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The evolving federation of search

The most comprehensive tools, according to Chambers, are those from Autonomy, FAST and IBM that do everything that the less complex tools do, but also search across the Web and multiple repositories. They do the latter by means of adapters that attach to databases of commonly used applications like SharePoint, Lotus Notes and SAP, although they also can search shared and network drives, says Chambers. Customers are demanding such functionality usually to address e-discovery. So a researcher in an insurance company looking at claims documentation—comprised of images, Word documents, SharePoint content and FileNet files—can bring back a results set, for instance, of relevant auto claims from 1970 in a given state, explains Chambers.

Some search applications

According to Feldman, organizations generally use search to understand what’s going on inside their enterprise and outside with their customers. Because their internal information is in different silos and formats and is both structured and unstructured, she adds, anything short of the advanced search described above will give the user only a partial picture of internal conditions. Advanced search provides information that helps a company know if any problems exist with their products so they can fix them, and also what product features customers might want that are currently unavailable. Search for external conditions helps identify who a company’s customers are, whether they’ve paid for their products and services, what their past interests have been so they can be marketed to effectively, and what service problems individual customers are having so they can be addressed.

Of course, making more money and controlling costs are at the heart of business. Search is relevant in e-commerce because vendors need to get people to the products that they’re looking for on a B2C Web site. According to Feldman, visitors get more lost and ultimately give up after each unsuccessful click they have to make. So, she says, with better search, "the fewer clicks the better chance they’re going to stay on the site and buy something."

Search then is a great way to increase revenue without hiring new people whose salaries detract from those revenues. Call centers are another good example of how to cut costs using search. Feldman says, "You can improve your online self-help systems so that people can go online and find out how to replace a cartridge in a printer, for instance, without having to call somebody. Then you have saved, especially in large call centers, millions of dollars a year because those calls to humans are very costly."

Some vertical markets

Chambers identifies examples of vertical markets where search bears low fruit. Finance and insurance are leaders in e-discovery activity, so high-level search is very useful in those markets. Less obvious is oil and gas. "If there’s approval for offshore drilling, the gas companies have huge databases and some information on the Web and other places that they’ll research using high-level search," says Chambers.

The utility industry likewise is a vertical where similar research is necessary. To change a gas line, for instance, the utility must research all the data related to its location so it can forward blueprints and specifications from multiple repositories to installation and maintenance crews.

Gone are the days of onerous manual indexing and sorting through near misses in the search results set. Search has become more prolific in its scope but also laser-like in its focus. The two capabilities add up to a prodigious information management tool that provides immediate ROI in areas as diverse as improved employee productivity and better B2C e-commerce.

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