The Gilbane Advisor

Curated content for content, computing, and digital experience professionsals

Author: Lynda Moulton (page 3 of 18)

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.

Researching Enterprise Search System Integrators

When looking at job postings on the Enterprise Search Engine Professionals Group on LinkedIn shows positions calling for developers with specific programming skills or knowledge of specific products. It may be a faulty assumption, but it appears that enterprises on the path to a new or upgraded search application implementation are paying less attention to the other professional skills needed on a successful team.

Knowing how to implement, tune, administer and enhance search outcomes has more to do with understanding business needs and content management than writing code. You need the expertise of content management professionals who understand the importance of (and how to leverage) metadata. You definitely need people who know how to build and maintain the controlled vocabularies that make metadata valid and valuable within the context of your organization. These professionals are not traditionally found in IT groups; they are more likely to come from a business function, or information science background, preferably with a deep knowledge of the enterprise and how it works.

Integrating content management systems (CMS), digital asset management (DAM), taxonomy, thesaurus or ontology management with enterprise search applications means understanding much more than coding. However, having a tight relationship with IT is imperative for good integration of components. In small and medium organizations it is rare to find experts across all areas and that is where a new breed of system integrators are bringing the most value as noted in the post in December, 2011.

As promised, here are some tips for finding and qualifying the right integrator for your organization. The first step is to identify service providers to consider. Use three principle discovery techniques:

  • Simple searches for “system integration providers”, “search integration”, “software” or “software integration” are all explicit phrases to use in web search engines
  • Vendor listings and directories such as those published by Information Today, and AIIM or “buyers’ guides” associated with specific product groups.
  • Conference exhibitors and conference attendees (consultants and vendors) who may attend or present but not exhibit at conference where the focus is a content management topic.

Next, qualify those you have discovered:

  • Scour their web sites by digging into links to Case Studies, Customers, Partners, and Press Releases. Each of these may lead to information about who the vendor has done business with and for, and the nature of their engagements.
  • Test-drive any public sites they have implemented and take a look at how their own web site has been implemented – How easy is it to find information on their own site?
  • Talk to people at professional meetings or in academic institutions who might have knowledge of system integrators and learn about their relationships, success and failures they have experienced. Talk to those vendors you trust and value that are suppliers of non-software products and find out companies they may have observed or encountered at their other clients. They can be a great source of “intelligence.”
  • Talk to people at their named client sites (non-referred if possible)

Five keys to purposeful and successful selection are carefully evaluating:

  • Fit for your industry and organization: cost, vertical experience, gap completion (providing competencies you lack).
  • Fit with your permanent staff: common communication behaviors, collaborative aptitude, willingness to teach, and share.
  • People who have done something as close to what you need for another organization, and will let you talk to their client before the project begins.
  • A service provider that understands the project, staging, and need for a clear exit goal (being able to clearly define what success will look like at the end of the project before they leave the scene).
  • What we commented on in the first paragraph on jobs for search engine professionals; scout potential service providers’ professional skill set to be sure they have people on their staffs who know more than just writing code.

Armed with these few guidelines as a checklist, you are ready to begin your search for a system integrator and solutions provider that suits your organization.

Helping Enterprise Searchers Succeed

I begin 2012 with a new perspective on enterprise search, one gained as purely an observer. The venues have all been medical establishments with multiple levels of complexity and healthcare workers. As the primary caregiver for a patient, and with some medical training, I take my role as observer and patient advocate quite seriously.

As soon as the patient was on the way to the emergency room, all of his medical records, insurance cards, medications, and contact information were assembled and brought to the hospital. With numerous critical care professionals intervening, and the patient being taken for various tests over several hours, I verbally imparted information I thought was important that might not yet show up in the system. Toward the end of the emergency phase, after being told several times that they had all his records available and “in the system” I relaxed to focus on the “next steps.”

Numerous specialists were involved in the medical conditions and the first three days passed without “a crisis” but little did we know that medication choices were beginning to cause some major problems. Apparently, some parts of the patient’s medical history were not fully considered, and once the medications caused adverse outcomes, all kinds of other problem arose.

