FASTforward09: David White, Kusiri

David White of Kusiri finished up the afternoon of breakout sessions with a presentation on using customer data to drive business results. He started with some statistics about just how much data flows through businesses: 85% of all data is managed by enterprises, and that’s 85% of a very large number. Businesses, however, need actionable information, not just data, so we start to apply technologies such as search and business intelligence to explore and make sense of the data.

Business intelligence, however, hasn’t delivered the goods, particularly in the area of unstructured content such as documents: BI typically relies on structured (database) data within the firewall, and that doesn’t provide a complete view of things. Traditional search – represented by the “search box” (I think that the presenters are not allowed to say the G-word) – provides too many irrelevant results, hence also not that useful. But just like Goldilocks, we have a solution that’s just right: search applications, that is, a search-powered application that searches across internal and external data, both structured and unstructured, and guides you to actionable information through navigation.

He showed us some screen snapshots from a search application that they have built, but difficult to see and not interactive so not very compelling, as demos go. Overall, it’s a portal-like dashboard application where the widgets in the portal are actually the results of searches. From here, you can click through on a line item to drill down into the information (again, which uses search behind the scenes) to see more detailed information from a variety of sources, as well as additional tools and functionality for taking action on the data or further analyzing it. There’s a lot of functionality here, presented in the sort of dashboard/drill-down visual analysis environment that you might expect to see from a BI system, but accessing information from sources that you’d never have access to in your BI system.

White’s prediction is that in five years, typing criteria into a search box will appear hopelessly outdated: search will just be implicit in the applications that we use to access information. Both the sources of data and the questions that you’re going to ask will change, and traditional BI and search methods can’t handle that; instead, you’ll be using a new generation of search applications that allow you to traverse the data universe.

FASTforward09: Auli Ellä, Orion

Time out for a video interview (which will appear on the FASTforward blog sometime today or tomorrow), then back to the business productivity track to hear Auli Ellä of Orion, a Finnish pharmaceutical, discuss their enterprise search implementation. As a research-based company, internal users need to be able to find information both internally – in a Documentum document management system, eRooms and the intranet – and externally.

As she put it, it’s not about searching, it’s about finding. Prior to implementing FAST, users didn’t know which system to look in or what metadata to use, and failed searches (where they didn’t find what they needed) took an average of an hour each, which tells you how them cost-justified their enterprise search project.

They started with a pilot enterprise search project that used a small selection of internal and external information sources accessed by a select group of R&D and business users, and used that to prove their business case and gain management acceptance.

She outlined two major benefits that they’re seeing from enterprise search: it supports decision-making, and supports innovation. It saves them a lot of time spent searching internal and external resources, but also adds value to search results through increased accuracy and reliability, and the ability to filter, categorize and drill-down into the results. Information is re-used in place, not copied between systems, using the existing metadata from the source systems both for indexing and for filtering results. This provided an easier and faster search that is at least as reliable as a single source search, and although search results are federated, the access rights of the original information source are respected such that a user can’t see search results for content that they would not have access to in the source system. Users could create and save searches, making it even faster to locate frequently-accessed information.

The user feedback was impressive: in fact, some users thought that it couldn’t be real because it was too fast.

She had some lessons learned for implementing enterprise search:

  • It’s essential to start with a pilot, doing a concrete proof of concept, then implementing iteratively
  • It’s important to have a diverse group of pilot users, not just highly-skilled knowledge workers
  • Keep it simple with the filters and navigation: too much sophisticated can just confuse things
  • Be prepared for resistance, and combat that by offering tips and tricks for using the system more effectively

Going back to the goal of supporting decision-making, it’s helping them by allowing users to see all relevant information available on one screen when, for example, gathering materials for a meeting. On the innovation side, they’re starting to have some unexpected results – which drive innovation – becoming visible more easily by using filters such as content authors.

They’re now adding more internal and external information sources, and improving functionality based on feedback from the users for things such as selecting a single information source when the user does know where the content is – which is an interesting request, when you consider that that means that the users would rather search in FAST than in the underlying system due to speed, ease of use and functionality. Reliability and speed are critical for search, of course: without both of those, the users will reject it.

In the future, they’ll be developing new filters and search profiles, adding structured content, and incorporating search behind the scenes in portals to display relevant information (like the company cafeteria menu, which is currently the top search in their system). As this happens, however, they are aware that this continuous development can make it easier for the user, but increases the amount of work in the background by the information management people.

Her conclusions: if done well, search can become a personalized desktop where discovering, re-using and refining information is business as usual. It’s all about turning information into knowledge and action.

FASTforward09: The Social Enterprise

The business productivity track of the breakouts started with a panel on the social enterprise, and how search is changing the way that people work, featuring Kevin Dana of Accenture and Amit Bansal of Cisco.

The moderator, Nancy Lai of Microsoft, asked them both the same set of questions rather than fostering a real conversation, and the link to search was a bit tenuous at times: sometimes she just seemed to replace the words “social media” with “social search” or “search-based Web 2.0”. The panelists just blithely ignored that, and discussed the adoption of social media within their enterprises.

