Year: 2007 (page 1 of 4)

Enterprise Search and Its Semantic Evolution

That the Gilbane Group launched its Enterprise Search Practice this year was timely. In 2007 enterprise search become a distinct market force, capped off with Microsoft announcing in November that it has definitively joined the market.

Since Jan. 1, 2007, I have tried to bring attention to those issues that inform buyers and users about search technology. My intent has been to make it easier for those selecting a search tool while helping them to get a highly satisfactory result with minimal surprises. Playing coach and lead champion while clarifying options within enterprise search is a role I embrace. It is fitting then, that I wrap up this year with more insights gained from Gilbane Boston; these were not previously highlighted and relate to semantic search.

The semantic Web is a concept introduced almost ten years ago reflecting a vision of how the Worldwide Web (WWW) would evolve. In the beginning we needed a specific address (URL) to get to individual Web sites. Some of these had their own search engines while others were just pages of content we scrolled through or jumped through from link to link. Internet search engines like Alta Vista and Northern Light searched limited parts of the WWW. Then, Yahoo and Google came to provide much broader coverage of all “free” content. While popular search engines provided various categorizing, taxonomy navigation, keyword and advanced searching options, you had to know the terminology that content pages contained to find what you meant to retrieve. If your terms were not explicitly in the content, pages with synonymous or related meaning were not found. The semantic Web vision was to “understand” your inquiry intent and return meaningful results through its semantic algorithms.

The most recent Gilbane Boston conference featured presentations of commercial applications of various semantic search technologies that are contributing to enterprise search solutions. A few high level points gleaned from speakers on analytic and semantic technologies follow.

  • Jordan Frank on blogs and wikis in enterprises articulated how they add context by tying content to people and other information like time. Human commentary is a significant content “contextualizer,” my term, not his.
  • Steve Cohen and Matt Kodama co-presented an application using technology (interpretive algorithms integrated with search) to elicit meaning from erratic and linguistically difficult (e.g. Arabic, Chinese) text in the global soup of content.
  • Gary Carlson gave us understanding of how subject matter expertise contributes substantively to building terminology frameworks (aka “taxonomies”) that are particularly meaningful within a unique knowledge community.
  • Mike Moran helped us see how semantically improved search results can really improve the bottom line in the business sense in both his presentation and later in his blog, a follow-up to a question I posed during the session.
  • Colin Britton described the value of semantic search to harvest and correlate data from highly disparate data sources needed to do criminal background checks.
  • Kate Noerr explained the use of federating technologies to integrate search results in numerous scenarios, all significant and distinct ways to create semantic order (i.e. meaning) out of search results chaos.
  • Bruce Molloy energized the late sessions with his description of how non-techies can create intelligent agents to find and feed colleagues relevant information by searching in the background in ways that go far beyond the typical keyword search.
  • Finally, Sean Martin and John Stone co-presented an approach to computational data gathering and integrating the results in an analyzed and insightful format that reveals knowledge about the data, not previously understood.

Points taken are that each example represents a building block of the semantic retrieval framework we will encounter on the Web and within the enterprise. The semantic Web will not magically appear as a finished interface or product but it will become richer in how and what it helps us find. Similar evolutions will happen in the enterprise with a different focus, providing smarter paths for operating within business units.

There is much more to pass along in 2008 and I plan to continue with new topics relating to contextual analysis, the value, use and building of taxonomies, and the variety of applications of enterprise search tools. As for 2007, it’s a wrap.

Enterprise Search: Leveraging and Learning from Web Search and Content Tools

Following on my last post in which I covered the unique value propositions offered by a variety of enterprise search products, this one takes a look at the evolution of enterprise search. The commentary by search company experts, executives, and analysts indicates some evolutionary technologies and the escalation of certain themes in enterprise search. Furthermore, the pursuit of organizations to strengthen the link between searching technologies and knowledge enablers has never been more prominently featured taking search to a whole new level beyond mere retrieval.
The following paraphrased comments from the Enterprise Search Keynote session are timely and revealing. When I asked, Will Web and Internet Search Technologies Drive the Enterprise (Internal) Search Tool Offerings or Will the Markets Diverge?, these were some thoughts from the panelists.

