COMMENT: Analyst's Corner

Finding Information on Demand
By David Baum

Ease of use and risk management drive companies to enterprise search.

Sue Feldman, research vice president for content technology at IDC, talked to Oracle Magazine about enterprise search and discovery technology.

Oracle Magazine: What's new in the world of enterprise search technology?

Feldman: We've seen major changes in how enterprise search is used by companies to unify access to multiple sources of information. The technology has also become more sophisticated, with elements of text analytics, like categorization, or name extraction being built into the software. We've seen advances in how the index itself is structured to handle both data and content in one place. In addition, the skill level of the average user has improved. Most people are fairly adept at using search technology on the internet, and they expect to find corporate information just as easily.

Oracle Magazine: What is driving growth in the enterprise search market?

Feldman: The main driver: People want a single point of access to all their information. Another big driver is risk avoidance. Executives understand the need for comprehensive records management. They need to be able to find and verify information to meet compliance requirements.

Oracle Magazine: What are the essential components of enterprise search tools?

Feldman: The most vital component is a mature search-and-discovery platform that can do secure crawling, indexing, and searching. A consumer search engine searches HTML pages, but an enterprise search engine must also be able to search databases, e-mail systems, intranet portals, document management systems, and custom applications. You also need administrative tools that help you do relevance ranking, and it's great if you can hardwire some of the results to your most frequently asked questions.

Oracle Magazine: What are some of the advanced capabilities of these tools?

Feldman: The better search engines do concept matching. For example, if you search on high blood pressure , they'll be smart enough to return results that also have the term hypertension . They can also help you qualify your queries. The term bush could refer to shrubbery or a person. If you want information on President Bush, you shouldn't have to wade through gardening information. More-mature tools let you extract a specific kind of metadata called entities, so you can specify names of people, places, and common elements. This lets companies organize their information and improve search results by categorizing or tagging concepts within each document.

Oracle Magazine: How do these tools control access to private documents or restrict access to specific workgroups?

Feldman: Enterprise-level search tools let you set business rules, especially for identity management and security. For example, Oracle Secure Enterprise Search 10g is integrated with Oracle's identity management solution, Oracle Internet Directory, and it can be synchronized with other identity management solutions such as Microsoft's Active Directory. This helps you ensure that the right people see the right information.

Oracle Magazine: How do companies include search technology in their enterprise applications?

Feldman: Having a flexible platform is important. It should be easy to embed search capabilities in whatever you're doing, generally with Web services, and to create composite applications that include search functions. Your inventory system, content management system, workflow engine, and search engine should work together—along with your collaborative tools, instant messaging system, and video conferencing system.

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Oracle Magazine: Where is the return on investment (ROI) in these initiatives?

Feldman: ROI comes from two primary areas: increasing revenue and decreasing costs. For example, if you can make it easier for customers to find your products, your online sales revenue will increase. Research into clickstream data reveals that you lose one-third of your searchers after each click, so connecting people rapidly to the information they're looking for is essential. Charles Schwab saw an immediate payback of US$128,000 per month from this type of improvement. Retailers such as Macy's and Lands' End show similar results. These companies use smart search engines to get you where you want to go. Enterprise search technology also can lead to huge savings in a customer support center, because it helps users pinpoint what they need. Each time you answer a question automatically, it costs about a penny. Each time you answer with a low-level person reading a script, it costs around $4. Each time an experienced tech support person gets involved, it costs $30 to $40.


David Baum ( david@dbaumcomm.com ) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.

IDC ( www.idc.com ) provides market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets.



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