What Is Structured Data?

5 min. read

Structured data is information organized in a predefined and consistent format, enabling efficient storage, retrieval, and analysis. This organization relies on a well-defined schema that outlines data types, relationships among data elements, and adherence to specific structural rules.

In the context of data security, structured data is often considered less challenging to secure compared to unstructured data. Identifying sensitive records and limiting access to records in databases, compared to files in blob storage, is much easier.

Structured Data Explained

Structured data typically involves tabular data found in databases, spreadsheets, and data tables. Presented in rows and columns, structured data has a consistent schema and data model, as well as clusters that group similar records. Each cell within this grid contains a data element conforming to the schema.

A common example of structured data is a relational database, where large amounts of data — such as customer information, sales data, or inventory records — are stored in tables with clearly defined relationships established through primary and foreign keys. The design allows for complex querying and manipulation using SQL or other query languages.

Structured data storage systems, such as relational databases, columnar databases, and data warehouses, provide efficient and scalable solutions for managing vast amounts of data while maintaining data integrity and consistency.

Structured data is essential for data-driven decision-making, as its organized format allows for seamless integration with data analytics and business intelligence tools. By streamlining data management processes, structured data facilitates the extraction of insights, trends, and actionable reports and dashboards.

Structured Vs. Unstructured Data

In contrast to structured data, which is readily compatible with data analytics tools, unstructured data lacks a consistent schema and is not readily searchable or analyzable. This type of data — text documents, emails, images, audio files, videos — often requires advanced techniques, such as tnatural language processing or machine learning algorithms, to extract meaningful insights.

Benefits of Structured Data

Structured data plays a central role in diverse industries and applications. Among its benefits, it offers efficient storage, easy querying, faster analysis, and is understandable by both humans and machines. Its organized format enables data management and retrieval, enabling the use of SQL or other query languages to access specific information. Structured data also simplifies data integration, as its consistent schema allows for seamless merging with other structured datasets. Providing insights through data analytics and business intelligence tools, it facilitates better decision-making, helping organizations improve performance, optimize operational efficiency, and reduce costs

Challenges with Structured Data

Challenges with structured data arise primarily from the rigidity of its predefined format. Adapting to new data types or altering the schema can be time consuming and resource intensive. Additionally, the structured nature might not accommodate complex or diverse data sources, limiting its applicability to certain use cases. Data entry and validation processes can also prove cumbersome, requiring strict adherence to the schema to maintain consistency and reliability.

Internal and External Sources of Structured Data

Internal sources of structured data generated and managed within the organization consist of data from customer relationship management (CRM) systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, accounting software, human resources systems, and other business applications. External sources of structured data obtained from outside the organization, augment internal data. Examples include market research data, industry benchmarks, government datasets, and data purchased from third-party providers.

Together, internal and external data helps organizations gain valuable insights into customer behavior, understand market trends, identify opportunities, and make informed decisions based on a current and competitive dataset.

Structured Data FAQs

Structured data is organized in a predefined format, such as databases, spreadsheets, and data tables, enabling efficient storage, querying, and analysis. Semi-structured data has some organization, but lacks a rigid schema, often employing tags or labels to define data elements. Examples include XML and JSON files. Unstructured data lacks a consistent structure, making it challenging to search or analyze without advanced techniques. Examples include text documents, emails, images, and videos.
Three types of structured data include: 1) relational data, which is stored in tables with rows and columns, such as SQL databases; 2) hierarchical data, which follows a tree-like structure, where each data element has a parent and possibly multiple children, like XML documents; and 3) tabular data, which is stored in spreadsheets or data tables, with rows representing records and columns representing attributes.
  • Relational databases (e.g., SQL databases)
  • Spreadsheets (e.g., Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets)
  • Data tables (e.g., CSV or TSV files)
  • XML documents with hierarchical data organization
  • JSON files with key-value pairs following a specific schema

The two primary sources of structured data are:

  • Internal sources: These include data generated within an organization, such as customer information in CRM systems, financial data in accounting software, or inventory data in ERP systems.
  • External sources: These include data obtained from outside the organization, such as market research data, industry benchmarks, or publicly available datasets from government agencies or other organizations.
Yes, a CSV (Comma Separated Values) file is an example of structured data. CSV files store tabular data in plain text format, with rows representing records and columns representing attributes. Each field in a record is separated by a comma, following a consistent structure that allows for efficient querying, analysis, and manipulation using various data processing tools and programming languages.
A consistent schema refers to the well-defined structure of a dataset that outlines the organization, data types, and relationships among data elements. Consistent schemas enable efficient storage, querying, and analysis of structured data, as they provide a predictable and uniform framework for organizing information. They facilitate seamless data integration, interoperability, and compatibility with various data processing tools and programming languages.
Data types are classifications that define the nature of values that can be stored in a particular data element, such as integers, floating-point numbers, text strings, or dates. Data types determine how the data is stored, processed, and manipulated within a dataset, ensuring consistency and accuracy in calculations, comparisons, and other data operations. They are an essential component of a dataset's schema, providing the foundation for structured data organization.
Data relationships describe the connections and associations between different data elements within a structured dataset. These relationships can represent hierarchical structures, dependencies, or logical connections, enabling complex data analysis and querying. In relational databases, data relationships are established through primary and foreign keys, which link records in different tables based on shared attributes. Data relationships play a vital role in maintaining data integrity, consistency, and organization in structured datasets.
A relational database is a type of structured data storage system where each table represents a unique entity, and the relationships among tables are established using primary and foreign keys. Relational databases enable efficient querying, manipulation, and analysis of data using SQL or similar query languages. They are widely used for managing large volumes of structured data in various industries and applications.
A data table is a structured data representation that organizes information in a grid format, with rows representing records and columns representing attributes. Data tables follow a consistent schema, allowing for efficient storage, retrieval, and analysis of data. They can be stored in various formats, such as spreadsheets, relational databases, or CSV files, and can be easily processed and manipulated using data analytics tools, programming languages, or specialized software.
Tabular form refers to the organization of data in a grid-like structure, with rows representing individual records and columns representing attributes. This format is commonly used in structured data storage systems, such as spreadsheets, relational databases, and data tables. Tabular form enables efficient querying, analysis, and manipulation of data, as its consistent structure allows for the application of various data processing tools, programming languages, and query languages.
Records, also known as rows, represent individual data entries within a structured dataset, such as a table in a database or a row in a spreadsheet. Attributes, also known as columns or fields, define the properties or characteristics of the records. Each attribute typically corresponds to a specific data type and follows a consistent schema. Together, records and attributes form the basis of structured data organization, facilitating efficient storage, retrieval, and analysis.
Data elements, also known as cells or values, are the individual pieces of information within a structured dataset. Each data element corresponds to a specific attribute (column) and record (row) in a data table, representing a single data point. Data elements follow the data type and schema defined by their corresponding attribute, ensuring consistency and accurate data representation within the dataset.
An SQL (Structured Query Language) database is a type of relational database that utilizes SQL as its query language for managing, manipulating, and analyzing structured data. SQL databases store data in tables with rows and columns, following a consistent schema that defines data types and relationships among data elements. Widely used in various industries and applications, SQL databases provide efficient data storage, retrieval, and analysis through the use of SQL commands and queries.
A TSV (tab-separated values) file is a type of structured data file that stores tabular data in plain text format, with rows representing records and columns representing attributes. Each field in a record is separated by a tab character, creating a consistent structure for efficient querying, analysis, and manipulation. TSV files are similar to CSV (comma-separated values) files but use a tab delimiter instead of a comma, making them suitable for datasets containing commas within the data elements.
JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a lightweight data interchange format that is both human-readable and machine-parseable. It is commonly used for exchanging data between a web application and a server or for storing structured data. JSON represents data as key-value pairs, with a structure that is similar to JavaScript objects. Its simplicity, flexibility, and compatibility with various programming languages have made JSON a popular choice for data interchange in modern web applications.
A CRM (customer relationship management) system is a software application designed to manage an organization's interactions with customers and potential customers. CRM systems centralize and organize customer data, including contact information, purchase history, preferences, and communication records, to facilitate sales, marketing, and customer service activities. By streamlining customer relationship management processes, CRM systems help organizations improve customer satisfaction, increase sales, and enhance overall business performance.
An ERP (enterprise resource planning) system is an integrated software suite that helps organizations manage their core business processes, such as finance, supply chain, human resources, and customer relations, in a unified and efficient manner. ERP systems centralize and streamline data from various departments, providing real-time visibility into operations and enabling data-driven decision-making. By automating and optimizing critical business processes, ERP systems can improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance overall organizational performance.
Publicly available datasets are collections of structured or unstructured data that are freely accessible for public use, often provided by government agencies, research institutions, or non-profit organizations. These datasets cover a wide range of topics, such as demographics, economic indicators, health statistics, and environmental data. Public datasets can be valuable resources for organizations to enhance their internal data, gain broader insights, and inform decision-making processes.
Business intelligence (BI) tools are software applications designed to analyze, visualize, and interpret structured data to support data-driven decision-making. BI tools enable organizations to extract meaningful insights from large volumes of data, identify trends and patterns, and generate actionable reports and dashboards. Common features of BI tools include data integration, query and reporting, data visualization, and predictive analytics. Examples of popular BI tools include Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, and QlikView.
Data storage for structured data refers to the methods and systems used to organize and maintain information in a predefined format, such as databases, spreadsheets, and data tables. Structured data storage systems provide efficient and scalable solutions for managing large volumes of data while ensuring data integrity, consistency, and accessibility. Examples of structured data storage systems include relational databases, columnar databases, and data warehouses.
Data querying in the context of structured data involves the process of extracting specific information or subsets from a structured dataset using query languages, such as SQL. Queries enable users to filter, sort, aggregate, and manipulate data based on specific criteria or conditions. Data querying is an essential aspect of structured data management, as it allows for efficient retrieval and analysis of relevant information for decision-making, reporting, and insights generation.
Data analysis in the context of structured data refers to the process of examining, cleaning, transforming, and modeling data to extract valuable insights, identify patterns, and support decision-making. Structured data analysis often employs various techniques, such as descriptive statistics, data visualization, and predictive modeling, to make sense of the data and draw meaningful conclusions. Business intelligence tools, programming languages, and data analytics platforms can be used to perform structured data analysis and generate actionable insights for organizations.