Fortunately, I was there to verbally share knowledge that was in the patient’s medical records and get choices of medicine reversed. On several occasions, doctor’s care orders had been “overlooked” and complicating interventions were executed because the healthcare person “in the moment” took an action without “seeing” those orders. I personally watched the extensive recording of doctor’s decisions and confirmed with them changes that were being made to the patient’s care, but repeatedly had to ask why a change was not being implemented.

Observing for six to eight hours on several care floors, I can only say that time is the enemy for medical staff. When questions were raised, the answers were in the system; in other words, “search worked.” What was not available to staff was time to study the whole patient record and understand overlapping and sometimes conflicting orders about care.

It is shortsighted for any institution to believe that it can squeeze professionals to “think-fast,” “on-their-feet” for hours on end with no time to consider the massive amounts of searchable results they are able to assemble. Human beings should not be expected to sacrifice their professional integrity and work standards because their employers have put them in a constant time bind.

My family member had me, but what of patients with no one, or no one versed in medical conditions and processes to intervene. This extends to every line of business where risk is involved from the practice of law to engineering, manufacturing, design, research and development, testing, technical documentation writing, etc.

I don’t minimize how hard it is for businesses and professional services to stay profitable and competitive when they are being pressed to leverage technology for information resource management. However, one measure that every enterprise must embrace is educating its workforce about the use of information technologies it employs. It is not enough to simply make a search engine interface accessible on the workstation. Every worker must be shown how to search for accurate information, authoritative information, and complete information, and be made aware of the ways to ingest and evaluate what they are finding. Finally, they must be given an alternative to getting a more complete chronicle when the results don’t match the need, even if that alternative is to seek another human being instead of a technology.

Search experts are a professionally trained class of workers who can fill the role of trainers, particularly if they have subject matter expertise in the field where search is being deployed. The risks to any enterprise of short-changing workers by not allowing them to fully exploit and understand results produced from search are long-term, but serious.

It is important to leave this entry with recognition that, due to wonderful healthcare professionals and support staff, the outcomes for the patient have been positive. People listened when I had information to share and respected my role in the process. That in no way absolves institutions and enterprises from giving their employees the autonomy and time to pay attention to all the information flooding their sphere of operation. In every field of endeavor, human beings need the time and environment to mindfully absorb, analyze and evaluate all the content available. Technology can aid but cannot carry out thoughtful professional practice.

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 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.

Why isn’t Enterprise Search “Mission Critical?”

Why isn’t “search” the logical end-point in any content and information management activity. If we don’t care about being able to find valued and valuable information, why bother with any of the myriad technologies employed to capture, organize, categorize, store, and analyze content. What on earth is the point of having our knowledge workers document the results of their business, science, engineering and marketing endeavors, if we never aspire to having it retrieved, leveraged or re-purposed by others?

However, in Information Week, an article in the September 5, 2011 issue entitled “HP Transformation: Autonomy is a Modest Start” gave me a jolt with this comment: Autonomy has very sophisticated search capabilities including federation–the ability to search across many repositories and sources–and video and image search. But with all that said, enterprise search isn’t a hot, mission-critical business priority. [NOTE: in the print version the “call-out” box had slightly different phrasing but it jumped off the page, anyway.] This is pretty provocative and disappointing to read in the pages of this particular publication.

Over the past few months, I have been engrossed in working on several client projects related to taxonomy development, vocabulary management and integration with content and search systems. There is no doubt that every one of these institutions is focused with laser intensity on getting the search interface to deliver the highest value for the effort and dollars expended. In each case, the project involved a content management component for capturing metadata with solid uniformity, strong vocabulary control, and rich synonym tables for ensuring findability when a search query has different language than the content or metadata. Every step in each of these projects has come back to the acid test, “will the searcher be able to find what s/he is looking for.”

In past posts I have commented on the strength of enterprise search technologies, and the breadth of offerings that cover a wide array of content findability needs and markets. From embedded search (within content management systems, archive and records management systems, museum systems, etc.), to standalone search engines designed to work well in discrete vertical markets or functional areas of enterprises (e.g., engineering, marketing, healthcare, energy exploration) buyers have a wealth of options from which to choose. Companies that have formerly focused on web site management, business intelligence, data mining, and numerous other content related tools are redefining themselves with additional terminology like e-discovery, 360-degree views (of information), content accessibility, and unified information.

