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Search: power tools that leverage corporate knowledge

This article appears in the issue April 2013 [Volume 22, Issue 4]
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AARP is a non-profit organization that serves more than 37 million members age 50 and older. It advocates on issues such as healthcare, employment and retirement planning; provides timely information on topics of concern to members; and offers discounts on numerous products and services. To operate more efficiently, AARP launched an initiative to modernize its IT infrastructure, one goal being to unify siloed information scattered throughout the enterprise in various business units.

AARP interviewed users to determine their needs and their pain points. One of the most commonly voiced problems from employees was that they could not find documents they needed, partly because the documents were scattered among many repositories and share drives. The content stores included Microsoft SharePoint, Alfresco's open source content management system, EMC Documentum for document management, and TeleScope from NorthPlains for storage of video.

Information was also difficult to find because no enterprise search tool was in place. "We found that most of the momentum for content storage was from SharePoint," says Armin Kittel, director of solutions architecture at AARP. "It provided the best ecosystem for content, and was pervasive because people were already using Outlook. The logical step was to extend this platform and launch our search from this environment."

The new approach

To access multiple repositories through enterprise search, AARP opted to use Longitude Connectors and Longitude Search, both from BA Insight, for previewing search results. "We used FAST for searching SharePoint, but we wanted to search the other content in its existing location, while accessing it to support all our business functions," Kittel says. In addition, AARP incorporated a taxonomy from GimmalSoft. "The taxonomy allowed us to enrich the search experience, especially for documents that did not already have any defined structure," Kittel adds.

AARP's research group was an early adopter of the newly launched enterprise search capability. "This group is aligned with a business unit, and when someone wants to know about demographics or other research issue," Kittel says, "they do market research or surveys and write up briefs." However, even for the research group, the results were not always easy to find later. "This group has now become a ‘surface organization' across the enterprise, not just within its unit," he explains. "They can classify and share info, and their whole document repository will soon become available via the AARP intranet."

BA Insight's products are focused on rapid assembly of search-based applications; they include an autoclassifier and entity extraction tool, an interleaving federator and a search UI toolkit, as well the viewer and an extensive set of connectors.

Owner needed

"The Longitude products work with multiple search engines," says Jeff Fried, CTO of BA Insight, "providing a unified view of content across different repositories, and presenting the results through the viewer." Users can continue searching within the results, and can select pages from Microsoft Word documents, PowerPoint presentations or Excel worksheets, then combine them to create a new document via a built-in workspace.

When organizations are trying to make sense of their enterprise content, they need to strike a balance in how much information they bring into the search universe. "Sometimes they do not know what is there," says Fried. "Rather than thinking about search, they should think about information integration, discover what is important and make sure it is indexed."

On the other hand, sometimes organizations want to index everything, without a clear purpose, a mistake that gluts the system with low-quality information. "In addition," Fried emphasizes, "people can't just plug it in and walk away—the search function needs an owner who is making sure it's working."

Ubiquitous search software

Many users of search-based applications, including a large percent of e-discovery platforms, are benefiting from the powerful search capabilities of dtSearch. Often included in search applications on an OEM basis, dtSearch is used in forensic and intelligence applications, financial services, and for searching large technical libraries.

InfoPreserve, a cloud-based document management system, chose dtSearch as its engine. "A powerful search function is a key component of our solution," says John Chapman, CEO of InfoPreserve, "and we found that the company was very willing to help us think through how to package search into our offering." InfoPreserve is geared to the mid-enterprise space, for which large enterprise content management systems are not a good fit.

In smaller companies, policies for document management may be less formal than in larger organizations. "Many of these companies, which typically are 25 to 500 employees, have a lot of content on shared network drives," Chapman says, "and the documents are hard to find. Having a powerful search engine maintains the value of the document over time because it is not lost to the original creator or others who can benefit from it."



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