Find ItBy Alan Joch
Oracle Secure Enterprise Search provides the right access and the right results.
For organizations that depend on high-quality information at every level of the company, having people find what they need—and what they are allowed to see—can be a problem. Now, Oracle Secure Enterprise Search provides a way for users to search secure content inside the enterprise, while protecting sensitive data from unauthorized personnel.
This functionality is important to A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm with nearly 50 offices throughout the world. Intellectual capital is A.T. Kearney's lifeblood, but managing all that internal information isn't easy. "We need the ability to take expertise in specific knowledge areas and apply it not only in a local or regional perspective but globally, too," says John Laughhunn, chief technology officer at A.T. Kearney.
To do this, the specialist in strategic, organizational, operational, and technology consulting for large corporations must have ready access to relevant client information, as well as to all the internal expertise of its consulting staff. "The key challenge we face is knowing what we know," Laughhunn says.
To address this challenge, A.T. Kearney enlisted the help of Chicago technology firm Echelon Consulting. The solution—IC Tracker—uses Oracle Secure Enterprise Search to tap into A.T. Kearney's knowledgebase and ensure that only authorized eyes view sensitive information.
Now, A.T. Kearney officers can locate all past proposals, communications, technical documents, and internal white papers relevant to a new client proposal. "A.T. Kearney can get the big picture of everything they know about that client very quickly," says Amin Negandhi, cofounder and chief executive officer at Echelon.
The "knowing what we know" challenge is particularly acute for consulting companies such as A.T. Kearney, but the company is not alone in needing fast and secure access to internal information. Many organizations struggle to find all the business knowledge they house within their organizations and then distribute it securely.
Enterprise search applications require more-sophisticated tools than those normally used for common Web surfing, because enterprise information typically resides in multiple locations and in a wide variety of datasources, ranging from highly structured relational databases to free-form formats such as word-processing documents, e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, multimedia files, and even in-house chat rooms and instant-messaging programs. Enterprise search technologies also must effectively protect data using the organization's authentication, access control, and security policies to keep unauthorized workers from viewing information not appropriate to their role in the company.
For these reasons, Laughhunn and Negandhi rejected thoughts of underpinning their enterprise search solution with a leading Web search engine. "It didn't have a well-thought-out security architecture," Negandhi says. "Security was nebulous, and [we didn't feel] things were being done properly."
By contrast, IC Tracker's Oracle Secure Enterprise Search foundation builds on technologies such as Oracle Ultra Search that have been evolving for more than a decade and secures information access with Oracle's identity management solution, Oracle Internet Directory. Oracle Secure Enterprise Search can also integrate with other identity management technologies, including Microsoft Active Directory.
Clear Return On Investment
Corporate requirements for secure access to information are fueling double-digit growth for the enterprise search market, according to market researcher IDC. It projects sales growth of 21.7 percent (compound annual growth rate) for the period from 2006 to 2010, when the market could top US$2.5 billion.
Significant return on investment (ROI) explains the interest in enterprise search. "We see enterprise search engines sometimes paying for themselves in two months," says Sue Feldman, IDC's research vice president for content technology.
Fast ROI derives from applications that quickly connect people—customers, partners, and employees—to the information they need. Enterprise search technology has enabled significant ROI in customer self-help applications as well as in e-commerce. One Web financial services firm that Feldman studied showed a US$125,000-per-month boost in business from more-efficient searching. "Connecting customers rapidly to the information they're after means that you're going to keep them looking and buying," she says.
Secure search technologies that replace live service reps for routine customer inquiries can cut costs to about a penny per question, compared to live tech support at about US$30 to US$40 per call, notes Feldman. And salespeople become more effective when they pull together information from multiple sources to prioritize customer calls. One electronics parts company logged a 400 percent increase in sales effectiveness after it installed a secure enterprise search application, Feldman says.
