Category: Search Research and Reference Sites

Launching Your Search for Enterprise Search Fundamentals

It’s the beginning of a new year and you are tasked with responsibility for your enterprise to get top value from the organization’s information and knowledge assets. You are the IT applications specialist assigned to support individual business units with their technology requests. You might encounter situations similar to these:

  • Marketing has a major initiative to re-write all product marketing pieces.
  • Finance is grappling with two newly acquired companies whose financial reports, financial analyses, and forecasts are scattered across a number of repositories.
  • Your Legal department has a need to categorize and analyze several thousand “idea records” that came from the acquired companies in order to be prepared for future work, patenting new products.
  • Research and development is attempting to categorize, and integrate into a single system, R&D reports from an existing repository with those from the acquisitions.
  • Manufacturing requires access to all schematics for eight new products in order to refine and retool manufacturing processes and equipment in their production area.
  • Customer support demands just-in-time retrieval and accuracy to meet their contractual obligations to tier-one customers, often from field operations, or while in transit to customer sites. The latter case often requires retrieval of a single, unique piece of documentation.

All of these groups have needs, which if not met present high risk or even exposure to lawsuits from clients or investors. You have only one specialist on staff who has had two years of experience with a single search engine, but who is currently deployed to field service operations.

Looking at just these few examples we can see that a number of search related technologies plus human activities may be required to meet the needs of these diverse constituents. From finding and assembling all financial materials across a five-year time period for all business units, to recovering scattered and unclassified emails and memos that contain potential product ideas, the initiative may be huge. A sizable quantity of content and business structural complexity may require a large scale effort just to identify all possible repositories to search for. This repository identifying exercise is a problem to be solved before even thinking about the search technologies to adopt for the “finding” activity.

Beginning the development of a categorizing method and terminology to support possible “auto-categorization” might require text mining and text analysis applications to assess the topical nomenclature and entity attributes that would make a good starting point. These tools can be employed before the adoption of enterprise search applications.

Understanding all the “use-cases” for which engineers may seek schematics in their re-design and re-engineering of a manufacturing plant is essential to selecting the best search technology for them and testing it for deployment.

The bottom line is there is a lot more to know about content and supporting its accessibility with search technology than acquiring the search application. Furthermore, the situations that demand search solutions within the enterprise are far different, and their successful application requires far greater understanding of user search expectations than Web searching for a product or general research on a new topic.

To meet the full challenge of providing the technologies and infrastructure that will deliver reliable and high value information and knowledge when and where required, you must become conversant with a boatload of search related topics. So, where do you begin?

A new primer, manageable in length and logical in order has just been published. It contains the basics you will need to understand the enterprise context for search. A substantive list of reading resources, a glossary and vendor URL list round out the book. As the author suggests, and I concur, you should probably begin with Chapter 12, two pages that will ground you quickly in the key elements of your prospective undertaking.

What is the book? Enterprise Search (of course) by Martin White, O’Reilly Media, Inc., Sebastopol, CA. © 2013 Martin White. 192p. ISBN: 978-1-449-33044-6. Also available as an online edition at: http://my.safaribooksonline.com/book/databases/data-warehouses/9781449330439

Making Search Play Well with Content Solutions

In keynote sessions at the recent Gilbane Boston Conference, three speakers in a row made points about content management solutions that are also significant to selection and implementation of enterprise search. Here is a list of paraphrased comments.

  • From Forrester analyst, Stephen Powers were these observations: 1. The promise has been there for years for an E (enterprise)CM suite to do everything but the reality is that no one vendor, even when they have all the pieces, integrates them well. 2. Be cautious about promises from vendors who claim to do it all; instead, focus on those who know how to do integration.
  • Tony Byrne of the Real Story Group observed about Google in the enterprise that they frequently fail because Google doesn’t really understand “how work gets done in the enterprise.”
  • Finally, Scott Liewehr of the Gilbane Group stated that a services firm selection is more important than the content management system application selection.

Taken together these statements may not substantiate the current state of the content management industry but they do point to a trend. Evidence is accruing that products and product suppliers must focus on playing nice together and work for the enterprise. Most tend not to do well, out-of-the-box, without the help of expertise and experts.

