One of the LinkedIn groups I belong to has a great discussion started by Tom Burgmans , Enterprise Search Specialist at Wolters Kluwer, a publisher. The group is Enterprise Search Engine Professionals and has over 1,600 members. Tom began a discussion with this question: FAST Technical Users Group? As I read his call to action by the FAST user community, and the subsequent cheers in response from group members, I was delighted to see the swell of support. Here’s why.
This is a perfect example of where social tools meet a need. A suggestion I also made as a panelist at FastForward 2009 has emerged spontaneously as a direct result of market forces. My observation had been that the FAST user conference was largely attended by IT folks, and the overwhelming number of keynotes and session topics focused on social tools, not especially tied directly to search either. A recommended call to action directed to Microsoft was that they host a platform of social tools to facilitate genuine user community sharing around the FAST product. The people who most need this are search administrators and content managers who presumably have some governance responsibilities for searchable content.
In Tom’s suggestion we see the effective use of a social tool to generate interest among members, a large and focused audience who serve as a great test of the viability of his idea. That is neat!
Almost 30 years ago when I ran a software company, we (the company) organized and ran annual user group meetings in tandem with a large professional conference that most of our customers attended. These meetings were very successful, well attended by 40 – 50% of our customers. Over almost 20 years the group spawned a lot of professional and collegial relationships that gave our small user community a sense of collective investment in furthering the improvement and support of the product around which they met. Efforts to turn over total control of the user group to the community were not successful because, in those days, the infrastructure needed for planning, organizing and running meetings across the North American geography did not exist. My company provided that support mechanism out of necessity.
However, three regional user groups began their own programs to share knowledge, and the entire user community collectively published a “cookbook” of source code for reports that many of the users had built for use with the database application and wanted to share with others.
Today the opportunities for building these communities of practice have a vast number of “free” social tools to employ, so that barrier has gone away. More important, the benefits to the user community are limitless. It gets to drive discussion about the product, share hints, workarounds, and tips for successful implementations. The user community gets to decide what is important, what is needed in the knowledge-base of operational information. It can call for product changes, improvements and use social platforms for galvanizing the community around specific issues.
One of the best outcomes we saw with our own user community was around a visitation day at our offices for customers to meet together to “test-drive” an alpha version of a major new release. We purposely stayed out of the meeting for an extended period. Later we learned that when each had developed a “wish list” of changes and tweaks to the release, some rather marginal choices had died a natural death as a result of the “wisdom of the crowd.” This was an ideal scenario for us as a development company because we did not have to disappoint any individual users with a unilateral decision to reject their ideas.
Trust me when I recommend to the enterprise search user community, you will empower yourselves in ways you can’t imagine when you join forces with other customers to drive the improvements and success of any product you use and value.
When search fails me, the reasons may be hard to discover as a user but once on the inside of an enterprise I can learn a lot about what is going on. After listening to scores of business case studies, personal experiences and reading about rampant dissatisfaction with search it is discouraging to recognize the simple reasons for most negative outcomes.
Consider this scenario. I was attempting to find the address of the office of a major global platform vendor (one of the largest) that sells an entire suite of enterprise search and content management software products. One can usually find business location information from links on the home page of any corporate Web site or at least from the site representing the division one is visiting. But there was no such link for this corporate site. Then using the “search” box and later the “advanced search” option, trying a dozen variations of the division name, town in which the office is located, and product names I struck out on every query. All paths lead to a page with a single corporate address, or a couple of other remote addresses, and links to web pages that contained no address. Even those pages with addresses had no link to directions. I followed up with queries using Google and these got me back to the same dead-ends. Finally, I found the address through various online non-specific business directories.
This experience lead to a couple of conclusions about why my search failed: 1. The content does not exist; there is no such listing of locations. 2. The search engine is not properly tuned or metadata is not supplied with labels such as “locations,” “directions,” “business offices,” etc. The immediate solution for this case is to ensure that someone with practical business sense and usability competency has ownership of the overall web site experience to make sure that essential company data is available and easy to find. Or, if the company has made a conscious decision not to publish that information, at the least they should have a page stating the alternative for potential visitors as to how they can find their destination or to what office they can direct postal mail.
I had to two reasons for needing this information; one was a visit to an individual who was not available to give me the address in time to reach the office, and the second was a personal follow-up letter after someone from the company had been a speaker at an event I chaired. As things stand, I have been left with personal skepticism about the commitment of this company to build, produce and actually use content management or search products that will be truly responsive to needs of their potential buyers. When you don’t or can’t showcase your products, I question “why.” This is not a technology problem; it is a human factors and human resource allocation problem.
