Tag: Content federation

Enterprise Trends: Contrarians and Other Wise Forecasters

The gradual upturn from the worst economic conditions in decades is reason for hope. A growing economy coupled with continued adoption of enterprise software, in spite of the tough economic climate, keep me tuned to what is transpiring in this industry. Rather than being cajoled into believing that “search” has become commodity software, which it hasn’t, I want to comment on the wisdom of Jill Dyché and her Anti-predictions for 2011 in a recent Information Management Blog. There are important lessons here for enterprise search professionals, whether you have already implemented or plan to soon.

Taking her points out of order, I offer a bit of commentary on those that have a direct relationship to enterprise search. Based on past experience, Ms. Dyché predicts some negative outcomes but with a clear challenge for readers to prove her wrong. As noted, enterprise search offers some solutions to meet the challenges:

  1. No one will be willing to shine a bright light on the fact that the data on their enterprise data warehouse isn’t integrated. It isn’t just the data warehouse that lacks integration among assets, but among all applications housing critical structured and unstructured content. This does not have to be the case. Several state-of-the-art enterprise search products that are not tied to a specific platform or suite of products do a fine job of federating indexing of disparate content repositories. In a matter of weeks or few months, a search solution can be deployed to crawl, index and search multiple sources of content. Furthermore, newer search applications are being offered for pre-purchase testing for out-of-the-box suitability in pilot or proof-of-concept (POC) projects. Organizations that are serious about integrating content silos have no excuse for not taking advantage of easier to deploy search products.
  2. Even if they are presented with proof of value, management will be reluctant to invest in data governance. Combat this entrenched bias with a strategy to overcome lack of governance; a cost cutting argument is unlikely to change minds. However, risk is an argument that will resonate, particularly when bolstered with examples. Include instances when customers were lost due to poor performance or failure to deliver adequate support services, sales were lost because answers to qualifying questions could not be answered or were not timely, legal or contract issues could not be defended due to inaccessibility of critical supporting documents, or when maintenance revenue was lost due to incomplete, inaccurate or late renewal information getting out to clients. One simple example is the consequences of not sustaining a concordance of customer name, contact, and address changes. The inability of content repositories to talk to each other or aggregate related information in a search because a Customer labeled as Marion University at one address is the same as the Customer labeled University of Marion at another address will be embarrassing in communications and, even worse, costly. Governance of processes like naming conventions and standardized labeling enhances the value and performance of every enterprise system including search.
  3. Executives won’t approve new master data management or business intelligence funding without an ROI analysis. This ties in with the first item because many enterprise search applications include excellent tools for performing business intelligence, analytics, and advanced functions to track and evaluate content resource use. The latter is an excellent way to understand who is searching, for what types of data, and the language used to search. These supporting functions are being built into applications for enterprise search and do not add additional cost to product licenses or implementation. Look for enterprise search applications that are delivered with tools that can be employed on an ad hoc basis by any business manager.
  4. Developers won’t track their time in any meaningful way. This is probably true because many managers are poorly equipped to evaluate what goes into software development. However, in this era of adoption of open source, particularly for enterprise search, organizations that commit to using Lucene or Solr (open source search) must be clear on the cost of building these tools into functioning systems for their specialized purposes. Whether development will be done internally or by a third party, it is essential to place strong boundaries around each project and deployment, with specifications that stage development, milestones and change orders. “Free” open source software is not free or even cost effective when an open meter for “time and materials” exists.
  5. Companies that don’t characteristically invest in IT infrastructure won’t change any time soon. So, the silo-ed projects will beget more silo-ed data…Because the adoption rate for new content management applications is so high, and the ease for deploying them encourages replication like rabbits, it is probably futile to try to staunch their proliferation. This is an important area for governance to be employed, to detect redundancy, perform analytics across silos, and call attention to obvious waste and duplication of content and effort. Newer search applications that can crawl and index a multitude of formats and repositories will easily support efforts to monitor and evaluate what is being discovered in search results. Given a little encouragement to report redundancy and replicated content, every user becomes a governor over waste. Play on the natural inclination for people to complain when they feel overwhelmed by messy search results, by setting up a simple (click a button) reporting mechanism to automatically issue a report or set a flag in a log file when a search reveals a problem.

It is time to stop treating enterprise search like a failed experiment and instead, leverage it to address some long-standing technology elephants roaming around our enterprises.

To follow other search trends for the coming year, you may want to attend a forthcoming webinar, 11 Trends in Enterprise Search for 2011, which I will be moderating on January 25th. These two blogs also have interesting perspectives on what is in store for enterprise applications: CSI Info-Mgmt: Profiling Predictors 2011, by Jim Ericson and The Hottest BPM Trends You Must Embrace In 2011!, by Clay Richardson. Also, some of Ms. Dyché’s commentary aligns nicely with “best practices” offered in this recent beacon, Establishing a Successful Enterprise Search Program: Five Best Practices

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.

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