Category: Product Selection (page 1 of 3)

Embedded Search in the Enterprise

We need to make a distinction between “search in the enterprise” and “enterprise-wide search.” The former is any search that exists persistently in view as we go about our primary work activities. The latter commonly assumes aggregation of all enterprise content via a single platform OR enterprise content to which everyone in the organization will have access. So many attempts at enterprise-wide search are reported to be compromised or frustrated before achieving successful outcomes that it is time to pay attention to point-of-need solutions. This is search that will smoothly satisfy routine retrieval requirements as we work.

Most of us work in a small number of applications all day. A writer will be wedded to a content creation application plus research sources both on the web and internal to the enterprise in which writing is being done. Finding information to support writing whether it is a press release, marketing brochure or technical documentation to accompany a technical product requires access to appropriate content for the writer to deliver to an audience. The audience may be a business analyst, customer’s buyer or product user with advanced technical expertise. During any one work assignment, the writer will usually be focused on one audience and will only need a limited view of content specific to that task.

When a search takes us on a merry chase through multiple resource repositories or in a single repository with heaps of irrelevant content and no good results, we are being forced into a mental traffic nightmare, not of our own making. As this blog post by Tony Schwartz reminds us, we need time to focus and concentrate. It enables us to work smarter and more calmly; for employers seeking to support workers with the best tools, search that works well at the point of doing an assignment is the ultimate perk. I know how frantic and fractionated my mental state becomes as I follow one fruitless web of links after another that I believe will lead me to the piece of information I need. Truthfully, I often become so absorbed in the search and ancillary information I “discover” along the way that sight of the target becomes secondary.

New wisdom from a host of analysts and writers suggests that embedded search is more than a trend, as is search with a specific focus or purposeful business goal. The fact that FAST is now embedded with and for SharePoint and its use is growing principally in that arena illustrates the trend. But readers should also consider a large array of newer search solutions that are strong on semantic features, APIs, integration options, and connectors to a huge variety of content that exists in other application repositories. This article by James Martin in CIO, How to Evaluate Enterprise Search has helpful comments from Leslie Owens of Forrester Research and the rise of connectors is highlighted by Alan Pelz-Sharpe in this post.

Right now two rather new search engines are on my radar screen because of their timely entrance to the marketplace. One is Q-Sensei, which has just released their version 2.0. It is an ontology-based solution very much focused on efficiently processing big data, quick deployment, and integration with content applications. The second is Cambridge Semantics with its Anzo semantic solutions for analyzing and retrieving business data. Finally, I am very excited that ISYS was the object of an acquisition by Lexmark. It was an unexpected move but they deserved to be recognized for having solid connector/filter technology and a large, satisfied customer base. It will be interesting to see how a hardware vendor, noted for print technology, will integrate ISYS search software into its product offerings. Information retrieval belongs where work is being done.

These are just three vendors poised to change the expectations of searchers by fulfilling search needs, embedded or integrated efficiently in select business application areas. Martin White’s most recent enumeration of search vendors puts the list at about 70; they are primarily vendors with standalone search products, products that support standalone search or search engines that complement other content applications. You will see many viable options there that are unfamiliar but be sure to dig down to understand where each might fill a unique need in your enterprise.

When seeking solutions for search problems you need to really understand the purpose before seeking candidate vendors. Then focus on products that have the same clarity of applicability you want. They may be embedded with a product such as Lexmark’s, or a CAD system. The first step is to decide where and for whom you need search to be present.

Classifying Searchers – What Really Counts?

I continue to be impressed by the new ways in which enterprise search companies differentiate and package their software for specialized uses. This is a good thing because it underscores their understanding of different search audiences. Just as important is recognition that search happens in a context, for example:

  • Personal interest (enlightenment or entertainment)
  • Product selection (evaluations by independent analysts vs. direct purchasing information)
  • Work enhancement (finding data or learning a new system, process or product)
  • High-level professional activities (e-discovery to strategic planning)

Vendors understand that there is a limited market for a product or suite of products that will satisfy every budget, search context and the enterprise’s hierarchy of search requirements. Those who are the best focus on the technological strengths of their search tools to deliver products packaged for a niche in which they can excel.