Interestingly, there was a bit from Amit Bansal about users not knowing when to use which tool – blogs, wikis, etc. – which means that there are multiple information silos being created within their enterprise social media spaces: the perfect application for search, although that didn’t come up.

Something that I noticed at last year’s FASTforward is that this is more than just a user conference: it’s also a social media conference. I don’t know how a search company’s user conference ends up like that, but it makes it interesting. What has changed since last year is that it seems that they’re required to inject the word “search” into everything in order to reinforce the overall message of the conference.

This was a great discussion of social media adoption in the enterprise, including user expectations, return on investment and a number of other very relevant topics for anyone considering bringing in these types of tools to their company. Nothing to do with search, but that ultimately didn’t really matter. Maybe Microsoft just needs to admit that not everything has to be exactly on the product message, and that providing discussions like this add to the overall value of the conference.

FASTforward09: Charlene Li

I’m a fan of Charlene Li (formerly a Forrester analyst on social media, now independent), so was excited to see her kicking off the second half of the morning by talking about the connection between search and social technologies. Her main topic is how companies are being transformed by social technologies, starting with the statement that social media isn’t about the specific sites that are hot right now, but about engaging and forming relationships with your customers. This requires learning from the community of your customers and prospective customers by listening to what they want to do:

  • Instead of one-way marketing, start a conversation with your customers on Facebook, like H&R Block does.
  • Instead of reactive customer service, watch for references to problems with your brand on Twitter, and engage the Twitterers directly, like Comcast does.
  • Instead of a well-hidden email link on your website for customer feedback, create a part of your own site that allows customers to make public suggestions for how to do things better, and allow people to vote on the suggestions, like Starbucks does on
  • Instead of waiting for prospective employees to come to you, find the new graduates on Facebook, like Ernst and Young does.
  • Instead of faceless press releases, have executives write a public blog, like Beth Israel’s CEO does.

Companies will be transformed from the outside in, by listening to their customers and communities.

She then brought this back to how social technologies are impacting search: search now has to be able to reach all of this information on different platforms and sites, as well as using your social graph to assist with search and prioritizing results.

From an enterprise standpoint, companies are integrating external search into their support site search results in order to enrich the results. Out on the web in general, however, there’s been an explosion of web tools to search social media, and categorize the results: not just plain old Google searches, but Techmeme and Technorati to categorize and rank the results. Delicious, a social bookmarking site, tells you how many other people have tagged a specific link, and allows you to traverse any of those people’s links to see if they have other relevant links for the information that you’re trying to find. Twitter allows you to search for tags that people include in the content of their tweets (or for any other term), and FriendFeed provides you with much richer social search features such as filtering certain people in your social graph into or out of the results.

It’s not just search, it’s a combination of search, using your social graph, and active trends on the particular social media site at that moment: searching enhanced with social profiles, even if the profile that you’re using in the context of your search isn’t even in your social graph but has sufficient social capital to influence your decisions. However, most of the social searching is still siloed: if you’re looking for your friends’ opinions on a book, you might have to search on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and a variety of blogs and personal websites. This is no different than the silos of information that we have within enterprises, and federated search could provide the same degree of benefit as we’re seeing with the implementation of enterprise search to aggregate multiple sources and platforms.

We’re just starting to look at search on the social web: I agree with Charlene that social media is having a big impact on search, and search will have a big impact on how we find things in social media.

FASTforward09: Walton Smith, Booz Allen Hamilton

Booz Allen Hamilton brings together FAST, SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0 platforms (he mentioned open source, but not sure what platform) to capture information about everything that their people were doing on projects and with their clients in order to provide a rich internal knowledgebase. Since they were using SharePoint document storage and the Enterprise 2.0 blogs and wikis for collaboration (plus some document storage), they created two silos of information: iShare (SharePoint) and (E2.0). By adding FAST for federated searching across both repositories, the users don’t have to care where the information is, only that they can find it at the right time. This includes searching of employee profiles on based on required skills, which will provide not just the employee profile, but links to the content that they’ve authored related to the skills search term. also allows for the creation of communities, and content in SharePoint can be associated with a community to aggregate the information as well.

Like any services firm, access to information within Booz Allen Hamilton is critical, where that information includes documents, wiki pages, blog posts and relationships between people and that content. Enterprise search brings all that together.

FASTforward09: Valentin Richter, Raytion

Valentin Richter, CEO of Raytion (a FAST partner), talked about a recent study showing that only 10% of users is satisfied with their current intranet search capabilities, and what can be done about it. He spoke about several of the myths associated with enterprise search.

Although he went through 11 myths (without slides!), a key one is one that I’ve heard around here from other people: enterprise search is only a search box on a web page. We had a bit of a glimpse in the previous session about how enterprise search is much more than a search box, and I recall case studies from last year’s conference that showed that some enterprise search applications aren’t even recognized by the users as search. Search can be a tool that’s part of the infrastructure used to build applications within an enterprise, aggregating and integrating data, and presenting different views of data for different internal audiences.