But those figures, while easy to uncover, are perhaps less significant than the savings most enterprises realize internally. Knowledge workers report that they spend roughly 10 hours a week searching for information, according to Feldman. They waste more than a third of that time by not finding what they are hunting for. Reducing that number gives them more time to do something with the information that they find. The savings can add up to millions of dollars.
Finally, the technology helps companies meet stringent government regulations for information management, privacy protection, and court-ordered discovery requests. "Compliance regulations mandate that organizations maintain tight control over access to information," says Robert Shimp, vice president, technology marketing, Oracle. "It is increasingly important to provide search technology that delivers results customized to the user's role within the organization. Oracle Secure Enterprise Search 10g addresses this need."
Security Is Key
Oracle Secure Enterprise Search filters search results in several ways. It can use a central UNIX, Microsoft, or Oracle Internet Directory LDAP login to authenticate users. Tighter controls come with Oracle Secure Enterprise Search's access control lists (ACLs), which companies use in two ways. With ACL Crawling, Oracle Secure Enterprise Search obtains an ACL for each document directly from the information repository. ACL Stamping lets companies set authorization roles within the Oracle Secure Enterprise Search administrative console using a list of approved LDAP users or groups that are allowed to search each individual repository. For example, customer invoices retrieved in a search may be accessible by everyone in the Accounts Payable department.
Oracle Secure Enterprise Search can also provide on-the-fly filtering of search requests so that after an inquiry has produced an index of relevant documents, Oracle Secure Enterprise Search reviews each user's authorization to confirm that his or her credentials haven't been recently altered to block certain items on the list.
Up-to-the-minute access confirmations allow A.T. Kearney to manage searches against an internal bulletin board where officers routinely post sensitive company and client information. "For searches against that source, we check in real time whether the individual should have access to those postings or not," Echelon's Negandhi says. "So the instant somebody might turn off someone's access to the bulletin board, the searcher will no longer be able to view that information."
Along with security, effective enterprise search technology must work quickly to minimize delays in data delivery as the search engine scans multiple datasources. To speed performance, Oracle Secure Enterprise Search extracts metadata fields from each individual document, database table, or e-mail message. Users of Oracle Secure Enterprise Search can define metadata in a couple of ways, choosing search attribute tags such as title, author, description, subject, and MIME type. Alternatively, administrators may rely on the Oracle Secure Enterprise Search "crawler," a Web indexing tool, to create attributes.
"The metadata extraction tools that come with many search engines can be of immense benefit in helping people organize their information," IDC's Feldman says. The tools are even more valuable if the information needs to be reorganized in an on-the-fly, ad hoc fashion.
"The beauty of these [metadata] technologies is that they don't require foresight," she says. "Search technologies just extract everything, and once you've extracted the information, you can create reports on the fly, without having to figure ahead of time how you'll want to use it."
Echelon's Negandhi observes that Oracle Secure Enterprise Search's metadata capabilities provided valuable flexibility for IC Tracker. "The metadata layer allowed us to apply the A.T. Kearney taxonomy rather than being force-fed somebody else's taxonomy structure," he says. "The power of Oracle Secure Enterprise Search is that you can not only do a full text index on data, but you can also say, 'This field represents the client codes, this field represents the company name,' and so on. This means that you can do specific searches. You don't search for everything about a particular company; rather, you ask the search engine to find everything that's been tagged for that company. So that metadata searching fields are individual search boxes that can help you further refine the searching."
Laughhunn points out that the combination of Oracle Secure Enterprise Search and IC Tracker gives A.T. Kearney greater efficiency in the accuracy and the amount of information it can gather for each project. Over time, that impact provides even larger benefits. "The snowball effect to that is that it's now just as easy for consultants to contribute to our intellectual capital as it is to make use of it," Laughhunn says. "Those are two huge challenges in an organization like ours. This [secure enterprise search] has been an enabling technology for us to improve what we offer our clients and to better share intellectual capital within the firm."
Alan Joch (email@example.com) is a technology writer based in New England who specializes in enterprise, Web, and high-performance-computing applications.