However, for any market niche excellence begins with six basics:

  • Customer relationship cultivation, including good listening
  • Professional customer support and services
  • Ease of system installation, implementation, tuning and administration
  • Out-of-the box integration with complementary technologies that will improve search
  • Simple pricing for licensing and support packages
  • Ease of doing business, contracting and licensing, deliveries and upgrades

While any mature and worthy company will have continually improved on these attributes, there are contextual differentiators that you should seek in your vertical market:

  • Vendor subject matter expertise
  • Vendor industry expertise
  • Vendor knowledge of how professional specialists perform their work functions
  • Vendor understanding of retrieval and content types that contribute the highest value

At a recent client discussion the application of a highly specialized taxonomy was the topic. Their target content will be made available on a public facing web site and also to internal staff. We began by discussing the various categories of terminology already extracted from a pre-existing system.

As we differentiated how internal staff needed to access content for research purposes and how the public is expected to search, patterns emerged for how differently content needs to be packaged for each constituency. For you who have specialized collections to be used by highly diverse audiences, this is no surprise. Before proceeding with decisions about term curation and determining the granularity of their metadata vocabulary, what has become a high priority is how the search mechanisms will work for different audiences.

For this institution, internal users must have pinpoint precision in retrieval on multiple facets of content to get to exactly the right record. They will be coming to search with knowledge of the collection and more certainty about what they can expect to find. They will also want to find their target(s) quickly. On the other hand, the public facing audience needs to be guided in a way that leads them on a path of discovery, navigating through a map of terms that takes them from their “key term” query through related possibilities without demanding arcane Boolean operations or lengthy explanations for advanced searching.

There is a clear lesson here for seeking enterprise search solutions. Systems that favor one audience over another will always be problematic. Therefore, establishing who needs what and how each goes about searching needs to be answered, and then matched to the product that can provide for all target groups.

We are in the season for conferences; there are a few next month that will be featuring various search and content technologies. After many years of walking exhibit halls and formulating strategies for systematic research and avoiding a swamp of technology overload, I try now to have specific questions formulated that will discover the “must have” functions and features for any particular client requirement. If you do the same, describing a search user scenario to each candidate vendor, you can then proceed to ask: Is this a search problem your product will handle? What other technologies (e.g. CMS, vocabulary management) need to be in place to ensure quality search results? Can you demonstrate something similar? What would you estimate the implementation schedule to look like? What integration services are recommended?

These are starting points for a discussion and will enable you to begin to know whether this vendor meets the fundamental criteria laid out earlier in this post. It will also give you a sense of whether the vendor views all searchers and their searches as generic equivalents or knows that different functions and features are needed for special groups.

Look for vendors for enterprise search and search related technologies to interview at the following upcoming meetings:

Enterprise Search Summit, New York, May 10 – 11 […where you will learn strategies and build the skill sets you need to make your organization’s content not only searchable but “findable” and actionable so that it delivers value to the bottom line.] This is the largest seasonal conference dedicated to enterprise search. The sessions are preceded by separate workshops with in-depth tutorials related to search. During the conference, focus on case studies of enterprises similar to yours for better understanding of issues, which you may need to address.

Text Analytics Summit, Boston, May 18 – 19 I spoke with Seth Grimes, who kicks off the meeting with a keynote, asking whether he sees a change in emphasis this year from straight text mining and text analytics. You’ll have to attend to get his full speech but Seth shared that he see a newfound recognition that “Big Data” is coming to grips with text source information as an asset that has special requirements (and value). He also noted that unstructured document complexities can benefit from text analytics to create semantic understanding that improves search, and that text analytics products are rising to challenge for providing dynamic semantic analysis, particularly around massive amounts of social textual content.

Lucene Revolution, San Francisco, May 23 – 24 […hear from … the foremost experts on open source search technology to a broad cross-section of users that have implemented Lucene, Solr, or LucidWorks Enterprise to improve search application performance, scalability, flexibility, and relevance, while lowering their costs.] I attended this new meeting last year when it was in Boston. For any enterprise considering or leaning toward implementing open source search, particularly Lucene or Solr, this meeting will set you on a path for understanding what that journey entails.

Focused on Unifying Content to Reduce Information Overload

A theme running through the sessions I attended at Enterprise Search Summit and KMWorld 2010 in Washington, DC last month was the diversity of ways in which organizations are focused on getting answers to stakeholders more quickly. Enterprises deploying content technologies, all with enterprise search as the end game, seek to narrow search results accurately to retrieve and display the best and most relevant content.