This brings me to some search fundamentals:
• No content – If content that customers or employees expect to find is not included in explicit directives to the search engine for the repositories to be crawled and indexed, it will never be found.
• No metadata – Any content lacking explicit language likely to be used by a searcher will probably not be found if it also lacks sufficient metadata.
• Poor indexing or search rule base – If the content being searched is business documents without many unique contextual “hooks,” such as product names, technical terminology or topics of narrow interest, the search engine being used must be “smart” enough to glean the intent of the searcher from the context of query. In my case, I supplied a half a dozen terms to layer the context, tried them in different combinations, with and without quotations around phrases, but nothing worked.
Conclusion, if you really don’t want searchers to find what they want to find, it is not hard at all to compromise findability. I will not arrive at my destination and you won’t get any first class letters from me.
We’ll be covering a chunk of the search landscape at the Gilbane Conference next week. While there are nominally over 100 search solutions that target some aspect of enterprise search, there will be plenty to learn from the dozen or so case studies and tool options described. Commentary and examples include: Attivio, Coveo, Exalead, Google Search Appliance (GSA), IntelliSearch, Lexalytics, Lucene, Oracle Secure Enterprise Search, Thunderstone and references to others. Our speakers will cue us into the current state of the search as it is being implemented. Several exhibitors are also on site to demonstrate their capabilities and they represent some of the best. Check out the program lineup below and try to make it to Boston to hear those with hands-on experience.
EST-1: Plug-and Play: Enterprise Experiences with Search Appliances
- So you want to implement an enterprise search solution? Speaker: Angela A. Foster, FedEx Services, FedEx.com Development, and Dennis Shirokov, Marketing Manager, FedEx Digital Access Marketing.
- The Make or Buy Decision at the U.S. General Services Admin. Speaker: Thomas Schaefer, Systems Analyst and Consultant, U.S. General Services Administration
- Process and Architecture for Implementing GSA at MITRE. Robert Joachim, Info Systems Engr, Lead, The MITRE Corporation.
EST-2: Search in the Enterprise When SharePoint is in the Mix
- Enterprise Report Management: Bringing High Value Content into the Flow of Business Action. Speaker: Ajay Kapur, VP of Product Development, Apps Associates
- Content Supply? Meet Knowledge Demand: Coveo SharePoint integration. Speaker: Marc Solomon, Knowledge Planner, PRTM.
- In Search of the Perfect Search: Google Search on the Intranet. Speaker: June Nugent, Director of Corporate Knowledge Resources, NetScout Systems,
EST-3: Open Source Search Applied in the Enterprise
- Context for Open Source Implementations. Speaker: Leslie Owen, Analyst, Forrester Research
- Intelligent Integration: Combining Search and BI Capabilities for Unified Information Access. Speaker: Sid Probstien, CTO, Attivio
EST-4: Search Systems: Care and Feeding for Optimal Results
- Getting Off to a Strong Start with Your Search Taxonomy. Speaker: Heather Hedden, Principal Hedden Information Management
- Getting the Puzzle Pieces to Fit; Finding the Right Search Solution(s) Patricia Eagan, Sr. Mgr, Web Communications, The Jackson Laboratory.
- How Organizations Need to Think About Search. Speaker: Rob Wiesenberg, President & Founder, Contegra Systems
EST-5: Text Analytics/Semantic Search: Parsing the Language
- Overview and Differentiators: Text Analytics, Text Mining and Semantic Technologies. Jeff Catlin, CEO, Lexalytics
- Reality and Hype in the Text Retrieval Market. Curt Monash, President, Monash Research.
- Two Linguistic Approaches to Search: Natural Language Processing and Concept Extraction. Speaker: Win Carus, President and Founder, Information Extraction Systems
When you look for an e-mail you sent last week, a vendor account rep’s phone number, a PowerPoint presentation you received from a colleague in the Paris office, a URL to an article recommended for reading before the next Board meeting, or background on a company project you have been asked to manage, you are engaged in search in, about, or for your enterprise. Whether you are working inside applications that you have used for years, or simply perusing the links on a decade’s old corporate intranet, trying to find something when you are in the enterprise doing its work, you are engaging with a search interface.
Dissatisfaction comes from the numbers of these interfaces and the lack of cohesive roadmap to all there is to be found. You already know what you know and what you need to know. Sometimes you know how to find what you need to know but more often you don’t know and stumble through a variety of possibilities up to and including asking someone else how to find it. That missing roadmap is more than an annoyance; it is a major encumbrance to doing your job and top management does not get it. They simply won’t accept that one or two content roadmap experts (overhead) could be saving many people-years of company time and lost productivity.
