That the Gilbane Group launched its Enterprise Search Practice this year was timely. In 2007 enterprise search become a distinct market force, capped off with Microsoft announcing in November that it has definitively joined the market.
Since Jan. 1, 2007, I have tried to bring attention to those issues that inform buyers and users about search technology. My intent has been to make it easier for those selecting a search tool while helping them to get a highly satisfactory result with minimal surprises. Playing coach and lead champion while clarifying options within enterprise search is a role I embrace. It is fitting then, that I wrap up this year with more insights gained from Gilbane Boston; these were not previously highlighted and relate to semantic search.
The semantic Web is a concept introduced almost ten years ago reflecting a vision of how the Worldwide Web (WWW) would evolve. In the beginning we needed a specific address (URL) to get to individual Web sites. Some of these had their own search engines while others were just pages of content we scrolled through or jumped through from link to link. Internet search engines like Alta Vista and Northern Light searched limited parts of the WWW. Then, Yahoo and Google came to provide much broader coverage of all “free” content. While popular search engines provided various categorizing, taxonomy navigation, keyword and advanced searching options, you had to know the terminology that content pages contained to find what you meant to retrieve. If your terms were not explicitly in the content, pages with synonymous or related meaning were not found. The semantic Web vision was to “understand” your inquiry intent and return meaningful results through its semantic algorithms.
The most recent Gilbane Boston conference featured presentations of commercial applications of various semantic search technologies that are contributing to enterprise search solutions. A few high level points gleaned from speakers on analytic and semantic technologies follow.
- Jordan Frank on blogs and wikis in enterprises articulated how they add context by tying content to people and other information like time. Human commentary is a significant content “contextualizer,” my term, not his.
- Steve Cohen and Matt Kodama co-presented an application using technology (interpretive algorithms integrated with search) to elicit meaning from erratic and linguistically difficult (e.g. Arabic, Chinese) text in the global soup of content.
- Gary Carlson gave us understanding of how subject matter expertise contributes substantively to building terminology frameworks (aka “taxonomies”) that are particularly meaningful within a unique knowledge community.
- Mike Moran helped us see how semantically improved search results can really improve the bottom line in the business sense in both his presentation and later in his blog, a follow-up to a question I posed during the session.
- Colin Britton described the value of semantic search to harvest and correlate data from highly disparate data sources needed to do criminal background checks.
- Kate Noerr explained the use of federating technologies to integrate search results in numerous scenarios, all significant and distinct ways to create semantic order (i.e. meaning) out of search results chaos.
- Bruce Molloy energized the late sessions with his description of how non-techies can create intelligent agents to find and feed colleagues relevant information by searching in the background in ways that go far beyond the typical keyword search.
- Finally, Sean Martin and John Stone co-presented an approach to computational data gathering and integrating the results in an analyzed and insightful format that reveals knowledge about the data, not previously understood.
Points taken are that each example represents a building block of the semantic retrieval framework we will encounter on the Web and within the enterprise. The semantic Web will not magically appear as a finished interface or product but it will become richer in how and what it helps us find. Similar evolutions will happen in the enterprise with a different focus, providing smarter paths for operating within business units.
There is much more to pass along in 2008 and I plan to continue with new topics relating to contextual analysis, the value, use and building of taxonomies, and the variety of applications of enterprise search tools. As for 2007, it’s a wrap.
The Globalization Track’s “Quality at the Source: Creating Global Customer Experience” provided advice from those in the trenches striving to do just that: bake in quality from the “get-go.” From Gilbane’s perspective, delivering customer experience is one thing; delivering global customer experience is quite another.
Our presenters understood this perspective from a “been there, doing that” frame of mind. Mary and I would like to thank Dee Stribling, Project Manager at SAS, Lori Kegel, Manager Technical Communications at Boston Scientific, and Richard Sikes, Senior Consultant & Advisor at The Localization Institute for demonstrating that global customer experience is not yet another industry phrase designed to bolster new marketing campaigns. Putting the global in customer experience is a necessity, critical for those with multinational revenue profiles, and presents tangible challenges for organizations to view the content lifecycle from a totally different perspective.
When perspective morphs to reality, organizations often unearth champions with a range of specialties that define the pillars for “going global.” Consider the following quotes from our presenters that epitomize some of the success factors for globalization in organizations that clearly get it:
- On terminology management: “Words are the building blocks of an organization’s conceptual framework. The quality of terminology directly relates to an organization’s presence in the global community – words are an essential corporate asset!” Dee Stribling, SAS.