Whether the process is referred to as unified indexing, federating content or information integration, each constitutes a similar focus among the vendors I took time to engage with at the conference. Each is positioned to solve different information retrieval problems, and were selected to underscore what I have tried to express in my recent Gilbane Beacon, Establishing a Successful Enterprise Search Program: Five Best Practices, namely the need to first establish a strategic business need. The best practices include the need for understanding how existing technologies and content structures function is the enterprise before settling on any one product or strategy. The essential activity of conducting a proof of concept (POC) or pilot project to confirm product suitability for the targeted business challenge is clearly mandated.

These products, in alphabetic order, are all notable for their unique solutions tailored to different audiences of users and business requirements. All embody an approach to unifying enterprise content for a particular business function:

Access Innovations (AI) was at KMWorld to demonstrate the aptly named product suite, Data Harmony. AI products cover a continuum of tools to build and maintain controlled vocabularies (AKA taxonomies and thesauri), add content metadata through processes tightly integrated with the corresponding vocabularies, search and navigation. Its vocabulary and content management tools can be layered to integrate with existing CMS and enterprise search systems.

Attivio, a company providing a platform solution known as Active Intelligence Engine (AIE), has developers specializing in open source tools for content retrieval solutions with excellent retrieval as the end point. AIE is a platform for enterprises seeking to unify structured and unstructured content across the enterprise, and from the web. By leveraging open source components they provide their customers with a platform that can be developed to enhance search for a particular solution, including bringing Web 2.0 social content into unity with enterprise content for further business intelligence analysis.

Coveo has steadily marched into a dominant position across all vertical industries with its efficiently packaged and reasonably priced enterprise search solutions, since I was first introduced to them in 2007. Their customers are always enthusiastic presenters at KMWorld, representing a population of implementers who seek to make enterprise search available to users quickly, and with a minimum of fuss. This year, Shelley Norton from Children’s Hospital Boston did not disappoint. She ticked off steps in an efficient selection, implementation and deployment process for getting enterprise search up and running smoothly to deliver trustworthy and accurate results to the hospital’s constituents. I always value and respect customer story-telling.

Darwin Awareness Engine was named the KMWorld Promise Award Winner for 2010. Since their founder is local to our home-base and a frequent participant in the Boston KM Forum (KMF) meetings, we are pretty happy for their official arrival on the scene and the recognition. It was just a year ago that they presented the prototype at the KMF. Our members were excited to see the tool exposing layers of news feeds to hone in on topics of interest to see what was aggregated and connected in really “real-time.” Darwin content presentation is unique in that the display reveals relationships and patterns among topics in the Web 2.0 sphere that are suddenly apparent due to their visual connections in the display architecture. The public views are only an example of what a very large enterprise might reveal about its own internal communications through social tools within the organization.

The newest newcomer, RAMP, was introduced to me by Nate Treloar in the closing hours of KMWorld. Nate came to this start-up from Microsoft and the FAST group and is excited about this new venture. Neither exhibiting, nor presenting, Nate was anxious to reach out to analysts and potential partners to share the RAMP vision for converting speech from audio and video feeds to reliable searchable text. This would enable the unification of audio, video and other content to finally be searched from its “full text” on the Web in a single pass. Now, we depend on the contribution of explicit metadata by contributors of non-text content. Long awaiting excellence in speech to indexing for search, I was “all ears” during our conversation and look forward to seeing more of RAMP at future meetings.

Whatever the strategic business need, the ability to deliver a view of information that is unified, cohesive and contextually understandable will be a winning outcome. With the Beacon as a checklist for your decision process, information integration is attainable by making the right software selection for your enterprise application.

Prove It! – The POC & Other Types of Evaluation for Enterprise Search

When a product is described as “the only”, “the best”, the “most complete”, “the fastest,” “the leading,” etc., does anyone actually read and believe these qualifiers in marketing copy, software or otherwise? Do we believe it when an analyst firm writes reviews, or when product hype appears in industry publications?

Most technology buyers have a level of cynicism about such claims and commentary because we know that in each case there is a bias, with good reasons, for the praise. However, also for good reasons, language containing positive sentiment can have an effect – otherwise, it would not be so widespread. At the very least, sentiment analysis tools that are integrated with search engines will pick up on pervasive tones of praise, and from that create new content streams that compound the positive spin.

