Content search gets serious

SINGAPORE (11/18/2003) - The content management challenges that enterprises face in Singapore are no different from those reported in other parts of the world: the electronic content that enterprises accumulate is growing rapidly and these would require good search solutions.

Moreover, in the Singapore context, enterprises may also have to grapple with a host of other issues. James Lin, chief operating officer of Mustard Technology Pte. Ltd., pointed out that there may be good technology but what is often lacking is local support in terms of cost-effective consulting and implementation skills.

"For the global vendors, it is a challenge to support remote customers," he said.

Readiness to deploy and maintain the solution is another challenge.

"The more intelligent the tools, chances are, the longer and harder the learning curve will be to use them effectively. Many organizations may ignore this part of the cost and fail the project," he cautioned.

Within the Asia-Pacific region, the need for multilingual, transliterating search capabilities present their own challenges, said Lin. The use of multiple languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai also present more difficulty than is often expected by the enterprise.

Alongside these challenges, enterprise search has matured and grown more sophisticated.

From their start in indexing and retrieval, search tools are blossoming to include capabilities such as taxonomy development, metadata extraction, classification, and personalization.

Enterprise search tools fall essentially into two camps: external-facing, Web site search tools for customers and field workers; and tools designed to scour repositories that reside behind the firewall, such as file systems, databases, and business applications.

Natural language technologies in combination with linguistic processing and guided navigation capabilities are being put to use in search for external-facing self-service applications.

Meanwhile, the internally focused enterprise search efforts employ a variety of techniques including concept-based searching, auto categorization, taxonomy development, summarization, and personalization, all in an effort to improve the reach and effectiveness of search. Categorization groups content into related groups, whereas taxonomies help structure content by linking similar terms and concepts together. In addition to the larger vendors, a smattering of smaller companies specializes in specific areas such as taxonomy creation and categorization.

The mixture of all these technologies and techniques is helping drive search towards more of a discovery process that enables workers to unearth content they didn't necessarily know existed.

Specifically, automating the corporate taxonomy development and categorization processes is helping propel search towards this looser mode of discovery.

In addition, search tools are now employing more than just keywords to unlock information.

Mustard Technology's niche is in the area of fuzzy search that crosses language barriers -- the fast and fuzzy transliterated search. Mustard uses patented fuzzy logic matching algorithms and natural language parsing capabilities that mimic the human approach to problem-solving. This enables the software to index high volume databases and suggest appropriate matches according to user-configured business rules and scoring thresholds. The software operates across multiple Asian languages and is tailored for Chinese (simplified and traditional), Malay, Japanese and Korean languages as well as English.

The company also has a patent for its version of the taxonomy search, and works closely with local research groups to incorporate other technologies such as concept search, text summary and text categorization into its search solutions.

Going forward, search is becoming less a standalone engine targeting a contained problem. Most large search infrastructure vendors have a healthy OEM (original equipment manufacturer) strategy designed to push their technology under the hood of a variety of applications, namely content management, portals, customer relationship management, and collaboration.

In addition to leveraging these embedded search capabilities, organizations should also consider a larger search strategy, said Matthew Berk, research -director at Jupiter Research. "Search is not just a problem to make individual apps searchable. (Enterprises) need to think about a shared services architecture that can be deployed enterprise-wide, and have different line-of-business applications take advantage of (the architecture)," he said.

Aided by the use of XML (extensible markup language), open APIs (application programming interfaces), and Web services in search platforms from large vendors, enterprises can standardize a search offering and stitch the technology throughout the business.

One of the growing ways to put search to use is through search-derivative applications, in which core search functionality is pressed into service for specific processes such as knowledge management, marketing, sales force automation, help desk, and training.

Looking towards the future, enterprise search technology will continue to expand beyond its seek-and-find roots, blurring the lines between efforts such as business intelligence and knowledge management in an effort to present a full view of information assets within a company.

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