In most cases, the simple notion of creating clear guidelines and signposts to enterprise content is a funding showstopper. It takes human intelligence to design and build that roadmap and put the technology aids in place to reveal it. Management will fund technology but not the content architects, knowledge “mappers” and ongoing gatekeepers to stay on top of organizational change, expansions, contractions, mergers, rule changes and program activities that evolve and shift perpetually. They don’t want infrastructure overhead whose primary focus, day-in and day-out, will be observing, monitoring, communicating, and thinking about how to serve up the information that other workers need to do their jobs. These people need to be in place as the “black-boxes” that keep search tools in tip-top operating form.
Last week I commented on the products that will be featured in the Search Track at Gilbane Boston, Dec. 3rd and 4th. What you will learn about these tools is going to be couched in case studies that reveal the ways in which search technology is leveraged by people who think a lot about what needs to be found and how search needs to work in their enterprises. They will talk about what tools they use, why and what they are doing to get search to do its job. I’ve asked the speakers to tell their stories and based on my conversations with them in the past week, that is what we will hear, the reality!
Heading into the Gilbane Boston conference next month we have case studies that feature quite an array of enterprise search applications. So many of the search solutions now being deployed are implemented with a small or part-time staff that it is difficult to find the one or two people who can attend a conference to tell their stories. We have surveyed blogs, articles and case studies published elsewhere to identify organizations and people who have hands-on-experience in the trenches deploying search engines in their enterprises. Our speakers are those who were pleased to be invited and they will be sharing their experiences on December 3rd and 4th.
From search appliances Thunderstone and Google Search Appliance, to platform search solutions based on Oracle Secure Enterprise Search, and standalone search products Coveo, Exalead, and ISYS, we will hear from those who have been involved in selecting, implementing and deploying these solutions for enterprise use. From a Forrester industry analyst and Attivio developer we’ll hear about open source options and how they are influencing enterprise search development. The search sessions will be rounded out as we explore the influences and mergers of text mining, text analytics with Monash Research and semantic technologies (Lexalytics and InfoExtract) as they relate to other enterprise search options. There will be something for everyone in the sessions and in the exhibit hall.
Personally, I am hoping to see many in the audience who also have search stories within their own enterprises. Those who know me will attest to my strong belief in communities of practice and sharing. It strengthens the marketplace place when people from different types of organizations share their experiences trying to solve similar problems with different products. Revealing competitive differentiators among the numerous search products is something that pushes technology envelopes and makes for a more robust marketplace. Encouraging dialogue about products and in-the-field experiences is a priority for all sessions at the Gilbane Conference and I’ll be there to prompt discussion for all five search sessions. I hope you’ll join me in Boston.
While you may be wrapping up your summer vacation or preparing for a ramp up to a busy fourth quarter of business, the Gilbane team is securing the speakers for an exciting conference Dec. 2 – 4 in Boston. Evaluations of past sessions always give high marks to case studies delivered by users. We have several for the search track but would like a few more. If one of your targets for search is documents stored in SharePoint repositories, your experiences are sure to draw interest.
SharePoint is the most popular new collaboration tool for organizations with a large Microsoft application footprint but it usually resides with multiple other repositories that also need to be searched. So, what search products are being used to retrieve SharePoint content plus other content? A majority of search applications provide a connector to index SharePoint documents and they would not be making that available without a demand. We would like to hear what SharePoint adopters are actively using for search. What are you experiencing? If you would like to participate in the Gilbane Conference, and have experiences you to share, I hope you will get in touch and check out the full program.
On a related note, I was surprised, during my recent research, to discover few identifiable user-groups or support communities for search products. Many young companies launch and sponsor “user-group meetings” to share product information, offer training, and facilitate peer-to-peer networking among their customers. It is a sign of confidence when they do help customers communicate with each other. It signals a willingness to open communication paths the might lead to collective product critiques which, if well organized, can benefit users and vendors. It is also a sign of maturity when companies reach out to encourage customers to connect with each other. May-be some are operating in stealth mode but more should be accessible to interested parties in the marketplace.
Organizing functions are difficult to manage by users on their own professional time, so, having a vendor willing to be the facilitator and host for communication mechanisms is valuable. However, they sometimes need to have customers giving them a nudge to open the prospect of such a group. If you would value participating in a network of others using your selected product, I suggest taking the initiative by approaching your customer account representative. Communities for sharing tips about any technology are important but so is mutual guidance to help others become more successful with any product’s process management and governance issues. User groups can give valuable feedback to their vendors and spur product usage creativity and efficiency. Finally, as an analyst I would much rather hear straight talk about product experiences from those who are active users, than a filtered version from a company representative. So, please, reach out to your peers and share your story at any opportunity you can. Volunteer to speak at conferences and participate in user groups. The benefits are numerous, the most important being the formation of a strong collective voice.