Being aware of marketing methods and influences on our psyche should arm us with caution but not to a point of being risk averse or frozen to indecisiveness. Instead, we need to find a way to prove the hype and claims through thoughtful, artful and strategic analytical processes. We need methods for testing claims that are appropriate for the solution sought.

First, we need to establish what is appropriate for our business need. Cost is often the primary qualifying factor when narrowing products that will be considered, but this may be short sighted. Business impact and benefits from applying the right solution need to be directly in our line of sight. If the solution you acquire can be evaluated to demonstrate a significant business benefit, the cost of a higher priced product may also be high-value to your business. Add to business impact the scope for the use of an enterprise search engine (how widely deployed and leveraged) and whether it can scale to include multiple searchable repositories across the organization; these attributes may enhance business impact.

Judging business impact, scope and scaling enterprise search products is a tricky proposition. You absolutely cannot do it by totaling the number of positive checks a vendor ticks off on a spreadsheet of requirements. While such a device can be useful for narrowing down a field of products to those you might select, it is only a beginning. All too often, this is where the selection process ends.

What needs to be done next? I recommend these evaluation steps that can be done concurrently:

  • Find customers by using social tools; reading and researching. With so many Web-based social and search tools it should be easy to identify individuals and enterprises that are actually users of products you are considering. Reach out, schedule talk time and have a pointed list of questions ready to investigate their experiences – listen carefully and follow up on any comments that sound a note of caution.
  • Run a proof-of-concept initiative that includes serious testing by key users with content that is relevant to the testers. Develop test cases and define explicitly for the testers what they are searching, and what you want to learn.
  • Keep careful notes throughout your interactions with vendors, as you seek information, test their products and request answers to technical questions. The same goes for the conversations with their customers, the ones you find on your own, not just the ones vendors steer you to. Your inquiry needs to include information about business relationship issues, responsiveness, ease of use, and how well a vendor can understand and respond to your business needs in these early relationship stages.
  • If things are not going smoothly, observe how a vendor reacts and responds; what is their follow-up and follow-through in the pre-purchase stage? Never succumb to the excuse that because they are “going through growing pains,” have “so much business demand” they are stretched thin, or that something else is more important to them than your product evaluation. If any of these creep in before you purchase, you have a major symptom conveying clearly that your business is not as important to the vendor or not as valuable as another company’s.

Longevity of use of an enterprise search application must be foremost in your mind throughout all of these steps. While many enterprises try to plan for upgrading or replacing legacy software applications to remain competitive and current using newer technologies, actual experiences are rarely ideal. You could be “stuck” with your choice for a decade or longer. Being in a dependent relationship with a vendor or product you are not happy with, will be a miserable experience and no benefit to your enterprise, no matter how popular the product is in the industry press.

The steps for selection will take a little longer than just sending out RFPs and reading responses, but it is really worth it over the long haul relationship you are about to engage.

Forecasting Software Product Abandonment

Given the announcement from Microsoft that it would make 2010 releases of Fast on Linux and UNIX the last for these operating systems, a lot of related comments have appeared over the past few weeks. For those of us who listened intently to early commentary on the Fast acquisition by Microsoft about its high level of commitment to dual development tracks, it only confirms what many analysts suspected would happen. Buyers rarely embrace their technology acquisitions solely (or even primarily) for the technology.

While these 2010 releases of Fast ESP on UNIX and Linux will continue to be supported for ten years, and repositories are projected to be indexable on these two platforms by future Fast releases, some customers will opt out of continuing with Fast. As newer and more advanced search technologies support preferred operating systems, they will choose to move. Microsoft probably expects to retain most current customers for the time being – inertia and long evaluation and selection processes by enterprises are on their side.

This recent announcement did include a small aside questioning whether Microsoft would continue to offer a standalone search engine outside of its SharePoint environment where the Fast product has been embedded and leveraged first. It sounds like the short term plan is to continue with standalone ESP, but certainly no long term commitment is made.