Nominally, vendors themselves have a service division to perform this function but the burden falls on the buyer to make the “big” decisions about integration and deployment.
The real solution is waiting in the wings and I am increasingly talking to these experts, system integrators. They come in all sizes and configurations; perhaps they don’t even self-identify as system integrators, but what they offer is deep expertise in a number of content software applications, including search.

Generally, the larger the operation the more substantial the number and types of products with which they have experience. They may have expertise in a number of web content management products or e-commerce offerings. A couple of large operations that I have encountered in Gilbane engagements are Avalon Consulting, and Search Technologies, which have divisions each specializing in a facet of content management including search. You need to explore whether their strengths and expertise are a good fit with your needs.

The smaller companies specialize, such as working with several search engines plus tools to improve metadata and vocabulary management so content is more findable. Specialists in enterprise search must still have an understanding of content management systems (CMS) because those are usually the source of metadata that feed high quality search. I’ve recently spoken with several small service providers whose commentaries and case work illustrate a solid and practical approach. Those you might want to look into are: Applied Relevance, Contegra Systems, Findwise, KAPS Group, Lucid Imagination, New Idea Engineering, and TNR Global.

Each of these companies has a specialty and niche, and I am not making explicit recommendations. The simple reason is that what you need and what you are already working on is unique to your enterprise. Without knowledge of your resources, special needs and goals my recommendations would be guesses. What I am sharing is the idea that you need experts who can give value when they are the right experts for your requirements.

The guidance here is to choose a search services firm that will move you efficiently and effectively along the path of systems integration. Expertise is available and you do not need to struggle alone knitting together best-of-breed components. Do your research and understand the differentiators among the companies. High touch, high integrity and commitment for the long haul should be high on your list of requirements – and of course, look for experience and expertise in deploying the technology solutions you want to use and integrate.

Next month I’ll share some tips on evaluating possible service organizations starting with techniques for doing research on the Web.

What an Analyst Needs to Do What We Do

Semantic Software Technologies: Landscape of High Value Applications for the Enterprise is now posted for you to download for free; please do so. The topic is one I’ve followed for many years and was convinced that the information about it needed to be captured in a single study as the number of players and technologies had expanded beyond my capacity for mental organization.

As a librarian, it was useful to employ a genre of publications known as “bibliography of bibliographies” on any given topic when starting a research project. As an analyst, gathering the baskets of emails, reports, and publications on the industry I follow, serves a similar purpose. Without a filtering and sifting of all this content, it had become overwhelming to understand and comment on the individual components in the semantic landscape.

Relating to the process of report development, it is important for readers to understand how analysts do research and review products and companies. Our first goal is to avoid bias toward one vendor or another. Finding users of products and understanding the basis for their use and experiences is paramount in the research and discovery process. With software as complex as semantic applications, we do not have the luxury of routine hands-on experience, testing real applications of dozens of products for comparison.

The most desirable contacts for learning about any product are customers with direct experience using the application. Sometimes we gain access to customers through vendor introductions but we also try very hard to get users to speak to us through surveys and interviews, often anonymously so that they do not jeopardize their relationship with a vendor. We want these discussions to be frank.

To get a complete picture of any product, I go through numerous iterations of looking at a company through its own printed and online information, published independent reviews and analysis, customer comments and direct interviews with employees, users, former users, etc. Finally, I like to share what I have learned with vendors themselves to validate conclusions and give them an opportunity to correct facts or clarify product usage and market positioning.

One of the most rewarding, interesting and productive aspects of research in a relatively young industry like semantic technologies is having direct access to innovators and seminal thinkers. Communicating with pioneers of new software who are seeking the best way to package, deploy and commercialize their offerings is exciting. There are many more potential products than those that actually find commercial success, but the process for getting from idea to buyer adoption is always a story worth hearing and from which to learn.

I receive direct and indirect comments from readers about this blog. What I don’t see enough of is posted commentary about the content. Perhaps you don’t want to share your thoughts publicly but any experiences or ideas that you want to share with me are welcomed. You’ll find my direct email contact information through Gilbane.com and you can reach me on Twitter at lwmtech. My research depends on getting input from all types of users and developers of content software applications, so, please raise your hand and comment or volunteer to talk.

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.

Interview with Steve Arnold about “Beyond Search” with Jess Bratcher

Interview with Arnold-04162008.pdf

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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