Month: June 2008

Afterthoughts on the State of Search

Search for the whole enterprise vs. point solutions was the subject of some discussion, especially since our keynote speaker, Stephen Arnold gave strong guidance that you can’t think about one search solution (“product”) for the entire enterprise and all content. This is something with which I pretty much agree, in most cases.
Just emerging from the Gilbane San Francisco conference, six sessions on search and a workshop I conducted, I want to share a couple of general impressions. Details and expanded reflections will follow in the days and weeks to come.
Search for the whole enterprise vs. point solutions was the subject of some discussion, especially since our keynote speaker, Stephen Arnold gave strong guidance that you can’t think about one search solution (“product”) for the entire enterprise and all content. This is something with which I pretty much agree, in most cases. However, a question arose in one of the sessions in which a couple of presentations talked about a single search engine for what appeared to be the entire enterprise. A member of the audience asked for clarification in view of Arnold’s earlier comments.
I chose to intercede so as not to put our speakers on the defensive about what, for their organizations were very reasonable choices. Both of the cases were for research or professional services organizations with a high incidence of uniformity in the scope and type of content. They are relatively flat in structure with the bulk of the population being researchers: consultants, engineers, scientists. The applications were for intranets that were being leveraged to connect content and experts, so that from either direction (finding an expert and then looking at their content, or finding content to reveal expertise) other professionals could leverage organizational knowledge. It is a safe bet that other search does exist elsewhere in these companies, even if it is in stealth mode or embedded in other applications. Still, in general, large organizations with highly differentiated personnel with functional and disparate content requirements will find value in point search solutions that may only have purpose in a single internal domain.
To that point, if you are a finance professional or business manager you might want to sign up for a webinar this Thursday, June 26th, when I will be laying out a business case for a particular kind of search solution that is targeted at your demographic. This Apps Associates sponsored webinar also describes a solution leveraging Oracle enterprise search, but the ideas in it will give you a sense of what search can provide in your domain.
Judging from the topics presented on search, the reasons and ways in which it is being applied are more diverse than even I imagined. Opinions about what is good/bad, appropriate or not, and how to approach search technology ran the gamut of simple to complex. Two strong points of view were expressed about taxonomy vs. just tagging or letting the search engine categorize. Neither side would give an inch to the other as having an approach that is often “good enough.” It is pretty clear that hybrid solutions offering both a structured approach to search where a taxonomy is applied through metadata, and auto-categorization by the search engine without a supporting taxonomy in the background will be applied in many enterprises.

What is Semantic Technology Anyway?

Meaning is a very large concept in every aspect of search technology and dozens of search product sites include either the words “semantic” or “meaning” as a key element of the offered technology. This is not as far fetched as search product claims to “know” what the searcher wants to find, as if “knowing” can be attributable to non-human operations. However, how well a search engine indexes and retrieves content to meet a searcher’s intent, is truly in the eyes of the beholder. I can usually understand why, technically speaking, a piece of content turns up in a search result, but that does not mean that it was a valid scrap for my intent. My intent for a search cannot possibly be discernible by a search engine if, as is most often the case, I don’t explicitly and eloquently express what, why, and other contextual facts when entering a query.

The session we have set aside at Gilbane San Francisco for a discussion on current activity related to semantic technologies will undoubtedly reveal more meaning about technologies and art of leveraging tools to elicit semantically relevant content. I suspect that someone will also stipulate that what works requires a defined need and clear intent during the implementation process – but what about all those fuzzy situations? I hope to find out.

This is the last posting before the conference this week so I hope you will add this enterprise search session (EST-6: Semantic Technology – Breakdown or Breakthrough) being moderated by Colin Britton to your agenda on June 19th. He will be joined by speakers: Steve Carton, VP Content Technologies, Retrieval Systems Corp., Folksonomies: Just Good Enough for all Kinds of Thing, Prakesh Govindarajulu, President, RealTech Inc, Building Enterprise Taxonomies from the Ground Up, and Jack Jia, Founder & CEO, Baynote.

See you in San Francisco in person or virtually thereafter.

Enterprise Search Expands Beyond the Box

Hustling through my preparation list before the Gilbane San Francisco conference I have come to the fifth session on enterprise search that I’ll be moderating, Mining, Analyzing and Delivering Intelligent Content, featuring Amin Negandi, Principal, Echelon Consulting LLC, speaking on Enterprise Search at A.T. Kearney, and Rob Joachim, Information Systems Engineering Lead, MITRE Corporation presenting a case study on the development of An Expertise Finder Application Built on Enterprise Search. In listening to both of them talk about their projects, these are “must-attend” presentations for those seeking to build search-based solutions for their organizations. Both are examples of the practical and real challenges that surround value building projects. Both have positive outcomes but are hardly implementations that will become static legacy deployments; sustaining a value-based system is an ongoing activity.
As the session abstract states, there are as many technologies for finding content as there are types of content and types of enterprises. Locating a pile of links or citations is rarely the end game for those who really seek to leverage content. Both presenters in this session will talk about solutions that serve real and critical needs for one enterprise, in the first case being able to securely search content across a professional services firm in which collaboration is important within defined proprietary boundaries.
The second case also touches on the need for collaboration and sharing, in this case by enabling location of individuals who are experts. Using the context of content and associations to which they are linked for “defining” individual expertise, search filters relevant metadata to reveal those individuals. Connections are made to locate people and their professional work.
Delivering search results intelligently requires not only technology but also the art of the implementation team. Keeping the focus on specific business outcomes is the essence of ensuring that search delivers intelligent content. The stories of what problem was targeted, what tools were deployed, and how search was implemented by savvy search specialists are the most interesting and useful for learning. Finding out that serendipity also plays a role is getting closer to the best solution is always fun to discover in the process. We’ll be listening on June 19th.

