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.
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.