A major differentiator for search products used within enterprises to enable finding enterprise generated and re-purposed content is intent. For too long the focus has been on search for content based on keywords that are contained in target content. Target content has been determined by what repositories and document formats are explicitly included in the search engine “crawl.” This simplistic approach to search for the most appropriate content does not work.
At an upcoming session, EST-3, in the Enterprise Search track at the San Francisco Gilbane Conference, we want to change the discussion about why search is needed for enterprise content and how it should be implemented. This means putting a focus on the intent of a searcher. In an e-commerce Internet experience we assume that the intent of a searcher is to find information with an end goal of selecting or purchasing products. But much of the content that is crawled on the Internet is “discovered” by all kinds of searchers who begin with no particular intent but curiosity, self-education, or with a search for something entirely different. We all know where that lands us – in a pile of stuff that may contain the target of our intent but mostly stuff with little relevance.
Enterprise search has to be thought of as a value-added tool for enriching and improving our work experience and efficiency. If it is installed, implemented and tuned with little thought as to intent, it becomes another white elephant in the basement of legacy IT failures. Intent needs to be constantly explored and examined, which means that search administrators will routinely be talking to representative users, and surveying expectations and experiences.
In our enterprises we search for content for many reasons. It is what we do with that content that creates business value or not. Too often, organizations discover that the content workers need to perform at their highest levels is not found. This may be because search implementation(s) are not delivered to the desktop to fit easily into workflow, or the interface is hard to use. It can also be that required content never gets included as a retrieval option. Search experts can give us guidance to establish search tools in the ways that fit how workers seek information and find actionable content to better their work output.
On June 19th three such experts will talk about cases in which search solutions were designed for a particular audience. If you are in the audience to hear them, please comment through this blog on what you learn. New insights into applying search “the right way” are a refreshing addition to case study library.
Speakers: Jean Bedord, Findability & Search Consultant, Econtent Strategies, Search for the Enterprise: Creating Findability
Mark Bennett, CTO, New Idea Engineering, Protecting Confidential Information within the Corporate Search Box
Mark Morehead, Senior VP, MuseGlobal, UWire: A Case Study in Using Search to Streamline Editorial Processes in the Enterprise
In the forthcoming Gilbane research report, Enterprise Search Markets and Applications Capitalizing on Emerging Demand, I describe several distinctly different scenarios for search applications. The variety of search products underscores innovative approaches to applying search and diversity of needs. The Enterprise Search track at the upcoming Gilbane Conference in San Francisco will feature numerous examples of why and how search is being applied across small, medium and very large domains of enterprise content. Hearing from those experienced in implementing and deploying search solutions will inform you when positioning your search “must haves” as you narrow possible options.
Our first group panel will feature two consultants and a solutions provider each with a perspective on aligning the search problem you are trying to solve with a business case and the type of product being offered. As moderator, I will be looking for examples from speakers that will resonate with the audience to provide a connection between what has been demonstrated as valuable and workable, and what conference-goers are seeking. These sessions are about matching experience with investigation and creating an environment for exchanging information and allowing inquiry and research to flourish.
Much has been made of the rise of “social” technologies in the past year, but technology is only a tool. Any meeting gathering with product exhibits facilitates your first-hand viewing of technology and the vendors offering products. But more important, are the professional social connections that give flesh and realism to the application of technology. If you set out to ask just one question of each speaker you meet or fellow attendee, make it one that will help you build a realistic picture around a product you are considering to meet a need. For example, ask not about whether product “A” can perform function “XYZ” but what it took in terms of human resources to deliver that terrific interface that the speaker is showcasing. Social networking gives you that opportunity.
Professional conferences are learning opportunities and, compared to today’s college tuition costs, a great bargain. Also, educational institutions are relatively limited, exposing you to controlled scenarios or short-term experiences. What you gain at meetings like the Gilbane conferences is opportunity to benefit from long-term experiences in real business situations by asking those who have been there and done that, how it came about, got built and what the demonstrable outcomes are.