Matt Brown, Principal Analyst from Forrester Research, commented that enterprise search demands much different and richer content interpretation types of search technologies. What Web-based searching does is create such high visibility for search that enterprises are being primed to adopt it, but only when it comes with enhanced capabilities.

Echoing Matt’s remarks, Oracle search solution manager Bob Bocchino commented on the difficulty of making search operate well within the enterprise because it needs to deal with structured database content and unstructured files, while also applying sophisticated security features that let only authorized viewers see restricted content. Furthermore, security must be deployed in a way that does not degrade performance while supporting continuous updates to content and permissions.

Hadley Reynolds, VP & Director of the Center for Search Innovation at Fast Search & Transfer, noted that the Web isn’t really making a direct impact on enterprise search innovation but many of the social tools found on the Web are being adopted in enterprises to create new kinds of content (e.g. social networks, blogs and wikis) with which enterprise search engines must cope in richer contextual ways.

Don Dodge, Director of Business Development for the Emerging Business Team at Microsoft further noted that the Internet’s biggest problem is scale. That is a much easier problem to solve than in the enterprise where user standards for what qualifies as a good and valuable search results are much higher, therefore making the technology to deliver those results more difficult.

Among the other noteworthy comments in this session was a negative about taxonomies. The gist of it was that they require so much discipline that they might work for a while but can’t really be sustained. If this attitude becomes the norm, many of the semantic search engines which depend on some type of classification and categorization according to industry terminologies or locally maintained lists will be challenged to deliver enhanced search results. This is a subject to be taken up in a later blog entry.

A final conclusion about enterprise search was a remark about the evolution of adoption in the marketplace. Simply put, the marketplace is not monolithic in its requirements. The diversity of demands on search technologies has been a disincentive for vendors to focus on distinct niches and place more effort on areas like e-commerce. This seems to be shifting, especially with all the large software companies now seriously announcing products in the enterprise search market.

Case Studies: Enterprise Search Success Stories

It has been a week since the annual Gilbane Boston 2007 Conference closed and I am still searching for the most important message that came out of Enterprise Search and Semantic Web Technology sessions. There were so many interesting case studies that I’ll begin with a search function that illustrates one major enterprise search requirement – aggregation.
Besides illustrating a business case for aggregating disparate content using search, the case studies shared three themes:
> Search is just a starting point for many business processes
> While few very large organizations present all of their organization’s content through a single portal, the technology options to manage such an ideal design are growing and up to supporting entire enterprises
> All systems were implemented and operational for delivering value in less than one year, underscoring the trend toward practical and more out-of-the box solutions
Here is a brief take on what came out of just the first two of seven sessions.
Small-medium solutions:
> Use of ISYS to manipulate search results and function as a back-office data analysis tool for DirectEDGAR, the complete SEC filings, presented by Prof. Burch Kealey of the University of Nebraska. Presentation
> Support for search by serendipity across the shareable content domains of members of a trade association (ARF) by finding results that satisfy the searcher in his pursuit of understanding with Exalead, presented by Alain Heurtebise CEO of Exalead. Presentation
> A knowledge portal enabling rapid and efficient retrieval of the complete technical documentation for field service engineers at Otis Elevator to meet rapid response goals when supporting customers using a customized implementation of dtSearch, presented by project consultant Rob Wiesenberg of Contegra Systems, Inc. Presentation
Large solutions calling for search across multi-million record domains:
> Hosted Vivisimo solution federating over 40 million documents across 22,000 government web sites accessible with search results clustered; it records over a half million page views per day on http://USA.gov and was deployed in 8 weeks, presented by Vivisimo co-founder Jerome Pesenti. Presenation
> Intranet knowledge portal for improving customer services by enabling access to internal knowledge assets (over half a million customer cases with all their associated documents) at USi (an AT&T company) using Endeca, a search product USi had experience deploying and hosting for very large e-commerce catalogs, presented by development leader Toby Ford of USi. With one developer it was running in six months. Presentation
> Within a large law firm (Morrison Foerster) and the legal departments of two multi-national pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer and Novartis), Recommind aggregates and indexes content for numerous internal application repositories, file shares and external content sources for unified search across millions of documents, contributing a direct ROI in saved labor by ensuring that required documents are retrieved in a single search process. Presentation
In each of these cases, content from numerous sources was aggregated through the crawling and indexing algorithms of a particular search engine pointed at a bounded and defined corpus of content, with or without associated metadata to solve a particular business problem. In each case, there were surrounding technologies, human architected design elements, and interfaces to present the search interface and results for a predefined audience. This is what we can expect from search in the coming months and years, deployments to meet specialized enterprise needs, an evolving array of features and tools to leverage search results, and a rapid scaling of capabilities to match the explosion of enterprise content that we all need to find and manipulate to do our jobs.
Next week, I will reconstruct more themes and messages from the conference.

