Insurers have begun to embrace the onslaught of data in a variety of formats - e-mail, PDFs, photographs and social media feeds, to name a few. The idea is to turn the vast menagerie of unstructured data into useful business insight, with the goal of providing better results to clients while boosting sales. But achieving this end poses both a business and a technological challenge that few have been able to tame so far.

"Insurance companies are data-rich sources of all kinds of new and existing information that lends itself well to these kinds of analytical tools," says David Castellani, SVP of business information at New York Life. Tapping into unstructured data to glean useful business insights, he adds, is a new but fast-growing trend. "This trend is nascent, but it has huge implications for our industry in general."

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