- On source inconsistencies: “The whip cracks loudest at the farthest end. Follow the creative process back along the whip to minimize fluctuations at the source.” Richard Sikes, Localization Institute.
- On globalization issues within an M&A environment: “The overall end goal is the same for both business units. There are nuances specific to each business unit based on their internal goals and objectives (portfolios are different and cultures are different). These differences are largely due to where in the translation, memory management, and content management processes a business unit is functioning; one can be at the infancy stage and one can be much further in the growth within these processes.” Lori Kegel, Boston Scientific.
Many thanks to our panel for sending the message that a satisfying customer experience happens only when communication is clear, consistent, error-free, and in the customer’s native language.
It has been a week since the annual Gilbane Boston 2007 Conference closed and I am still searching for the most important message that came out of Enterprise Search and Semantic Web Technology sessions. There were so many interesting case studies that I’ll begin with a search function that illustrates one major enterprise search requirement – aggregation.
Besides illustrating a business case for aggregating disparate content using search, the case studies shared three themes:
- Search is just a starting point for many business processes
- While few very large organizations present all of their organization’s content through a single portal, the technology options to manage such an ideal design are growing and up to supporting entire enterprises
- All systems were implemented and operational for delivering value in less than one year, underscoring the trend toward practical and more out-of-the box solutions
Here is a brief take on what came out of just the first two of seven sessions.
- Use of ISYS to manipulate search results and function as a back-office data analysis tool for DirectEDGAR, the complete SEC filings, presented by Prof. Burch Kealey of the University of Nebraska. Presentation
- Support for search by serendipity across the shareable content domains of members of a trade association (ARF) by finding results that satisfy the searcher in his pursuit of understanding with Exalead, presented by Alain Heurtebise CEO of Exalead. Presentation
- A knowledge portal enabling rapid and efficient retrieval of the complete technical documentation for field service engineers at Otis Elevator to meet rapid response goals when supporting customers using a customized implementation of dtSearch, presented by project consultant Rob Wiesenberg of Contegra Systems, Inc. Presentation
Large solutions calling for search across multi-million record domains:
- Hosted Vivisimo solution federating over 40 million documents across 22,000 government web sites accessible with search results clustered; it records over a half million page views per day on http://USA.gov and was deployed in 8 weeks, presented by Vivisimo co-founder Jerome Pesenti. Presenation
- Intranet knowledge portal for improving customer services by enabling access to internal knowledge assets (over half a million customer cases with all their associated documents) at USi (an AT&T company) using Endeca, a search product USi had experience deploying and hosting for very large e-commerce catalogs, presented by development leader Toby Ford of USi. With one developer it was running in six months. Presentation
- Within a large law firm (Morrison Foerster) and the legal departments of two multi-national pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer and Novartis), Recommind aggregates and indexes content for numerous internal application repositories, file shares and external content sources for unified search across millions of documents, contributing a direct ROI in saved labor by ensuring that required documents are retrieved in a single search process. Presentation
In each of these cases, content from numerous sources was aggregated through the crawling and indexing algorithms of a particular search engine pointed at a bounded and defined corpus of content, with or without associated metadata to solve a particular business problem. In each case, there were surrounding technologies, human architected design elements, and interfaces to present the search interface and results for a predefined audience. This is what we can expect from search in the coming months and years, deployments to meet specialized enterprise needs, an evolving array of features and tools to leverage search results, and a rapid scaling of capabilities to match the explosion of enterprise content that we all need to find and manipulate to do our jobs.
Next week, I will reconstruct more themes and messages from the conference.
My theme leading into the Gilbane Boston Conference this week comes straight from the headlines and New Hampshire political ads that manage to spill over the border into our fair Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If you live outside of the zone of early caucus and primary states, you are probably spared the ad nauseam recitations of all the crises that Rudy Giuliani has met and conquered. In thinking about our collective longing for a true leader in the White House, I began to reflect on all the other places I would like to see leadership. My musings brought me straight to a message I try to impart to clients and professional colleagues struggling with issues of leveraging knowledge and technology.
True leadership is very hard because it requires thinking, projecting and anticipating. It requires abstract thinking about possibilities for making improvements in complex areas. It requires the ability to mentally juggle huge numbers of variables, many of which the true leader knows he/she can’t possibly control but may be able to foresee as possible complications. It requires bucking the status quo.