Leading Enterprise Initiatives or Reacting to Crisis

My theme leading into the Gilbane Boston Conference this week comes straight from the headlines and New Hampshire political ads that manage to spill over the border into our fair Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If you live outside of the zone of early caucus and primary states, you are probably spared the ad nauseam recitations of all the crises that Rudy Giuliani has met and conquered. In thinking about our collective longing for a true leader in the White House, I began to reflect on all the other places I would like to see leadership. My musings brought me straight to a message I try to impart to clients and professional colleagues struggling with issues of leveraging knowledge and technology.
True leadership is very hard because it requires thinking, projecting and anticipating. It requires abstract thinking about possibilities for making improvements in complex areas. It requires the ability to mentally juggle huge numbers of variables, many of which the true leader knows he/she can’t possibly control but may be able to foresee as possible complications. It requires bucking the status quo.
Anyone can react, and many can react with reasonably appropriate actions, actions that work for the immediate crisis. However, sizing up an enterprise in which things are running in a seemingly routine fashion, and taking the initiative to systematically seek out lurking crises, potential problems, and areas for improvement, and then applying thoughtful and incremental change activities to ensure better outcomes may seem boring – but this is true leadership.
Finally, think about all the ways in which our political leaders seem to thrive on talking about only the monumental crises of the country and world. Think about how our news is driven by immediate crises. We seem to be conditioned to only react to what we are being shown and told. True leaders are seekers, self-educators, investigators, learners and thinkers. Our best leaders are those who get to the core of our political and business enterprises and find a better way for the whole to work more smoothly, with an ultimate goal of bringing positive good to the members of the community. They succeed though personal diligence, finding the will to persevere while immersing themselves in the mundane and routine operations of their domains. They observe and they think about what they observe; they also talk to others and reflect mindfully on what they hear before acting.
As I prepare my opening remarks for several sessions on enterprise search and semantic technologies at the conference over the next three days, I am pondering how I can stimulate the audience to take the time to open their minds to think about what speakers and exhibitors introduce. I want them to think, really think, about what they are hearing. I want them to develop new ideas, new ways of innovating, new ways to make the mundane better and take it back to their enterprises with a purpose – not just with information to be used in the event of a direct work challenge, demand or crisis. I want to lead others to lead from a thoughtfully critical point of view. So, take a look at technologies from the perspective of action toward systemic improvements instead of a reaction to solving only the latest crisis in your enterprise.

