Despite its modest market size, enterprise search is important as an enabler of other information-handling activities. These include the obvious, such as electronic document management, and the unexpected, such as product quality monitoring. Some forecasters even see the day when search software is part of every corporate systems infrastructure.
That day is some distance off, if it ever arrives. All the same, the makers of search software are these days aiming their products at a wider range of organizational needs than used to be the case.
The Australian company, ISYS Search Software, shows what is possible (see our previous profile here). In version 8 of its range of products, released in September 2006, ISYS added new features and improved old ones. Its aim was to help its customers go beyond the simple ‘query-response' approach to search.
These features included:
- on-the-fly, automatic categorisation of results.
- entity extraction and detection, such as people, emails and locations associated with a search term. This gives users a context for their search results.
- the ability to tag, annotate and extract search results for post-query processing, allowing users to refine results lists according to their own rules. This is especially useful for people like lawyers and researchers, who regularly need to separate large amounts of data into smaller, usable parcels.
- search analytics, which show how employees are using the software, what they are finding, what they are not finding and so on.
- the ability to plug its software into third-party ontologies1, enabling it to work with industry specific terminology. This is important in the pharmaceutical and legal sectors, for instance.
The innovations in version 8 complement the software's core abilities, such as:
- tools to create customised ‘synonym rings2' for more efficient and comprehensive intelligence gathering. For instance, one could link the query "coffee" to the (near) synonyms, "espresso", "cappuccino", "latte" and so on. Any search made with any of the individual terms would produce a comprehensive list of results using all the terms in the ring.
- the option of using intelligent ‘agents’ to keep watch on specific concepts, people, companies and so on. These alert the user to newly arrived information that matches his or her predefined criteria, delivered as a desktop alert, email or RSS feed.
ISYS promotes its software as a system for ‘search, navigation and discovery’. Further, the company is looking at what search software can contribute to the supply of business intelligence (BI). Like several other forward-thinking suppliers, ISYS feels that search can do for unstructured information what BI is doing for structured data.
To describe this ability, the company has borrowed the term, "content intelligence", from suppliers of electronic content management (ECM) systems. These sellers use it to refer to a way of easing the search, navigation and reuse of objects in a database of unstructured information. ECM software does this by first automatically adding metadata tags to those documents, files and other objects. ISYS believes this is the way forward for search software, too.
Organizations are investing much money in software to help them to learn more and to make smarter decisions about their businesses. The ISYS view is that if managers base those decisions only on numerical data, typically gathered from a BI system, they will be working on a narrower range of information than is healthy.
A deeper and broader pool of information resides in the unstructured content that every organization has stockpiled and is accumulating at an increasing rate. Instead of letting that resource lie unused, organisations increasingly want to make use of it. ISYS wants to help them do so.
Since releasing version 8, ISYS has extended the software's links to information-handling products from other suppliers. For example, integration with Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server 2007 is now possible. This lets employees use ISYS:web's search abilities without having to leave the SharePoint interface.
Although Microsoft has strengthened the searching in SharePoint, ISYS 8 extends these capabilities, offering results filtering and refinement, for example. Also, it gives ISYS Search Software an entrée to systems integration companies. These had previously seen no opportunity to ‘add value' to the ISYS products. (This is SI-speak for charging for consultancy work.)
A Linux version of the software should further broaden its appeal. The company plans to launch this in the fourth quarter of 2007.
The current release of the software can link to enterprise systems from Documentum and Interwoven, something it has lacked for too long. ISYS also offers a connector to the Documentum ECI Services engine, allowing federated results from a variety of other search engines.
Version 9 of the ISYS software, expected in the first quarter of 2008, will allow central searching of indexes held on multiple and disparate desktop computers. This will enable organisations, especially law firms, to conduct discovery (as opposed to recovery) as needed. In addition, people working on ‘e-discovery' will be able to identify to move, copy or delete items from a results list.
There will be connectors to business intelligence software from Clarabridge and from Business Objects (the new owners of the Inxight search products and themselves now owned by SAP, subject to regulatory approval).
Keeping an eye on the ball
Despite its drive to broader applicability, ISYS is not neglecting its customers' need for ordinary, ‘tactical' search abilities at competitive prices. David Haucke, the company's marketing manager, describes the company as "a mid-market search player that offers out of the box functionality but whose products have capabilities found only in big players".
The company's main competitors, at least in the USA, are Google, Coveo and, diminishingly, Verity (now Autonomy) Ultraseek. Existing Verity customers are increasingly a target, especially in the legal market.
ISYS has been rethinking its marketing. The three things it feels it does best are:
- internet search for the mid-market
- desktop search in the enterprise
- embedded search for information management products.
Desktop search does not bring in large amounts of money and risks typecasting the company. However, it pays its way and can be a door opener to other, larger sales. For instance, the US Department of Agriculture recently added two ISYS Web search servers to its existing 6,000 licences for desktop search.
ISYS will, in future, place a greater emphasis on its expertise in its main markets, which are the legal and government sectors and OEMs. Geographically, it will concentrate more marketing attention on the USA and Britain. The company continues to license its software by the number of users, not, as many of competitors do, by the number of searchable documents.
The Bloor view
As last time, the ISYS software impresses with its straightforward, customer-led approach to the task of finding and delivering information. Product engineering follows—and increasingly anticipates—the customers' expressed needs, rather than adopting what seems ‘sexy' at any particular moment.
Despite Google's successes with its search appliance, ISYS software maintains its position as a reliable, well-made product for the middle market. Its affordability, adaptability, speed and scalability continue to be major selling factors.
Potential users, especially in the ISYS main markets, would do well to put its products on their organisation's long list, at the least. Although, as it says, it is a relatively small player, the company delivers abilities beyond the norm.
An ontology is an hierarchical (tree-like) arrangement of words, terms and topics grouped by their relationship to one another. One branch of the tree might, for instance, be about self-powered land vehicles. Its top level might therefore be “automobile”, with omnibus, coach, lorry, car, motorcycle and motor scooter below that. In turn, omnibus might divide into double-deck and single-deck buses. Below single-deck buses might be the categories “solid” and “articulated”.
Ontologies not only list the sets of synonyms within each branch of the ‘tree’ (this is what a taxonomy does) but also link these synonyms to related items in other branches. For example, articulated double-decker buses would probably link to articulated single-deckers. Ontologies can be compiled for particular industries or sectors and are saleable products.
A synonym ring saves making multiple queries or using the “AND” operator to find related and relevant material. For example, intelligence analysts in law enforcement would use a synonym ring to link a suspect’s name with his or her known aliases.