Anyone can react, and many can react with reasonably appropriate actions, actions that work for the immediate crisis. However, sizing up an enterprise in which things are running in a seemingly routine fashion, and taking the initiative to systematically seek out lurking crises, potential problems, and areas for improvement, and then applying thoughtful and incremental change activities to ensure better outcomes may seem boring – but this is true leadership.
Finally, think about all the ways in which our political leaders seem to thrive on talking about only the monumental crises of the country and world. Think about how our news is driven by immediate crises. We seem to be conditioned to only react to what we are being shown and told. True leaders are seekers, self-educators, investigators, learners and thinkers. Our best leaders are those who get to the core of our political and business enterprises and find a better way for the whole to work more smoothly, with an ultimate goal of bringing positive good to the members of the community. They succeed though personal diligence, finding the will to persevere while immersing themselves in the mundane and routine operations of their domains. They observe and they think about what they observe; they also talk to others and reflect mindfully on what they hear before acting.
As I prepare my opening remarks for several sessions on enterprise search and semantic technologies at the conference over the next three days, I am pondering how I can stimulate the audience to take the time to open their minds to think about what speakers and exhibitors introduce. I want them to think, really think, about what they are hearing. I want them to develop new ideas, new ways of innovating, new ways to make the mundane better and take it back to their enterprises with a purpose – not just with information to be used in the event of a direct work challenge, demand or crisis. I want to lead others to lead from a thoughtfully critical point of view. So, take a look at technologies from the perspective of action toward systemic improvements instead of a reaction to solving only the latest crisis in your enterprise.
The theme for the opening keynote panel: Content Technologies – What’s Current & What’s Coming? at our Boston conference this week is: change – and what it means for content and information management strategies.
Of course there is constant and rapid change in technology, but we are now entering an era of multiple tectonic shifts that will challenge IT and business strategists more than ever. And the changes are not all technological, even if largely caused or influenced by technology. For example, the computer-literate generation entering the workplace, consumer technology changing expectations in the workplace, and a sometimes desperate need to adjust or completely change business models.
Other fundamental changes affecting enterprise information management strategies include the speeding freight trains of mobile computing, cloud computing, enterprise software consolidation, and global e-commerce markets.
We’ll also take a look at some specific technologies and ideas that are often over-hyped or not well-understood. Many of these have an important role to play in enterprise information strategies, and the panel’s goal will be to help you think through what your expectations of them should be. Examples include technologies that go ‘beyond search’, social software networks, user-generated content, tagging, enterprise blogs and wikis, and e-books.
This is a lot to cover in an interactive 90 minutes, but our panel will certainly get you thinking, and provide some perspective for your discussions with other attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. Joining me on the panel are:
- Andrew P. McAfee, Associate Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
- David Mendels, Senior Vice President, Enterprise & Developer Solutions Business Unit, Adobe
- Andy MacMillan, Vice President, ECM Product Management, Oracle
- David Boloker, CTO Emerging Internet Technology, Distinguished Engineer, IBM Software Group
In the Global Information Age, mere information availability no longer suffices. Today’s customer expectations demand relevant information that is culturally acceptable, appealing, and most important, understood. Delivering contextual, multilingual information – communications that make sense in the customer’s language of choice – is fundamental. Translation is a corporate requirement.
However, any company with a multinational revenue profile knows that fusing quality and translation is a significant challenge. Our take? Quality translation within the global content lifecycle can be elusive, but it is achievable. To learn more, download our latest whitepaper, “Quality In, Quality Out: The Value of Technology in the Global Content Lifecycle” and listen to the recording from the companion webinar hosted by Sajan.
We’ll also continue the quality discussion throughout Gilbane Boston’s Globalization track, particularly in the session, “Quality at the Source: Creating Global Customer Experience.”
It is always a challenge choosing speakers for our conferences. We receive many more speaking proposals than we can possibly deal with, even when we ignore those that are no more than low value sales presentations. After years of reading speaker evaluations, we also know a lot of really great speakers, and it is difficult to balance bringing proven speakers back with bringing in fresh speakers with great proposals. Anyway, we have made all the tough decisions for this month’s Boston conference, and have published the speaker list on our Events blog so you can see the illustrious group all at once. We are very grateful to our speakers who help make our conferences a unique value for our attendees. Check them out.