FASTforward: Search as Enterprise Portal

I was delayed getting to the next session on using search as the next generation of enterprise portal by Kara Hansen of Disney, so missed a bit at the beginning. She described how they use FAST to crawl content across multiple enterprise sites to create a virtual view of their content, both enterprise wide and for specific subsites representing divisions within the enterprise. In total, they serve 55,000 employees, plus customers via an externally-facing portal.

One of their most significant challenges was security. First of all, the search crawler needs to have credentials for all of the content locations that it’s going to crawl so as to expose only information that should be exposed on the portal; although these are internal portals, there’s still security issues around content viewing. There’s also an externally-facing portal based on the same technology platform, limited by the specific collections and search profiles to generate a restricted view of the content. When any user executes a search, their security level is combined into the search behind the scenes to deliver only the information to which they should have access. This, in turn, results in different results depending on whether a user is logged in or not, which can frustrate users who don’t understand the implications that their user authentication has on their search breadth.

They also have a challenge with users finding applications that are typically exposed as portlets, but aren’t searchable so don’t end up in the search-based portal. In other words, the user is trying to reach a specific destination on the intranet, not information. To compensate for this, they created a simple XML document that links to the applications and allowed that document to be indexed, although this seems like a bit of a brittle approach since it presumably requires manual updating of that document to add, remove or modify links to applications. However, sometimes a manual workaround can bridge a major gap in functionality; queries for applications now forms a major portion of their executed searches.

They’ve seen a shift in communication culture within the organization: users proactively search for information that they want rather than wait for it to be fed to them. Search also acts as way to introduce user-driven applications, such as wikis and user-created profile pages, a change that Hansen refers to as “profoundly disruptive”, in a good way.

They did all of this with a team of five people — three Disney and two from FAST — although that didn’t include the content providers who manage the content that populates each divisional portal.

She ended her presentation by giving away some nice Disney swag: proving that Mickey is for adults too with some MM-themed bar accessories.

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