s algorithms to return results that have been successful faster. This is part of the reason why typing in “books” into your favorite search engine will return several big name book retailers at the top of your results pages. A user can then browse the results page and select the link most relevant to their search. This interaction is at the heart of the discovery process.

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A discovery search would interact with a body of data in a similar fashion. In a very rudimentary search action, each data entry would be scanned by the search algorithm and then relevant results would be collected and displayed for the end users to examine. If you know anything about data, you might suspect that such a search action might take a long time, even when performed by a fast computer. Each data entry might require large fractions of a second to read; if all those entries were added up you might end up with a search that takes longer than you wish to wait.

Improving search time through the use of metadata

Search functions on the Internet and on pooled collections of non-Internet data have been improved considerably through the use of metadata tags. Metadata refers to small pieces of information that are related to (and may be contained within) the main body of a data entry. These pieces might be invisible to end users but are visible to search algorithms. Metadata is used in virtually every complex electronic network, including cellular phone networks and the Internet.

Metadata tags speed up search time by giving the algorithms fewer pieces of data to “look” at. For instance, a bibliographic data entry might include the author’s name, year and place of the book’s publication, its primary language, a short summary, cataloging information, and so forth. Searching all that information is unnecessary for a basic search. Thus the metadata tags could include just a few basic terms that end users are most likely to look for. That way a basic discovery search takes much less time. A more advanced search tool can allow users to selectively view bibliographic records relating to a particular year of publication or primary language.

So what do metadata tags include? How about:

  • The location where a piece of information was generated
  • The time of last access
  • Topical subject listings
  • The name of the series a piece of data is part of
  • The medium on which a particular piece of data can be accessed

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Keep your search tools current

If your BI search tool was developed within the last five years or so then there is a good chance that it already has the capability of accepting metadata tags; the majority of your data entries are probably tagged already. If your search tools are more than five years old then you may not be taking advantage of the most current discovery options. It is time to update your search tools.

Keeping your search tools up to date will help you organize and make sense of the many pieces of data generated by routine business operations. Faster, more accurate, and all around better searches will be possible as a result of implementing modern data discovery methods.

Images courtesy of Silicon angle

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