A look at these topics for session EST-2 shows how our speakers will frame their experiences: Venkat Rangan, CTO, Clearwell Systems, Search and Information Retrieval Needs for eDiscovery; Randy Woods, Executive VP, Non-linear Creations, Best Practices for Tuning Enterprise Search; Sam Mefford, Enterprise Search Practice Lead, Avalon Consulting, Beyond Silos: Changing ‘Hide and Seek’ to ‘Index and Find.’ I’m always looking for new perspectives on search and ways of helping my clients understand their options. This will enrich my own learning experiences, as well.
Enterprise search applications abound in the technology marketplace, from embedded search to specialized e-discovery solutions to search engines for crawling and indexing the entire intranet of an organization. So, why is there so much dissatisfaction with results and heaps of stories of buyer’s remorse? Are we on the cusp of a new wave of semantic search options or better ways to federate our universe of content within and outside the enterprise? Who are the experts on enterprise search anyway?
You might read this blog because you know me from the knowledge management (KM) arena, or from my past life as the founder of an integrated enterprise library automation company. In the KM world a recurring theme is the need to leverage expertise, best done in an environment where it is easy to connect with the experts but that seems to be a dim option in many enterprises. In the corporate library world the intent is to aggregate and filter a substantive domain of content, expertise and knowledge assets on behalf of the specialized interests of the enterprise, too often a legacy model of enterprise infrastructure. Librarians have long been innovators at adopting and leveraging advanced technologies but they have also been a concentrating force for facilitating shared expertise. In fact, special librarians excel at providing access to experts.
We are drowning in technological options, not the least of which is enterprise search and its complexity of feature laden choices. However, it is darned hard to find instances of full search tool adoption or users who love the search tools they are delivered on their intranets. So, I am adopting my KM and library science modes to elevate the discussion about search to a decidedly non-technical conversation.
I really want to learn what you know about enterprise search, what you have learned, discovered and experienced over the past two or three years. This blog and the work I do with The Gilbane Group is about getting readers to the best and most appropriate search solutions that can make positive contributions in their enterprises. Knowing who is using what and where it has succeeded or what problems and issues were encountered is information I can use to communicate, in aggregate, those experiences. I am reaching out to you and those you refer to complete a five minute survey to open the door to more discussion. Please use this link to participate right now Click Here to take survey. You will then have the option to get the resulting details in my upcoming research study on enterprise search.
Just to prove that I still follow exciting technologies, as well, I want to relay a couple of new items. First is a recent category in search, “active intelligence,” adopted as Attivio’s tag line. This is a start-up led by Ali Riaz and officially launched this week from Newton, MA. Then, to get a steady feed of all things enterprise search from guru Steve Arnold, check out his new blog, a lead up to the forthcoming Beyond Search: What to Do When Your Search Engine Doesn’t Work to be published by The Gilbane Group. You’ll be transported from the historical, to the here and now, to the newest tools on his radar screen as you page from one blog entry to another.
I closed 2007 with some final takeaways from the Gilbane Conference and notes about semantic search. Already we are planning for Gilbane San Francisco and you are invited to participate. There is no question that enterprise search, in all its dimensions, will be a central theme of several sessions at the conference, June 17th through 19th. I will lead with a discussion in which a whole range of search topics, technologies and industry themes will be explored in a session featuring guest Steve Arnold, author of Google Version 2.0, The Calculating Predator. To complement the sessions, numerous search technology vendors will be present in the exhibit hall.
A most important conference component will be a highlight for conference goers, shared-experiences about selecting, implementing and engaging with search tools in the enterprise. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is doing, learning and what they know about enterprise search. You may want to present your experiences or those of your organization. If you are interested, considering presenting, know of a good case study, usability or “lessons learned” from implementing search technology, please raise your hand. You can do this by reaching out through this link to submit a proposal and make reference to the “enterprise search blog call for papers.” You can be sure I’ll follow-up soon to explore the options for you or a colleague to participate. This is a great opportunity to be part of a community of practitioners like you and attend a conference that always has substantive value for participants.
Leave it to Microsoft to end the year with a big announcement and open the next one with an even bigger one. We knew that the world of enterprise search was going to contract in terms of the number of established vendors, even though it is expanding in new and innovative offerings. Microsoft had to make a bold play in an industry where Google has been the biggest player on the WWW stage while reaching deeper into the enterprise, tickling at Microsoft’s decades-old hold on content creation and capture. So, with the acquisition of FAST Search & Transfer, whose technology may not be the best in the enterprise search market but is certainly the most widely deployed at the high-end, Microsoft opens with a direct challenge to its largest competitor.
Boy! Have the emails been flying this morning. At least I know there will be plenty of material to ponder in the next few weeks and months. P.S. Don’t miss the action in San Francisco!