So, whatever stasis/constancy pre-Microsoft Fast customers were feeling sanguine about, it is surely being shaken around. Let’s take a look at some reasons that vendors abandon their acquisitions. First we need to consider why companies add products through acquisition in the first place. A simple list looks like this:

  1. Flat sales
  2. Need to penetrate a growth market or industry
  3. Desire to demonstrate strength to its existing customer base by acquiring a high-end brand name
  4. Need for technology, IP, and expertise
  5. Desire to expand the customer base, quickly

While item 1 probably was not a contributor to the Microsoft Fast acquisition, 2 and 3 certainly factored into their plan. Fast was “the” brand and had become synonymous in the marketplace with “enterprise search leader.” Surely Microsoft considered the technology IP and key employees that they would be acquiring, and having a ready-made customer-base and maintenance revenue stream would be considerations, too.
Customers do have reasons to be nervous in any of these big acquisitions, however. Here is what often get exposed and revealed once the onion is peeled:

  • Game changing technology is playing havoc in the marketplace; in search there are numerous smaller players with terrific technologies, more nimble and innovative development teams with rigorous code control mentalities, and the experience of having looked at gaps in older search technologies.
  • Cost of supporting multiple code bases is enormous, so the effort of developing native support on multiple platforms becomes onerous.
  • For any technology, loss of technical gurus (particularly when there has been a culture of loose IP control, poor capture of know-how, and limited documentation) will quickly drive a serious reality check as the acquirer strives to understand what it has bought.
  • Brand name customers may not stick around to find out what is going to happen, particularly if the product was on the path to being replaced anyway. Legacy software may be in place because it is irreplaceable or simply due to the neglect of enterprises using it. It may be very hard for the acquiring buyer to determine which situation is the case. A change of product ownership may be just the excuse that some customers need to seek something better. Customers understand the small probability of having a quick and smooth integration of a just-acquired product into the product mix of a large, mature organization.
  • A highly diverse customer base, in many vertical markets, with numerous license configuration requirements for hardware and operating system infrastructures will be a nightmare to support for a company that has always standardized on one platform. Providing customer support for a variety of installation, tuning and on-going administration differences is just not sustainable without a lot of advance planning and staffing.

The Microsoft/Fast circumstance is just an illustration. You might take a look at what is also going on with SAP after its acquisition of Business Objects (BO) in this lengthy analysis at Information Week. In this unfortunate upheaval, BO’s prior acquisition of Inxight has been a particular loss to those who had embraced that fine analytics and visualization engine.

The bottom line is that customers who depend on technology of any kind, for keeping their own businesses running effectively and efficiently, must be aware of what is transpiring with their most valued vendor/suppliers. When there is any changing of the guardians of best-of-breed software tools, be prepared by becoming knowledgeable about what is really under the skin of the newly harvested onion. Then, make your own plans accordingly.

What is the Price and What is the Cost?

Enterprise software pricing runs the gamut from nominal to 100s of thousands of dollars. Unless software for enterprise search reaches a commodity status with a defined baseline of functional specifications, the marketplace will continue to be confused and highly segmented.

What buyers need to do first is to stop limiting their procurement selection choices based primarily on license prices. When enterprises begin their selection by considering prices first, many options are eliminated that may be functionally more appropriate and for which the total cost of ownership may be even less.

Product pricing correlates more to the market domain in which a vendor sells or aims to sell than to actual product value per installed user. Therefore, companies in the small to mid-range are particularly vulnerable to unreasonable licensing. I have written about this before but it bears repeating, the strength of the underlying technology has little to do with the price but can influence the total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) dramatically.

Buyers often believe high license price relates to top product value; in general you still need to add another 60-80% for services and support costs to get that value out. But let’s look at the business reality and corporate context for sellers of high-priced enterprise search.

Net sales of any company that is large is a significant determinant of its reputation and potential staying power in its industry. However, when actual sales for a search product line are a tiny fraction of total company revenue, potential buyers of enterprise search need to know that and factor it into their decision-making for these reasons:

