Insight into an information tsunami
BA Insight is a SharePoint-centric firm. Like SurfRay and Mindbreeze, it is tapping into an exploding SharePoint market. Microsoft suggests that SharePoint is the company's fastest selling server product in history, with more than 100 million users. We have heard that 70 percent of Fortune 1000 companies and government agencies have already deployed or are in the process of deploying SharePoint.
Mounier said, "From BA Insight's perspective, we think of SharePoint as the business collaboration and search infrastructure that companies are standardizing on en masse. We deliver on the last mile: the mission-critical business applications that maximize the licensee's return on investment in SharePoint search. Our vertically focused SBAs connect Fast and SharePoint to enterprise systems out of the box. They also present the user with a unified view of enterprise information, regardless of its format and source. The alternative is to build these SBAs from scratch, with customized user interfaces and long system integration efforts. That is not an approach we typically embrace."
BA Insight's system supports mashups, what some vendors call data fusion. The idea is that information comes from different file systems often in a variety of file formats. The user sees an integrated results list relevant to his or her query. Mounier said, "Data fusion is a core component of the information retrieval practices of the future. We also believe that the cloud is the catalyst infrastructure model that can make data fusion an achievable reality, unifying both structured and unstructured data in a meaningful way that has been historically cost-prohibitive for most organizations."
He continued, "Over the past five years, we have also seen a sharp decrease in the market's appetite for complex and costly information integration efforts. Timeframes for deployments are now measured in hours and days, not weeks or months. Users shy away from complex information access interfaces that require expert-level customization and training. This phenomenon is very much tied to the consumerization of information technology. Organizations are asking, ‘Why can't enterprise IT be as easy as the applications I consume for personal use?' "
BA Insight sees search as delivering a solid return on investment. While some people might be skeptical that the value of search can be precisely measured, Mounier asserted, "With accurate analysis of user behavior and intent, one can quite precisely measure how efficiently content is being repurposed within the organization. Many professional services organizations implement the concept of a Shopping Cart, where you can park intellectual property relevant to a new project. This enables content owners to dramatically improve personalization of their search experience, and empowers organizations to promote specific pieces of content based on keywords entered in a way similar to an e-commerce site's recommending products to a shopper."
When I look at the challenge of large-scale, all-encompassing content systems like Microsoft SharePoint, I wonder if complexity has triumphed over commonsense. If a system works, the buzz surrounding that system should focus on success stories. In the case of SharePoint, the system generates training, technical documents, consulting and engineering support vendors, third-party add-ins and an entire industry of explainers who work to convince me that SharePoint is the answer to information management woes. BA Insight has built a robust business in the SharePoint space. However, for organizations attempting to make SharePoint work out of the box and with existing, on-staff expertise, SharePoint may be better for the third-party specialists than for the users.
Mounier said, "The cloud is the single most important driver of transformation in the enterprise search space, enabling the storage and processing of enterprise information at a fraction of the cost relative to on-premise infrastructure. It also enables a frictionless delivery of SBAs to desktop applications, enterprise portals and mobile devices. Mobile search in the consumer space is already happening, even if at the early stage. Location-based recommendation apps are a great example of that. In the enterprise, we will see the explosion of search-based applications running on mobile devices, tailored to the increasingly mobile work force."
As the information tsunami rages, SharePoint is either a solution to information management woes or it is contributing to those challenges. Regardless of your point of view, SharePoint is a huge market opportunity for consultants, software developers and "real" experts.