Lighting Direct IT man's bright idea

Lighting Direct IT manager Geoff Pike and independent developer Alex James have developed a software package they say turns conventional data search and retrieval methodology on its head.

Lighting Direct IT manager Geoff Pike and independent developer Alex James have developed a software package they say turns conventional data search and retrieval methodology on its head.

Pike, employed on a contract basis by the light fitting retailers, works with James in his spare time. The two run a company, Maxtiviti Solutions, that has developed the Xtend searching software.

Xtend works via a meta-layer sitting above other applications and uses URLs, says James.

“It sits on top as a layer that can access all information sources and it’s a peer-to-peer piece of software, built using [Microsoft’s] .Net framework. An Xtend communicates with other Xtends using standard socket-based methods.”

So what makes it different from databases and search engines as we know them today?

“At the moment, on conventional systems, information is stored in silos — you have email, the web, databases etc,” James says.

The problem with the hierarchical approach, he says, is that it was developed at a time when there wasn’t a lot of information around.

“Hierarchical file systems have been around a long time and we don’t have really have a better way to deal with information than to say ‘let’s store it here’.”

The Xtend paradigm, on the other hand, isn’t about location, it’s about what it’s related to.

“It provides the ability to save things in context, whether they be other files, emails or database rows. We allow you to put a layer on top of all the silos so you can build a relationship between the things in them.”

If the present metaphor for storing data is “Save As”, Xtend’s is “Save With”, he says. “Save As is like Save and Lose — you store it in the hierarchy and throw away other things that are related to that document.”

James says the benefits to organisations that take up the technology will be increased efficiency.

“It speeds up the search process. Once you’ve found something, you can store it under key words. If I’m looking for ‘glossaries’ but find ‘taxonomies’, I would then be able to find ‘taxonomies’ under ‘glossaries’ [in the future].”

The pair are in the process of obtaining patents, but James says the general idea behind Xtend is known and others may be working on applications. “There are other things that are similar, but not quite the same.”

Xtend has been through “three revisions and three interfaces” in the past 18 months, James says. It is being beta-tested by a client he won’t name.

However, he gives a clue as to what industry the client is in when he says that the organisation is integrating it into its claims management system.

“Instead of having a monolithic database application, they’ll be able to attach and create links within that application with emails from clients and suppliers. They can create free-form associations that will make it a lot easier to find information.”

Integrating Xtend with claims and sales databases is a major potential enterprise application, he says.

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