  • The largest software companies are heavily vested in subscribing to analyst services that write about the industry. They are diligent in reporting their sales figures to those companies and publications that do annual surveys on various industry segments. The reporting is usually careful to note when revenues for a particular sector ( like search) are not broken out, but this often escapes the notice of buyers who only see that company X has enormous revenues compared to others. This leaves the impression that they are also a standout in the search sector.
  • The fact that a company offers many software products, of which search is only one, has often resulted from acquisition of a lot of products. Search may only be in the mix because it complements other products. The company may or may not have actually retained the technology gurus who originally designed, developed and supported the software. A lot of software quickly becomes stale once acquired by a third-party.
  • When a very large company offers many products, it focuses sales, account management, support and development on those with the largest revenue stream or growth potential. Marketing for marginal products may be sustained for a longer period to bring in “easy” business but unfortunately, for too long, search has been treated as a loss leader to attract revenues for other product lines. Where “search” fits into a mix of products, how well it will be serviced and supported over time may be difficult to discern.
  • The final situation that happens for very large software companies is that competition is an ever-present cause for shifting agendas. The largest software firms will often abandon technologies whose architecture, unique functions and even their customers do not fit their changing market interests. They will abandon products for which they have paid huge sums once the initial value of the procurement has been realized, when a product’s technology has been captured for embedding in other product suites, or if the product is no longer viewed as strategic.

In the next blog posting we’ll take a look at some other reasons that vendors make and then abandon their acquisitions. But in the meantime, here is a recommendation to buying decision-makers:

When you see a very long list of customer logos on the web sites of major software vendors there is important context that is not provided. Large corporations can and do buy competing products all the time. Some products get into enterprise-wide use and adoption for the long term while others are used briefly or in smaller applications. You can’t know whether a product is even in use in the company whose logo is displayed.

Because it is almost impossible for an outsider to find the actual buyer/user of a product in a large enterprise; the posted logos tell you little. Inside an enterprise one may discover endless tales of when, why and how competing products were acquired, many as part of package deals or through a subsidiary acquisition. What is also true is that stories of successful implementations or brand loyalty do not abound.

For you who are new to enterprise search, take control of your own destiny by educating yourself using a lower priced product with a good reputation for a niche application. Invest your budget instead in human resources (internal or 3rd party) to craft the solution you really need.

Start with a vision of appropriate scale, tackling a small domain of high value content that is currently hard to find in your organization.

Use the experience of implementing and leveraging this search product and engaging with the vendor to bring a deeper understanding of the technology and applications of search. Working with a vendor dedicated exclusively to search will have another cost benefit because of the focused attention you are more likely to receive. Delving deeply into planning and implementation for a targeted result will have a cost that brings multiple benefits moving forward to larger and more complex implementations – even if you move on to another product.

Competition among Search Vendors

Is there any real competition when it comes to enterprise search? Articles like this one in ComputerWorld make good points but also foster the idea that this could be a differentiator for buyers: Yahoo deal puts IBM, Microsoft in enterprise search pickle, by Juan Carlos Perez, August 4, 2009.

I wrote about the IBM launch of the OmniFind suite of search products a couple of years ago with positive comments. The reality ended up being quite different as I noted later. Among the negatives were three that stand out in my mind. First, free (as in the IBM OmniFind Yahoo no-charge edition) is rarely attractive to serious enterprises looking for a well-supported product. Second, the substantial computing overhead for the free product was significant enough that some SMBs I know of were turned off; the costs associated with the hardware and support it would require offset “free.” Third, my understanding that the search architecture for the free product would provide seamless upgrades to IBM’s other OmniFind products was wrong. Each subsequent product adoption would require the same “rip and replace” that Steve Arnold describes in his report, Beyond Search. It is hard to believe that IBM got much traction out of this offering from the enterprise search market at large. Does anyone know if there was really any head-to-head competition between IBM and other search vendors over this product?

On the other hand, does the Microsoft Express Search offering appeal to enterprises other than the traditional Microsoft shop? If Microsoft Express Search went away, it would probably be replaced by some other Microsoft search variation with inconvenience to the customer who needs to rip and replace and left on his own to grumble and gripe. What else is new? The same thing would happen with IBM Yahoo OmniFind users and they would adapt.

I’ve noticed that free and cheap products may become heavily entrenched in the marketplace but not among organizations likely to upgrade any time soon. Once enterprises get immersed in a complex implementation (and search done well does require that) they won’t budge for a long, long time, even if the solution is less than optimal. By the time they are compelled to upgrade they are usually so wedded to their vendor that they will accept any reasonable offer to upgrade that the vendor offers. Seeking competitive options is really difficult for most enterprises to pursue without an overwhelmingly compelling reason.

