Data can come in many forms – census data, tax information, even video footage – but whether data is structured in a spreadsheet or unstructured in myriad other forms used to be the key determinant in what insights could be drawn from it.  Not anymore.

“Take a look at the city of Dallas as an example of where we have, and we use, unstructured data,” the city’s new CIO Bill Zielinski said. “We have the ability to do things now like install cameras throughout the city so that we can capture real-time information about circumstances or things that are happening on the ground.”

Zielinski is no stranger to the latest tech, having led IT buying for the Federal government’s General Services Administration from October 2018 until June of this year.

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“The images that we’re capturing are unstructured in nature, but we do have the ability to put a structure around those images,” said Zielinski, during a virtual summit hosted by GovLoop on August 6. “That ability to be able to monitor actively that real time unstructured data that’s coming in and be able to apply algorithms or apply other monitors against that to be able to glean intelligence which then is structured is really an exciting space.”

He provided examples of monitoring real-time traffic conditions or the health of roads and sidewalks as use cases of data that is originally unstructured. In a city of more than 1.3 million people – the ninth largest city in the U.S. – that unstructured data is being used to help make decisions.

“We can use unstructured data, glean intelligence from the monitoring and the measuring of that unstructured data, and then turn that into something that is highly structured and used in our decision-making process,” he said.

Speaking alongside Zielinski, Dallas Nash, senior director of sales for unstructured data solutions at Dell Technologies, said there is a need for more data scientists in the field.

And while the frontier of unstructured data use might be with autonomous vehicles or precision agriculture, Nash emphasized the value of that data to cities.

“Smart cities are at the epicenter of everything that’s delivering unstructured data,” he said.

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