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Oracle Buys Endeca

Oracle announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire Endeca Technologies, Inc., a provider of unstructured data management, web commerce and business intelligence solutions. A privately-held company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Endeca provides products that help companies analyze unstructured data, gain better business intelligence, and deliver a better customer experience. Endeca’s core technology, the MDEX Engine, is designed to enable enterprises to correlate and analyze unstructured data. Endeca InFront is a leading customer experience management platform that enables businesses to deliver targeted and relevant customer experiences online with merchandising and content targeting tools for web commerce. Endeca Latitude is a technology platform that enables businesses to rapidly develop analytic applications bringing information from many unstructured and structured information sources together. The combination of Oracle and Endeca is expected to create a comprehensive technology platform to process, store, manage, search and analyze structured and unstructured information together. The combination of Oracle ATG Commerce and Endeca InFront is expected to enhance cross-channel commerce, merchandising, and online customer experiences. The combination of Oracle Business Intelligence and Endeca Latitude is expected to provide a comprehensive business intelligence foundation and analytic applications, bringing together information from structured and unstructured data sources. The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close before the end of 2011. Until the deal closes, each company will continue to operate independently. http://www.oracle.com/ http://www.endeca.com

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

Polymita Releases FreeFlow BPM Solution

Polymita, a provider of BPM software and solutions, announced the launch of Polymita FreeFlow, a new generation in process management (BPM). Polymita FreeFlow covers business scenarios that need unstructured and collaborative processes and is integrated in the version 6 Polymita. Polymita FreeFlow enables the implementation of unstructured processes at any time or as a part of a structured process. It provides collaboration features, assigning unplanned tasks to users, adding new users or adding new documents or data that are needed to manage the incident, emergency or unplanned change. The users access the same process context that the original process (data, documents, indicators, business rules) and supports collaboration, approval, delegation, alerts and cancellation tasks. Polymita FreeFlow also provides the ability to create workflows, both within a process and independently, with dynamic assignment of roles, on-demand creation tasks from structured processes and their control and supervision, as well as other features. Polymita FreeFlow can be used on-premise, as SaaS or Cloud. www.polymita.com

IBM Acquires Datacap

IBM announced the acquisition of Datacap Inc., a privately-held company based in Tarrytown, NY. Datacap is a provider of software that enables organizations to transform the way they capture, manage and automate the flow of business information to improve business processes, reduce paper costs or manual errors and meet compliance mandates. Financial terms were not disclosed. The acquisition strengthens IBM’s ability to help organizations digitize, manage and automate their information assets, particularly in paper-intensive industries such as healthcare, insurance, government and finance. Additionally, regulations such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley have demanded new standards and now legislation is encouraging the adoption of new records management solutions, including scanning and capture to increase accuracy, lower costs and speed business processes to meet these regulations. http://ibm.com http://www.datacap.com/

What’s in a Name: Information Access Software vs. Search?

This one almost slipped right past me but I see we are in another shoot-out in the naming of search market segments. Probably it is because we have too many offerings in the search industry. When any industry reaches a critical mass, players need to find a way to differentiate what they sell. Products have to be positioned as, well, “something else.”

In my consulting practice “knowledge management” has been hot (1980s and 90s), dead (late ’90s and early 2000s), relevant again (now). In my analyst role for “enterprise search” Gilbane has been told by experts that the term is meaningless and should be replaced with “behind the firewall search,” as if that clarifies everything. Of course, marketing directories might struggle with that as a category heading.

For the record, “search” has two definitions in my book. The first is a verb referring to the activity of looking for anything. The second, newer, definition is a noun referring to technologies that support finding “content.” Both are sufficiently broad to cover a lot of activities, technologies and stuff. “Enterprises” are organizations of any type in which business, for-profit, non-for-profit, or government, is being conducted. Let us quibble no more.

But I digress; Endeca has broadened its self-classification in any number of press releases to referring to its products that were “search” products last year, as “information access software.” This is the major category used by IDC to include “search.” That’s what we called library systems in the 1970s and 80s. New products still aim for accessing content, albeit with richer functions and features but where are we going to put them in our family of software lists? One could argue that Endeca‘s products are really a class of “search,” search on steroids, a specialized form of search. What are the defining differentiators between “search software” and “information access software?” When does a search product become more than it was or narrower, refined in scope? (This is a rhetorical question but I’m sure each vendor in this new category will break-it out for me in their own terms.)

Having just finished reviewing the market for enterprise search, I believe that many of the products are reaching for the broader scope of functionality defined by IDC as being: search and retrieval, text analytics, and BI. But are they really going to claim to be content management and data warehousing software, as well? Those are included in IDC’s definition of “information access software.” May-be we are going back to single-vendor platforms with everything bundled and integrated. Sigh… it makes me tired, trying to keep up with all this categorizing and re-redefining.