Surrounding and Supporting Enterprise Search

In a week when the KMWorld and Enterprise Search Summit were running concurrently in San Jose, Microsoft made an enterprise search product announcement that was actually a well-kept secret for Microsoft. There was plenty of other new product news floating about the marketplace, too. Mark Logic, MuseGlobal, Cognos, SchemaLogic, and Brainware all had their own announcements.
Between November 6 and November 13, these five companies had interesting news to share. The announcements all related to leveraging enterprise content in tandem with search engines. This underscores a strong trend in software product deployment, specifically, that much of it is being rolled out in partnerships in highly heterogeneous environments. While Microsoft’s announcement about free Search Server 2008 Express establishes them as the last major software company to adopt search as a platform, the other technology announcements remind us that integration activity is a core operational consideration and even a necessity for gaining value from search.
In order to tie all the bits and pieces of content across the enterprise into a tidy bundle for simple retrieval, or in order for content to really bring value to solving business problems, it needs packaging. It needs to be packaged at the front end so that search engines can grab useful context and metadata for smarter indexing. It also needs to be well packaged at the output end to present results meaningfully for a particular audience or purpose.
Here is a quick look at what these five complementary technologies do for search plus a link to each of their latest announcements:
> Brainware – combines data capture with a content extraction and distillation learning engine for enhancing categorization relevancy in preparation for natural language queries. It will be embedded in search for a leading enterprise library system, Sirsi/Dynix.
> Cognos – a leading Business Intelligence (BI) software company is being acquired by IBM, whose search products are often paired with Cognos.
> Mark Logic – is a company with an XML content server platform for managing or converting content in XML formats. They just announced MarkMail, a community-focused searchable message archive service, which stores emails as XML documents. Expect more from them on this front.
> MuseGlobal – offers solutions that integrate content from multiple search engines. They just announced availability for presenting results in a fully unified and consistent format from multiple search engines in a SharePoint portal interface.
> SchemaLogic – specializes in content and document type modeling, metadata and vocabulary management using SchemaServer. In the past two weeks they have announced integration with SharePoint to manage metadata. A webinar this week described the interplay with Documentum for document production and retrieval using the FAST search engine.
And what do the other enterprise search vendors have to say about the “surprise” Microsoft announcement? Comments ranged from “we knew it was just a matter of time before they announced” to “good for business, enterprise search is officially now a market.” To the first comment I say, “Not so fast.” For several years rumors have been floated about the imminent acquisition of any number of search companies by MS but nothing materialized. Yes, Microsoft was doing something about enterprise search but until last week “what” was still the question. To the latter I say, “We’ve had an enterprise search market for several years, Microsoft just wanted to be sure it was well established before joining the club.” That was smart of them; let others lay the foundation for a growth industry. It also looks like this is a leveling of the field with Google already playing in Microsoft’s backyard in the free office tools area.
Now the positioning really begins.

Gearing up for Gilbane Boston 2007

I am in a mode of indecision about prioritizing a lot of news in the enterprise search space; it all seems important because we have an agenda focused on search at the upcoming conference on November 27 – 29 in Boston. The following, in no particular order, is not an exhaustive list but representative of happenings in the past month that will surely be the subject of much commentary and discussion by our speakers and panelists:
> Don Dodge of Microsoft, one of our panelists in the search keynote session, is taking on Google’s customer support positioning as an enterprise solutions provider in his blog.
> MondoSoft went from being shut down by its investors to being acquired by possibly two companies (one acquiring MondoSearch and the other acquiring Ontolica) and now both are being acquired by one company. Meanwhile, IntelliSearch is making an offer to MondoSearch clients to “switch and save.”
> Steve Arnold is continuing his drumbeat on Google search patents and their significance.
> Oracle is getting very serious about search as you will hear in this Webinar download and is positioning itself for a holistic approach to managing content in the enterprise.
> Fast and Autonomy are making acquisitions, too, and have begun to act like they are not the only search options for the enterprise by re-focusing their marketing.
> Companies like Connotate, ISYS, Exalead, Recommind, SchemaLogic and Coveo are acquiring good clients and showing their strengths in important niche markets with new enhancements
> Vivisimo’s social search is getting a lot of positive press, inviting a lot of blogging and has set the bar high for competitors to match their offerings.
> Endeca continues to expand its staff, client-base and well-engineered product line; they are also building important alliances with technology and business partners when it makes good sense to do so
> IBM is talking up the potential of semantic search in the enterprise.
Whew!
Most of the above mentioned will be making an appearance or two at GilbaneBoston, as speakers or exhibitors, or both. I am trying to figure out how to make sure the seven sessions on search and semantic Web technologies touch most of the bases but with so much afoot in the search arena, we will be working overtime. If you are going to be an attendee in any capacity, I hope you’ll blog or make comments when I do. We want to hear what you think and learn about from the experts and users alike. There are sure to be surprises. Your take on the programs will be of interest to many. If you do make the conference, be sure to find me and introduce yourself so we can have a chat.

