Sunday, August 19, 2007

Enterprise Search - Redefining Scope

Continuing my discussion on my previous post 'Enterprise Search Done Right' where I wrote about the user needs of enterprise search, in this post I want to share my thoughts of enterprise search and how things have changed in last couple of years in this technology to force the community to rethink about its scope and functionality.

In last few year there has been a shift in how users perceive search. The users are not just searching for the information but are also concerned about how they are searching, how effective and relevance is the search information and how information is being rendered to them. They are also judging the quality and efficiency of the search services. For the organization, emphasis is not how to make the information searchable but findable. The organization's web strategies are more aligned to serving the customer better and converting more business opportunities. For the search vendors, the emphasis has been on advancing the search algorithm, embedding more technologies under the search domain to provide a complete enterprise information management solution, and providing the search processes more engaged to have effective user experience.

How the research companies perceive the growth of enterprise search industry in next few years? Gartner suggests the search industry will realize double-digit percent growth in 2007, surpassing $728 million--a 15 percent increase from 2006's $633 million [According to the Gartner report, "Dataquest Insight: Forecast for Information Access With Search Technology in the Enterprise, 2006-2011."]. This is a positive sign, search vendors can add more technologies on the search stack to bring benefits to the organizations looking for enterprise information management solutions.

Before scoping the requirements, lets take a look at how users find or access information:

1. Pattern Search - It is typical form of searching as users search Google or Yahoo. You search for a word or a phrase, search engine will bring set of pages with the match. The advance version of pattern matching is Clustering in which search engines automatically classify initial set of search results in buckets. You can read about Clustering from Clustering with Search Engines. The public version of clustering engine can be found on Clusty

2. Browsable Taxonomy or Topical Navigation - It is browsing though the information based on pre-defined topics or categories. The organization information is classified into organization-wide taxonomies. The content can be classified or categorized at content creation time or at content indexing time (by search engines). The content authoring tools should provide capabilities to define taxonomies and provides association of categories to the information. For example Documentum provides taxonomy support for content classification. Alternatively, search engines can also classify information at the time of indexing based on pre-defined rules and taxonomy. For example, Verity provides auto-classification of information.

3. Navigating through Semantic Web - Semantics web is not just navigating though links on the web pages. It describes relationship based on meta attributes or properties. RDF (Resource Description Framework) is a markup language for describing information and resources on the web. The Semantic Web uses RDF to describe web resources. How this might this be useful? Suppose you want to compare the price and choice of ipods in your zip code, or you want to search online catalogs from different manufactures and service providers for mobile phones. The tools like Siderean provides RDF based alternate navigation.

If you look now, patten matching only symbolizes the search functionality in true sense, other type of information access is getting popular because of boundary between search and navigation is getting hazier every year. Now search can not work in isolated technology to solve enterprise information management solutions. It needs to provide and integrate with the collection of technologies to meet demanding enterprise needs. Now search is not just pattern matching algorithm, it has been expanded into a complete enterprise information access and management platform that includes extraction, classification, taxonomy support and pattern matching. The requirement and scope of search is not limited to 'searching information based on words and key phrases'. It is now an integral part of enterprise information management platform. The functions of enterprise search now includes:

1. Enterprise Search
2. Taxonomy Management - Ability to create or extend organization taxonomy
3. Information Classification i.e. categorization
4. Entity Extraction - Identifies and extracts key entities i.e. the who, what, when and how, such as people, dates, places, companies, email addresses, geo-coordinates, facilities, etc.
5. Application Integration - one, ability to integrate with various data sources within the organization for search. For example, now RSS feeds are good source of data for indexing information. Second, ability to capture user search and navigation information to collect data for search optimization.
6. Information Rendering - How the information that is searched is rendered to end users including caching, translation, transformation of information in various formats and user experience.
7. Administrative Interface - Ability to give an administrative interface to all site web master to control and view their site performance and control data.

If you look at the enterprise search vendors, you see most of the companies have made strides in developing next-generation search and advanced find tools. These include Autonomy, IBM , Convera, FAST, Inxight, Vivisimo, Siderean etc.

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