IBM Labs Announces ProAct, Text Analytics for Call Centers

Researchers at IBM’s India Research Laboratory have developed software technology that uses sophisticated math algorithms to extract and deliver business insights hidden within the information gathered by companies during customer service calls and other interactions. The new business intelligence technology, called ProAct, is a text analytics tool, which automates previously manual analysis and evaluation of customer service calls and provides insight to help companies assess and improve their performance. ProAct provides an integrated analysis of structured information such as agent and product databases and unstructured data such as email, call logs, call transcription to identify reason for dissatisfaction, agent performance issues and typical product problems. Based on the Unstructured Information Management Analysis (UIMA) framework that IBM contributed to the open source Apache Software Foundation in 2006, the ProAct technology was initially developed as a service engagement. Now the new algorithms are being packaged in software and deployed in many IBM call center customers around the world. UIMA is an open source software framework that helps organizations build new analysis technologies that help organizations gain more insight from their unstructured information by discovering relationships, identifying patterns, and predicting outcomes. IBM uses UIMA to enable text analysis, extraction and concept search capabilities in other parts of its portfolio of enterprise search software products, including OmniFind Enterprise Edition, OmniFind Analytics Edition, and OmniFind Yahoo! Edition. http://www.research.ibm.com/irl/

Reflecting on BI Shifts and Google Big Moves in the Search Market

Sometimes it pays to be behind in reading industry news. The big news last week was Google’s new patents and plans to enhance search results using metadata and taxonomy embedded in content. This was followed by the news that Business Objects plans to acquire Inxight, a Xerox PARC spin-off that has produced a product line with terrific data visualization tools, highly valued in the business analytics (BI) marketplace.

I had planned to write about the convergence of the enterprise search and BI markets this week until I caught up with industry news from April and early May. This triggered a couple of insights into these more recent announcements.

In April an Information Week article noted that Google has, uncharacteristically, contributed two significant enhancements to MySQL: improved replication procedures across multiple systems and expanded mirroring. Writer Babcock also noted that “Google doesn’t use MySQL in search” but YouTube does. I believe Google will come to be more tied to MySQL as they begin to deploy new search algorithms that take advantage of metadata and taxonomies. These need good text database structures to be managed efficiently and leveraged effectively to produce quality results from search on the scale that Google does it. Up to now Google results presentation has been influenced more by transaction processing than semantic and textual context. Look for more Google enhancements to MySQL to help it effectively manage all that meaningful text. The open source question is will more enhancements be released by Google for all to use? A lot of enterprises would benefit from being able to depend on continual enhancements to MySQL so they could (continue to) use it instead of Oracle or MS-SQL server as the database back-end for text searching.

The other older news (Information Week, May 7th) was that Business Objects was touting “business intelligence for ‘all individuals’” with some new offerings. BO’s acquisition announcement just last week, that they plan to acquire Inxight, only strengthens their position in this market. Inxight has been on the cusp of BI and enterprise search for several years and this portends more convergence of products in these growing markets. Twenty-five years ago when I was selling text software applications, a key differentiator was strong report building tool sets to support “slicing and dicing” database content in any desired format. It sounds like robust, intuitive reporting tools for all enterprise users of content applications is still a dream but much closer to reality for the high-end market.

With all the offerings and consolidation in BI and search, the next moves will surely begin to push some offerings with search/BI to a price point that small-medium businesses (SMBs) can afford. We know that Microsoft sees the opening (Information Week, May 14th) and let’s hope that others do as well.

Information Builders Releases WebFOCUS Magnify, a Service-Oriented Approach to Search

Information Builders announced the release of WebFOCUS Magnify, a search navigation tool that dynamically categorizes search results and supplements them with analysis and reporting capabilities. Magnify uses the metadata from Google or other search engines to index structured data records and provide access to all WebFOCUS capabilities through the search interface to provide improved relevancy of results. A feature of WebFOCUS Magnify is that it captures data on a message bus. Using integration technology from iWay Software, an Information Builders company, it adds metatags, and submits it to the search engine indexing mechanism. This avoids the need for crawling data stores, particularly database records, combining structured data in databases with unstructured search. WebFOCUS Magnify leverages the metatags and provides results in a navigation tree to guide users to the information they need. Features of WebFOCUS Magnify include: Dynamic categorization of search results – provides enhanced ways to narrow down your search; Search-driven parameterized reports; Dynamic directories – uses search to data mine; and is search engine agnostic – can work with Lucene and Google. http://www.informationbuilders.com

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