October 11, 2017

A Search Center of Excellence is still relevant managing enterprise search

I was having a conversation with an old friend who manages enterprise search her organization, a biotech company back east. We've worked together on search projects going back to my days at Verity - for you young'uns, that is what we call BG: 'before Google'.

Based on an engagement we did sometime after Google but before Solr, "Centers of Excellence" or "COE" had become very popular, and we decided we could define the rules and responsibilities of a  Search Center of Excellence or SCOE: the team that manages the full breadth of operation and management for enterprise search. We began preaching the gospel of the SCOE at trade show events and on our blog where you can find that original article.

My friend and I had a great conversation about how successful they had been managing three generations of search platforms now with the SCOE; and how they still maintain the responsibilities the SCOE assumed years back with only a few meetings a year to review how search is doing, address any concerns, and map out enhancements as they become available. 

It worked then, and it works now. The SCOE is a great idea! Let me know if you'd like to talk about it.

September 28, 2017

Enterprise Search Newsletter: September 2017

 

 

Welcome to the Volume 7 Issue 2 of the Enterprise Search Newsletter

from New Idea Engineering, Inc.

This month we start with What's New which includes an update of the Google Search Appliance saga; the current renaissance in enterprise search; and an extended product line for what I'd argue is an industry leader. We also cover:

Winning Methodologies for Enterprise Search

Like many organizations, you probably have an existing enterprise search solution ­ serving intranet or customer­facing content, perhaps even e­commerce. You had great expectations for the solution, but it hasn't worked out the way you had hoped. Your users are unhappy and complain about not being able to find the information they need. Maybe customers continue to call your support group for answers since they cannot find help on your website. Or your sales remained flat or even dropped after the roll­out of the new search. What can you do? more

Why Is Enterprise Search Difficult?

Companies, government agencies, and other organizations maintain huge amounts of information in electronic form including spreadsheets, policy manuals, and web pages just to mention a few. The content may be stored in file shares, websites, content management systems or databases, but without the ability to find this corporate knowledge, managing even a small company would be difficult. more

The Search Whisperers

Several years ago, Toyota ran an ad in the San Francisco Bay Area featuring the then recently retired Steve Young of San Francisco 49ers fame. In the advert, he is chatting with a woman at a party and the woman asks, "What do you do for a living, Steve?" Rather than answer directly, Young replies with a question: "Do you follow sports? Football?" When the woman answers that she doesn't, Young's (truthful) reply? "I'm a lawyer." more

 

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my September 2017 column at CMS Wire or the upcoming Enterprise Search and Discovery conference in DC in November. I hope to see you there!

Feel free to contact me with your questions or suggestions!

 

www.ideaeng.com Copyright 2017: New Idea Engineering

June 28, 2017

Poor data quality gives search a bad rap

If you’re involved in managing the enterprise search instance at your company, there’s a good chance that you’ve experienced at least some users complain about the poor results they see. 

The common lament search teams hear is “Why didn’t we use Google?” when in fact, sites that implemented the GSA but don’t utilize the Google logo and look, we’ve seen the same complaints.

We're often asked to come in and recommend a solution. Sometimes the problem is simply using the wrong search platform: not every platform handles every user case and requirement equally well. Occasionally, the problem is a poorly or misconfigured search, or simply an instance that hasn’t been managed properly. Even the renowned Google public search engine doesn’t happen by itself, but even that is a poor example: in recent years, the Google search has become less of a search platform and more of a big data analytics engine.

Over the years, we’ve been helping clients select, implement, and manage Intranet search. In my opinion, the problem with search is elsewhere: Poor data quality. 

Enterprise data isn’t created with search in mind. There is little incentive for content authors to attach quality metadata in the properties fields of Adobe PDF Maker, Microsoft Office, and other document publishing tools. To make matters worse, there may be several versions of a given document as it goes through creation, editing, reviews, and updates. And often the early drafts, as well as the final version, are in the same directory or file share. Very rarely does a public facing web site content have such issues.

Sometimes content management systems make it easy to implement what is really ‘search engine optimization’ or SEO; but it seems all too often that the optimization is left to the enterprise search platform to work out.

We have an updated two-part series on data quality and search, starting here. We hope you find it helpful; let us know if you have any questions!

June 22, 2017

First Impressions on the new Forrester Wave

The new Forrester Wave™: Cognitive Search And Knowledge Discovery Solutions is out, and once again I think Forrester, along with Gartner and others, miss the mark on the real enterprise search market. 

In the belief that sharing my quick first impression will at least start a conversation going until I can write up a more complete analysis, I am going to share these first thoughts.

First, I am not wild about the new buzzterms 'cognitive search' and "insight engines". Yes, enterprise search can be intelligent, but it's not cognitive. which Webster defines as "of, relating to, or involving conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering)". HAL 9000 was cognitive software; "Did you mean" and "You might also like" are not cognition.  And enterprise search has always provided insights into content, so why the new 'insight engines'? 

Moving on, I agree with Forrester that Attivio, Coveo and Sinequa are among the leaders. Honestly, I wish Coveo was fully multi-platform, but they do have an outstanding cloud offering that in my mind addresses much of the issue.

However, unlike Forrester, I believe Lucidworks Fusion belongs right up there with the leaders. Fusion starts with a strong open source Solr-based core; an integrated administrative UI; a great search UI builder (with the recent acquisition of Twigkit); and multiple-platform support. (Yep, I worked there a few years ago, but well before the current product was created).