Enterprise Search Executives to Comment on Trends and Challenges

Executives from four companies with unique products for solving search challenges within organizations will share their thoughts on what is most interesting, promising and problematic in the current market at Gilbane San Francisco, session EST-4 on June 19th. Because it is important to consider markets, this type of session gives the panel and audience a chance to recognize the perspectives of each other, sellers and buyers. I’ll be asking the executives to comment on their product strengths, with emphasis on specific value propositions for buyers. There will be an opportunity for the audience to ask questions because what is on the minds of buyers is often the most interesting for everyone to hear. When one listens to questions asked of vendors and hears responses, it reveals two important things about markets:

  • Alignment that exists (or not) between what buyers want and what sellers have to offer
  • Challenges both face to create value

Think about it. When individuals are tasked with selecting any technology on behalf of an organization or organizational unit, their ultimate success depends on selecting a product and company that truly supports a value proposition for that enterprise business need. While the buyer has responsibility for implementing or selecting the right implementation team, s/he rightly depends on good guidance and a healthy relationship with the purveyor of product. When a technology company puts its product in the hands of a buyer it must do so with the confidence that its product comes with a total value package. By that I mean not just the technology but also the design, toolkit, and support team to guide its successful implementation.
No one, particularly vendors, likes to talk about negatives. However, given all the things that can go wrong for a buyer trying to manage an implementation team or for sellers who don’t anticipate expectations about their products not explored during the selection process, it is important to consider factors that lead to failure or less than satisfactory outcomes. One question I will have for vendors is to share honestly some of the challenges or disappointments about the market that are a particular point of pain for them. Bad-mouthing customers is not the answer but conveying how hard most vendors honestly try to create value and how their best intentions can be derailed through miscommunication may help buyers and sellers smooth the communication flow.
After all, don’t we all want to provide value for our internal and external customers? I think you will find the panel a receptive group: a 25+-year veteran of the information access market, a marketing executive with an international search and text analytics firm, a founder of a rapidly growing plug-and-play search solution, and a marketing VP working to position a company with a large scale solution against the “big-three” search solutions. You’ll hear straight talk and interesting value propositions.
Speakers: Margie Hlava, President, Accession Innovation, David Haucke, VP Global, Marketing, ISYS, Laurent Simoneau, President & CEO, and Rebecca Thompson, VP Marketing, Vivisimo

What’s in a Name: Information Access Software vs. Search?

This one almost slipped right past me but I see we are in another shoot-out in the naming of search market segments. Probably it is because we have too many offerings in the search industry. When any industry reaches a critical mass, players need to find a way to differentiate what they sell. Products have to be positioned as, well, “something else.”
In my consulting practice “knowledge management” has been hot (1980s and 90s), dead (late ’90s and early 2000s), relevant again (now). In my analyst role for “enterprise search” Gilbane has been told by experts that the term is meaningless and should be replaced with “behind the firewall search,” as if that clarifies everything. Of course, marketing directories might struggle with that as a category heading.
For the record, “search” has two definitions in my book. The first is a verb referring to the activity of looking for anything. The second, newer, definition is a noun referring to technologies that support finding “content.” Both are sufficiently broad to cover a lot of activities, technologies and stuff. “Enterprises” are organizations of any type in which business, for-profit, non-for-profit, or government, is being conducted. Let us quibble no more.
But I digress; Endeca has broadened its self-classification in any number of press releases to referring to its products that were “search” products last year, as “information access software.” This is the major category used by IDC to include “search.” That’s what we called library systems in the 1970s and 80s. New products still aim for accessing content, albeit with richer functions and features but where are we going to put them in our family of software lists? One could argue that Endeca’s products are really a class of “search,” search on steroids, a specialized form of search. What are the defining differentiators between “search software” and “information access software?” When does a search product become more than it was or narrower, refined in scope? (This is a rhetorical question but I’m sure each vendor in this new category will break-it out for me in their own terms.)
Having just finished reviewing the market for enterprise search, I believe that many of the products are reaching for the broader scope of functionality defined by IDC as being: search and retrieval, text analytics, and BI. But are they really going to claim to be content management and data warehousing software, as well? Those are included in IDC’s definition of “information access software.” May-be we are going back to single-vendor platforms with everything bundled and integrated. Sigh… it makes me tired, trying to keep up with all this categorizing and re-redefining.

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