This additional news item indicates that Microsoft is still trying to get their search strategy straightened out with another new acquisition, Applied Discovery Selects Microsoft FAST for Advanced E-Discovery Document Search. E-discovery is a hot market in legal, life sciences and financial verticals but firms like ISYS, Recommind, Temis, and ZyLab are already doing well in that arena. It will take a lot of effort to displace those leaders, even if Microsoft is the contender. Enterprises are looking for point solutions to business problems, not just large vendors with a boatload of poorly differentiated products. There is plenty of opportunity for specialized vendors without going toe-to-toe with the big folks.

Personalized Search in the Enterprise

This is an interesting topic for two reasons: there is enormous diversity in the ways we all think and go about finding content; personalizing a search interface without being intrusive is extremely difficult. Any technology that requires us to do activities according to someone else’s design, which bends our natural inclination, is by definition not going to be personal.

This topic comes to mind because of two unrelated pieces of content I read in the past 24 hours. The first was an email asking me about personal information management and automated tagging, and the second was an interview I read with Mike Moran, a thought leader in search and speaker at one of our Gilbane Conferences. In the interview, Mike talks about personalized search. Then Information Week referenced search personalization in an article about a patent suit against Google.

Here is my take on the many personalized search themes that have recently emerged. From dashboards to customizing results, options to focus on particular topics or types of content, socialized search to support interacting with and sharing results, to retrieving content we personally created or received (email), content we used or were named in, all might be referred to as search personalization. Getting each to work well will enhance enterprise search but….

Knowing how transient and transformative our thoughts and behaviors really are, we should focus realistically on the complexity of producing software tools and services that satisfy and enhance personal findability. We are ambiguous beings, seeking structured equilibrium in many of our activities to create efficiency and reduce anxiety, while desiring new, better, quicker and smarter devices to excite and engage us. Once we achieve a level of comfort with a method or mechanism, whether quickly or over time, we evolve and seek change. But, when change is imposed on an unprepared mind, our emotions probably override any real benefit that might be gained in productivity. Then we tend to self-sabotage the potential for operational usefulness when an uncomfortable process intrudes. Mental lack of preparedness undermines our work when a new design demands a behavioral shift that lacks connection to our current state or past experiences. How often are we just not in a frame of mind to take on something totally alien, especially with deadlines looming?

Look at the single most successful aspect of Google, minimalism in its interface. One did not need to wade through massively dense graphics scrambled with text in disordered layouts to figure out what to do when Google first appeared. The focus was immediately obvious.

I am presenting this challenge to vendors; there is a need to satisfy a huge array of personal preferences while introducing a minimal amount of change in any one release. Easy adoption requires that new products be simple. Usefulness must be quickly obvious to multiple audiences.

I am presenting this challenge to technology users; focus your appetite. Decide before shopping or adopting new tools what would bring the most immediate productivity gain and personal adoptability for maximum efficiency. Think about how defeated you feel when approaching a new release of an upgraded product that has added so many new “bells and whistles” that you are consumed with trying to rediscover all the old functions and features that gave your workflow a comfortable structure. Think carefully about how much learning and re-adjusting will be needed if you decide on technology that promises to do everything, with unlimited personalization. It may be possible, but does it really feel personally acceptable.

To Find the Best Search Engine for Your Enterprise, Cultivate Your Expert Network

Your best expert resource for discovering products and tools for your enterprise is the network you trust most and communicate with the most comfortably. It is well established that a great trait to bring into any professional situation is the ability to listen. Sometimes it is hard to remember that when you are being asked a lot of questions. So, the best way to get a jump start on listening is to come to professional meetings with a list of questions you want to get answered before the meeting wraps up.

One of my own discoveries is that whether I am conducting a meeting, moderating or just attending, seeking out people who might have experiences that could be educational for me is both a way to get into a nice business relationship but it also helps break the ice. It can be awkward going to meetings where we know nobody in advance. Having an agenda that involves meeting people is the ultimate networking model. You might notice that a lot of social networking sites, like LinkedIn, have included a function for asking questions. This has proven popular and I know several people who have leveraged it in beneficial ways.

I have just come from two days at the Infonortics Search Engine meeting and many of you will soon be attending the Enterprise Search Summit in New York, The Gilbane Group conference in San Francisco or SemTech 2009 in San Jose. Here are a few suggestions on how to go shopping for great insight on search tools while establishing a relationship could nurture both you and those you engage for many years to come. Any one of these can start the conversation but think ahead about what you want to ask next once you have your initial answer:

Q: Hi, are you at this conference because you are just beginning to look for a search engine or to find answers about one you are already using? Depending on the answer you will want to find out what they have used, looked at, tested or are researching and what they have learned in the process.