Without the search component, all of the other technologies, which have been so hot in the past, are worthless. The article goes on to say that the hottest areas (of software growth) are business analytics and big-data analysis. Neither of these contributes business value without search underpinnings.

So, let’s get off this kick of under-rating and marginalizing search as “not mission critical” and think very seriously about the consequences of trying to run any enterprise without being able to find the products of our intellectual work output.

Collaboration, Convergence and Adoption

Here we are, half way through 2011, and on track for a banner year in the adoption of enterprise search, text mining/text analytics, and their integration with collaborative content platforms. You might ask for evidence; what I can offer is anecdotal observations. Others track industry growth in terms of dollars spent but that makes me leery when, over the past half dozen years, there has been so much disappointment expressed with the failures of legacy software applications to deliver satisfactory results. My antenna tells me we are on the cusp of expectations beginning to match reality as enterprises are finding better ways to select, procure, implement, and deploy applications that meet business needs.

What follows are my happy observations, after attending the 2011 Enterprise Search Summit in New York and 2011 Text Analytics Summit in Boston. Other inputs for me continue to be a varied reading list of information industry publications, business news, vendor press releases and web presentations, and blogs, plus conversations with clients and software vendors. While this blog is normally focused on enterprise search, experiencing and following content management technologies, and system integration tools contribute valuable insights into all applications that contribute to search successes and frustrations.

Collaboration tools and platforms gained early traction in the 1990s as technology offerings to the knowledge management crowd. The idea was that teams and workgroups needed ways to share knowledge through contribution of work products (documents) to “places” for all to view. Document management systems inserted themselves into the landscape for managing the development of work products (creating, editing, collaborative editing, etc.). However, collaboration spaces and document editing and version control activities remained applications more apart than synchronized.

The collaboration space has been redefined largely because SharePoint now dominates current discussions about collaboration platforms and activities. While early collaboration platforms were carefully structured to provide a thoughtfully bounded environment for sharing content, their lack of provision for idiosyncratic and often necessary workflows probably limited market dominance.

SharePoint changed the conversation to one of build-it-to-do-anything-you-want-the way-you-want (BITDAYWTWYW). What IT clearly wants is single vendor architecture that delivers content creation, management, collaboration, and search. What end-users want is workflow efficiency and reliable search results. This introduces another level of collaborative imperative, since the BITDAYWTWYW model requires expertise that few enterprise IT support people carry and fewer end-users would trust to their IT departments. So, third-party developers or software offerings become the collaborative option. SharePoint is not the only collaboration software but, because of its dominance, a large second tier of partner vendors is turning SharePoint adopters on to its potential. Collaboration of this type in the marketplace is ramping wildly.

Convergence of technologies and companies is on the rise, as well. The non-Microsoft platform companies, OpenText, Oracle, and IBM are placing their strategies on tightly integrating their solid cache of acquired mature products. These acquisitions have plugged gaps in text mining, analytics, and vocabulary management areas. Google and Autonomy are also entering this territory although they are still short on the maturity model. The convergence of document management, electronic content management, text and data mining, analytics, e-discovery, a variety of semantic tools, and search technologies are shoring up the “big-platform” vendors to deal with “big-data.”

Sitting on the periphery is the open source movement. It is finding ways to alternatively collaborate with the dominant commercial players, disrupt select application niches (e. g. WCM ), and contribute solutions where neither the SharePoint model nor the big platform, tightly integrated models can win easy adoption. Lucene/Solr is finding acceptance in the government and non-profit sectors but also appeal to SMBs.

All of these factors were actively on display at the two meetings but the most encouraging outcomes that I observed were:

  • Rise in attendance at both meetings
  • More knowledgeable and experienced attendees
  • Significant increase in end-user presentations

The latter brings me back to the adoption issue. Enterprises, which previously sent people to learn about technologies and products to earlier meetings, are now in the implementation and deployment stages. Thus, they are now able to contribute presentations with real experience and commentary about products. Presenters are commenting on adoption issues, usability, governance, successful practices and pitfalls or unresolved issues.

Adoption is what will drive product improvements in the marketplace because experienced adopters are speaking out on their activities. Public presentations of user experiences can and should establish expectations for better tools, better vendor relationship experiences, more collaboration among products and ultimately, reduced complexity in the implementation and deployment of products.

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.

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