I count IDOL in with the 'Old Guard' along with Endeca, Vivisimo (‘Watson’) and perhaps others - former leaders still available, but offered by non-search companies, or removed from traditional enterprise search (Watson). And it will be interesting to see if Idol and its new parent, Microfocus, survive the recent shotgun wedding. 

Tier 2, great search but not quite “full” enterprise search, includes Elastic (which I believe is in the enviable position as *the* platform for IoT), Mark Logic, and perhaps one or two more.

And there are several newer or perhaps less-well known search offerings like Algolia, Funnelback, Swiftype, Yippy and more. Don’t hold their size and/or youth against them; they’re quite good products.

No, I’d say the Forrester report is limited, and honestly a bit out of touch with the real enterprise search market. I know, I know; How do I really feel? Stay tuned, I've got more to say coming soon. What do you think? Leave a comment below!

January 25, 2017

Lucidworks 3 Released!

Today Lucidworks announced the release Fusion 3, packed with some very powerful capabilities that, in many ways, sets a new standard in functionality and usability for enterprise search.

Fusion is tightly integrated Solr 6, the newest version of the popular, powerful and well-respected open source search platform. But the capabilities that really set Fusion 3 apart are the tools provided by Lucidworks on top of Solr to reduce the time-to-productivity.

It all starts at installation, which features a guided setup to allow staff, who may be not be familiar with enterprise search, to get started quickly and to built quality, full-featured search applications.

Earlier versions of Fusion provided very powerful ‘pipelines’ that allowed users to define a series of custom steps or 'stages' during both indexing and searching. These pipelines allowed users to add custom capabilities, but they generally required some programming and a deep understanding of search.

That knowledge still helps, but Fusion 3 comes with what Lucidworks calls the “Index Workbench” and the “Query Workbench”. These two GUI-driven applications let mere mortals set up capabilities that used to require a developer, and enables developers to create powerful pipelines in much less time.

What can a pipeline do? Let's look at two cases.

On a recent project, our client had a deep, well developed taxonomy, and they wanted to tag each document with the appropriate taxonomy terms. In the Fusion 2.x Index Pipeline, we wrote code to evaluate each document to determine relevant taxonomy terms; and then to insert the appropriate taxonomy terms into the actual document. This meant that at query time, no special effort was required to use the taxonomy terms in the query: they were part of the document.

Another common index time task is to identify and extract key terms, perhaps names and account numbers, to be used as facets.

The Index Workbench in Fusion 3 provides a powerful front-end to these capabilities that have long been part of Fusion; but which are now much easier for mere mortals to use.

The Query Workbench is similar, except that it operates at query time, making it easy to do what we’ve long called “query tuning”. Consider this: not every term a user enters for search is of equal important. The Query Workbench lets a non-programmer tweak relevance using a point-and-click interface. In previous visions of Fusion, and in most search platforms, a developer needed to write code to do the same task.

Another capability in Fusion 3 addresses a problem everyone who has ever installed a search technology has faced: how to insure that the production environment exactly mirrors the dev and QA servers. Doing so was a very detailed and tedious task; and any differences between QA and production could break something.

Fusion 3 has what Lucidworks calls Object Import/Export. This unique capability provides a way to export collection configurations, dashboards, and even pipeline stages and aggregations from a test or QA system; and reliably import those objects to a new production server. This makes it much easier to clone test systems; and more importantly, move search from Dev to QA and into production with high confidence that production exactly matches the test environment.

Fusion 3 also extends the Graphical Administrative User Interface to manage pretty much everything your operations department will need to do with Fusion. Admin UIs are not new; but the Fusion 3 tool sets a new high bar in functionality.

There is one other capability in Fusion 3 enabled by a relatively new capability in Solr: SQL.

I know what you’re thinking: “Why do I want SQL in a full-text application?”

Shift your focus to the other end.

Have you ever wanted to generate a report that shows information about inventory or other content in the search index? Let’s say on your business team needs inventory and product reports on content in your search-driven eCommerce data. The business team has tools they know and love for creating their own reports; but those tools operate on SQL databases.

This kind of reporting has always been tough in search, and typically required some customer programming to create the reports. With the SQL querying capabilities in Solr 6, and security provided by Fusion 3, you may simply need to point your business team at the search index, verify their credentials, and connect via OBDC/JDBC, and their existing tools will work.

What Else?

Fusion 3 is an upgrade from earlier versions, so it includes Spark, an Apache took with built-in modules for streaming, SQL, machine learning and graph processing. It works fine on Solr Cloud, which enables massive indices and query load; noit to mentin failover in the even of hardware problems. 

I expect that Fusion 3 documentation, and the ability to download and evaluate the product, will be on the Lucidworks site today at www.lucidworks.com. “Try it, you’ll like it”.

While we here at New Idea Engineering, a Lucidworks partner, can help you evaluate and implement Fusion 3, I’d also point out that our friends at MC+A, also Lucidworks partners, are hosting a webinar Thursday, January 26th. The link this link to register and attend the webinar: http://bit.ly/2joopQK.

 

Lucidworks CTO Grant Ingersol will be hosting a webinar on Friday, February 1st. Read about it here.

 

/s/ Miles