Eating Your Own Dog Food

I sat in on a demonstration for an enterprise search engine this week. There were several things that really impressed me. First it was not canned; although the demonstrators were clearly following a script, and members of the audience members were asking questions throughout the demonstration. The audience was a mix of consultants and prospective customers; they had a lot of questions, asked to be shown features, functions and “what ifs.” The person demonstrating was very soon off script and doing nothing more than answering questions and demonstrating completely ad hoc searches and with excellent results.

The second impressive aspect was that the entire corpus of content was company information for the vendor. It was not everything they have on their intranet for this public view but enough to see that this is a company that actually uses its own technology throughout the enterprise for all of its divisions. Content from Lotus Notes, SharePoint, Documentum, an employee gallery, emails and files were all there and presented in a clear format for the audience to see and understand.

Finally, what impressed me was the extent to which their content reflected how their search engine was being used as a platform for doing business and working collaboratively, internally. This caused me to reflect back to a presentation for an analyst group earlier in this year by another search company. That company was rolling out a number of features in the business intelligence (BI) space. So, I asked them a couple of questions, “How are you using these tools to manage your own enterprise, doing business intelligence? How are you exploiting internal content to understand the dynamics of a rapidly growing company?” There was a long silence but the answer was along the lines of, we aren’t but we should probably consider it and it takes time to think through a strategy for deploying a good BI solution.

In my experience, if everyone in a company with an enterprise search technology product does not find a use for and evolve with its own offerings, then there is a missed opportunity and a flawed business strategy. This missed opportunity is the terrific feedback the developers will get from that internal use and the evangelism that can come from enthusiastic employees. The flawed business strategy is the huge disconnect that develops between customers and suppliers when supplier employees just never have a customer experience themselves. Search and BI are two functions that every company can benefit from using; why on earth wouldn’t every search vendor be aggressively seeking opportunities to apply its own tools.

So, buyers be aware – look for evidence that the purveyors of search actually have their own experiences to talk about and demonstrate. That can tell you a whole lot about how you will be treated as a customer because they are one, too.

Collaboration and Expertise Bring Focus to Enterprise Search

The topic of the month seems to be “social search;” I confess to being a willing participant in this new semantic framing of a rash of innovative new tools for enterprise search products. I would, however, defer to the professional intent of some great new features by stressing that this is really a next step in bringing collaboration closer to where expert knowledge workers do their work. As I view enterprises with a heavy research component, 10 – 30% of the average professional’s time is spent in a search environment. In other words, we all spend a lot of our day just looking for “stuff.” We also spend a significant amount of time in meetings, exchanging emails, and making presentations. More and more of us contribute to collaboration spaces where we work together on various types of document production.

Putting together the work habits and needs of a time-poor and information-rich community of knowledge workers in a post-processing environment where they can “mash up,” tag and commentate their search discoveries is a natural evolution of search technology. It is remarkable to see how search companies that are serious about the enterprise market (search within and for the enterprise) are rapidly turning out enhancements for their audiences, now that they are convinced that “Enterprise 2.0” has a boatload of early adopters in the wings. Search should always be about connecting experts and their content. Add collaboration and the ability to enrich search results by searchers for the benefit of their colleagues and you have a model for, soon-to-be, heavily adopted products.

That pretty much sums up how we should be thinking about “social search” in the enterprise. You can hear more of my views in a KMWorld Webinar, Using Social Search to Drive Innovation through Collaboration next Tuesday in a presentation sponsored by Vivisimo, one of the leaders in this area.

The week had plenty of virtual ink devoted this topic so you might want to check out these two articles with more commentary. The first was in eWeek, by Clint Boulton, Vivisimo Marries Search, Social Networking. The second shows that Google is on the bandwagon, as well, Google Enterprise Search gets social, a blog entry at C|Net News.com by Rafe Needleman.

