How Distributors Can Leverage Their Unstructured Data

Unlock valuable business and customer insights to identify patterns and pinpoint supply-chain inefficiencies.

The distribution industry is faced with immense challenges related to digital transformation. With more businesses digitizing their supply chain and internal operations, vast amounts of data are being produced at an unprecedented rate. Subsequently, it is vital that distributors are utilizing these data to gain an important competitive advantage. They must learn to recognize, understand and apply data from both structured and unstructured formats in order to create a more efficient and effective supply chain.

Decision makers often rely on traditional structured data sources in order to make strategic business decisions, and unstructured data have long been ignored. Yet, with more than 74% of customer orders being placed via email, discounting unstructured data means losing out on significant customer insights. Savvy distributors should leverage both structured and unstructured data to unlock valuable business and customer insights that can identify patterns and pinpoint inefficiencies in the supply chain.

What are Unstructured Data?

Unstructured data are simply data that lack structure and present in formats such as emails, webpages or document files and documents themselves. The format is unorganized, complex and difficult to examine and therefore cannot be organized into traditional tables or charts. Unstructured data are capable of providing in-depth, qualitative insights that can outline both effective processes and inefficient operations. However, many businesses have traditionally overlooked or ignored this data category due to its length and complexity. 

For distributors, a shift to a more digital business is altering the reality of customer and business data. It is predicted that by 2020 93% of data all will be in unstructured formats. To dismiss this source of information and source of potential insights can be detrimental to business operations.

Unveiling Valuable Customer Insights

Unstructured data are capable of deciphering customer information, including purchasing habits, peak order times, order sizes and inefficient business operations. These are impressive business insights, yet close to 80% of businesses have little visibility or understanding of their unstructured data. Unlocking these insights allows distributors to make informed and strategic decisions relating to business strategies such as scheduling customer service staff and managing product inventory.

The greatest challenge for distributors is grasping the full potential of the information. Moreover, integrating the processed data and insights into actionable business strategies that deliver tangible and enhanced operational benefits. Through examining unstructured data, distributors can create comprehensive customer profiling by identifying where, when and what customers are doing as it relates to purchase orders. A simple example could include recognizing when additional customer service staff are needed to fulfill orders.

While many distributors are hesitant to tackle unstructured data, it is now easier than ever to leverage this information, as distributors can turn to digital solutions. Automation software can filter, sort and analyze this information. Distributors can implement technology such as sales order automation to help bridge the gap between unstructured data and business insights. These solutions can automate the manual entry of incoming purchase orders but can also seamlessly integrate it into the company’s ERP system. Ultimately, this provides distributors with an easier way to extract data.

Optimizing Business Processes

Structured and unstructured data are most beneficial and maximized when used in tandem and can deliver significant actionable insights into business operations. By leveraging both forms of data, distributors can develop in-depth and comprehensive overviews of customer profiles and business operations. They can also seek solutions to common operational inefficiencies including lowering overhead costs, boosting sales, optimizing inventory management or improving the customer experience. 

Overall, businesses that take advantage of all data to develop their understanding of customer habits and purchasing behaviors will have a competitive advantage. Strategically using these learnings to adjust operations will increase their chances of succeeding in an every-growing, ever-shifting digital industry.

Earl van As is the VP of marketing and product management at Conexiom, Reach him at


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