Q: Hi, I see you are from ABC Corporation. How are you involved with search technology there? The answer will give you an idea what line of questioning you might pursue based on the person’s presumed experience and knowledge. IT people, developers, content managers or expert searchers will each have a different view of the technologies they have or would like to use. Any role offers a unique perspective for you to draw out and understand for your own institution. Knowing how different professionals view search in other organizations can give you insight into the people you may have to team with in your own organization.

Q: Have you heard any talks at this meeting that have been particularly helpful for you? What have you learned that you didn’t know about before? Follow up, and if you sense that some expertise you have might be interesting, sharing it can begin to build a trusted exchange that might prove helpful to you both.

Q: What are a couple of mandatory requirements for a search engine in your organization? Have you been using anything recently that you feel is serving you well or are you having problems? Any time you get a response from another attendee that indicates they are experienced and engaged with specific products, learn everything you can about their: selection process, implementation, deployment and user experiences. Talk to them about what their objectives were and whether and how those were met.

Going to meetings, chatting up attendees, asking questions, and sharing what you know are great ways to build a community of practice outside your internal communities. This brings fresh insights and gives you a valuable networking resource. Don’t leave without contact information so you can continue the dialogue. Continue it with online exchanges based on their preference for communication.

Finally, the expense of going to meetings is increasingly hard to justify. But the benefit of finding key vendors and others with a common purpose in one place where you can quickly coalesce around the topic of search (or any other topic) gives you an easy sociability that can then be sustained. To solidify what you have learned and from whom, write a trip report; broadly disseminate it to all those in your enterprise network or team, as well as your boss. This sharing will be appreciated and should underscore the value you know how to accrue from technical meetings. Learning is an essential part of job growth and letting others know that you do it well is important.

Why Copy Your Competitors Bad Choices? Search Can Work for You

I’ve often been curious about why companies frequently procure enterprise applications used by their competitors, destined to be followers instead of leaders. It seems to reflect a lack of imagination but, more importantly, a lack of confidence that one could select another solution with more possibilities for enhancing the organization’s competitiveness.
Look at three popular concepts about search:

  • The search box for keyword search is dead or only marginally useful
  • Professionals spend 10 – 20% of their workday searching (and often unsuccessfully)
  • Vast amounts of critical unstructured content is un-discoverable in most enterprises leaving organizations at risk in litigation, weak in leveraging fundamental knowledge and research for innovation, poor at customer support because known solutions can’t be found, and competitive intelligence is scarce to unearth because so much of it lies hidden in desktop email in-boxes.

If we accept these propositions, doesn’t it say something about the “leaders” in the search industry that we believe and accept so little from search?

Why do most organizations not try to solve at least one of these problems by seeking solutions that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted labor, litigation costs, R&D expense, or lost customers due to poor service? Why do companies seek to procure search applications from companies that have been around for a decade or more, licensing evolutionary products, not revolutionary ones? Why would a company ignore innovative new products in favor of products that have given “search” a bad reputation? Why do organizations make hundred thousand dollar, or more, procurements without expending a few hundred dollars on documented product comparisons, and instead rely on a few widely published charts with less than a page or two on each product?

Most important, why are organizations not seeking search applications that will give them an edge by uncovering a nugget that will get a product to market faster, help marketing groups position a product better against the competition, or give support services representatives superior tools for getting information back to customers instantly with a proven solution to a query? Where is the will to apply search technology more astutely than your competitors in every area of your business? Why is search not expected to perform flawlessly and be as ubiquitous as any other software tool in your workflow? It does not have to be a poor performing stepchild but it does require its own experts to be well executed. Come to think of it, I have never seen a help wanted posting requiring expertise in search technology implementation. Hmmm…

There are well over a hundred viable search applications and hundreds of other applications that have search embedded for point solutions. You may need to acquire, implement and maintain a number of products across the enterprise to realize all the benefits search can bring but these products can work together, just as other components of a well-run enterprise do. At a time when organizations are cutting employees, appropriate search solutions may just offset the loss of expertise by uncovering at least some of the lost assets left behind.

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