Trust is a Pact between a Vendor and Its Customer

There is nothing more disappointing to a consultant than to learn that a project in which you gave significant guidance to a client is experiencing a project meltdown…except maybe having everything get off to a positive start only to falter due to problems with the technologies being implemented. I have been burned several times lately and that surprises me because, as a former software vendor myself, I have pretty deep skepticism when it comes to overblown claims and can usually spot the companies I wouldn’t want my clients to trust. This was not one of them.
It is hard to deal with situations that you didn’t consider likely. A big one is a broken promise, even if it is implicit, not explicit. For a vendor to deliver a solid CMS product with a buggy search interface to toggle between keyword and metadata search is one thing. My client spent months getting it to work so that users could seek by keyword or on explicit metadata fields. They rolled it out and it was “OK,” if not great. But after much discussion with the vendor about the bugs, my client was pressured into adopting an upgrade to “solve the problem.” Unfortunately, the upgrade was an experience from hell, but worse was the fact that the old search controls no longer worked and there was no way to search metadata any longer. Having predicated the procurement on being able to search metadata… well, you get the picture.
What happened to the old motto of “first do no harm?” In my world that means you never release an “upgrade” that subtracts functionality. In the words of my client, “we consider this a major regression.” I consider it a serious breach of trust between them and the supplier but also between me and my client. Why would they ever trust my guidance about the solidness of a vendor again? Guess I have my work cut out for me to find some recourse for my client.
On a much more positive note, I will be offering commentary on the subject of trust and technology solutions when I participate in my first Gilbane Webinar with Oracle’s Brian Dirking, Wednesday, October 10th. The title is The Trust Factor: Secure Enterprise Search for High-Value Content and it will include some key considerations when considering your path to a successful search implementation. I’m still optimistic and enthusiastic that you can implement an excellent search solution for your organization if you really chose your strategy, your technology and your business partners carefully and I’m teaming with Oracle to reinforce that message.
It is free, so click on the title to sign up, even if you are in the beginning stages of your quest for a search product. I hope you will join us for the discussion.

About Analysts, Other Naysayers and Search

You have probably noticed a fair degree of skepticism among technology bloggers about search products and search add-ons to other products. There have been quite a few articles lately that generalize “search” into one monolithic group of technologies. You need to really read between the lines to find the “kind of” search that is meaningful to your “kind of” enterprise. If you go back to one of my first blog entries you’ll see I noted that “the market is, frankly, a real mess.” Sue Feldman has been clear that she, too, believes the field to be a “muddle.” Steve Arnold routinely lets us all know how Google’s patent filings suggest a path toward future disruptions in the search marketplace.
Why then would anyone invest in search today? Do it because there are certainly enough really good and appropriate solutions for most enterprises. These may not be in the price range you would like, and may require more overhead support to implement than you think you should need, but you cannot be paralyzed by what the “next big thing might be” because it might not happen for a really long time or at all. You may find a solution today that solves a lot of immediate searching problems for your enterprise and continues to evolve with the needs of your organization.
That said, you need to keep educating yourself and your peers. This article appeared in the paper version of Information Week Aug. 6, 2007 as The Ultimate Answer Machine, but in the online version as The Ultimate Search Engine. It conflates all kinds of search in a single message that the average non-expert buyer wouldn’t be able to sort out. In its product box you have 13 products including Web search and enterprise search mixed together with no differentiation. I’m tracking over 80 products that solve some kind of enterprise search problem and new ones come to my attention every week. Take a look at the online article and be sure to look at reader comments to see more diverse views than just mine. Think about whether what you read makes good business sense.
I could load you up with two dozen interesting articles from just the past week but recently these have caught my attention for more self-education. Check out: Fight Against Infoglut, in Information Week on April 7, 2007, Search technologies for the Internet by Henzinger, Monika. Science, pp. 468-471, 07/27/2007, and Enterprise Search – More than just Google, Analyst Perspectives Consensus Report (these last two are paid content).
Going forward, you will find some interesting perspectives on Oracle’s position in the enterprise search marketplace if you sit in on their Webinar, Oct. 10th. Finally, I hope you can attend the upcoming Gilbane Boston Conference, Nov. 27th – 29th. The case studies and panel discussions will have something for every type of solution. I’ll keep you posted on selected upcoming happenings as they appear; keep your ear to the ground and eyes focused.

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