FASTforward09: Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft

We have another morning of general sessions before this afternoon’s breakouts, starting off with Kirk Koenigsbauer to discuss their enterprise search vision and roadmap. These days, no one is making a lot of $1.2B technology acquisitions, but at last year’s conference, the FAST acquisition was in progress; now they’ve had a year to work out where they’re going with it.

They’re keeping a significant engineering team focused on enterprise search, as well as a global sales and support organization. They’ve doubled the number of partners, and there’s been 100,000 downloads of Search Server Express, their free low-end enterprise search product. Koenigsbauer’s point was that they’re committed to the enterprise search market, and stated that search is central to their overall strategy of “creating experiences that combine the magic of software with the power of internet services across a world of devices.”

From an enterprise standpoint, search can be layered over existing systems, such as CRM and content management; instead of having to know which system to go to for information on a customer, enterprise search allows searching across these heterogeneous systems to aggregate the information on a single screen. Adding a social aspect, knowing who is creating content related to your search can help to create the connections between people within your enterprise. And to make all this actionable, we saw a demo of a search environment where search results and related people could be dragged into an interactive wiki workspace to create a concept or project wiki on the fly.

There are two core scenarios for Microsoft in enterprise search: internet business and business productivity (or, roughly, outside the firewall and inside the firewall), as evidenced by today’s product announcements.

They announced the FAST Search for SharePoint product, which is FAST ESP tuned for and integrated with SharePoint (given that one stream of this afternoon’s breakouts is on SharePoint, this is not a stunning surprise). They’ll still deliver FAST ESP as a standalone product, but packaging it with SharePoint can make it simpler and cheaper (from a licensing standpoint) for the huge number of enterprises using SharePoint. No dates for shipping, but it will be part of Wave 14 of the Office/SharePoint release. In the interim, they’ll sell you ESP for SharePoint, which provides a bridge to SharePoint.

They also announced FAST Search for Internet Business, also shipping in the Wave 14 timeframe, which provides content integration and interaction management capabilities that are tuned for driving online revenue. Packaging will be simpler and licensing costs will be lower than the current FAST ESP.

FASTforward09: Dan Rasmus

It’s almost 4:30 (7:30 in for those of us in the Eastern Standard Tribe), and for some reason Dan Rasmus, Director of Business Insights at Microsoft, is quoting Schopenhauer to us. We’re still on the big picture part of the conference, but that seems a bit…philosophical.

His point, however, is looking at the new world of business and how companies can navigate through it: globalization versus resetting borders, and centralization versus distributed work networks being two major axes of interest. Add to that the current economic climate, consumer pressure for green products and myriad other factors, and you start to get an idea of what’s facing companies today. Business models are changing, at least in part in response to some of these forces.

Globalization, and what will happen if the upcoming power economies – India and China – decide that they want to pull back and build their own infrastructure instead of servicing the world. Outsourcing, and the impact of managing a freelance workforce. Blending of languages, and the impact on collaboration. The blend of work and personal, such as we see in the online lifestream of our Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blog updates. The blend of data between on-premise, personal and cloud-based. The blend of place, like when read your RSS feeds from your iTouch in bed (okay, guilty), allowing people to set their own boundaries or (if they’re dumb) let their boss set them for them. Blended enterprises through mergers and acquisitions, and the challenges in terms of people and processes.

Lots of changes. Lots of challenges. Not a lot of answers.

He did list some of the skills required for the new world of business:

  • Information and media literacy
  • Complex communication
  • Critical thinking and systems thinking
  • Problem identification, formulation and solution
  • Creativity and intellectual curiosity
  • Interpersonal and collaborative skills
  • Self-direction
  • Accountability and adaptability
  • Social responsibility

I had to laugh when he painted a scenario where a Net Gener goes into his job and whips a monster Vista notebook out of his backpack to compare to the crappy old desktop machine that his employer offers. I have news for Rasmus: that notebook’s going to be a Mac.

FASTforward09: Clay Shirky

I’m at the FASTforward conference in Las Vegas, where I’m blogging over at the FASTforward blog. I’ll spare you my comments on Don Tapscott’s opening keynote, since regular readers have seen a lot of it before, but move on to our second big-name speaker of the conference, Clay Shirky, who I was looking forward to seeing. I read and enjoyed his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (apparently coming out in paperback in a couple of weeks), although it seems that I neglected to write a review of it. I’ve seen the power of organizing events and movements without a formal organization, and as an independent (in both the philosophical and employment sense), I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to be part of a big organization in order to make things happen. Today’s social networking tools, like Facebook and Twitter, allow us to organize and motivate a large network of friends and friends of friends with a relatively small amount of effort.

It’s not just about having a flash mob or a Tweetup or even a fundraiser party like HoHoTO, however: social networks have become a major source for news. When a plane made an emergency landing on the Hudson River last month, I turned to Twitter rather than mainstream media sites or TV to stay on top of what was happening. As Twitter lowers the bar for us all to become citizen journalists via SMS messages from our mobile phones, millions of people the world over are adding their voices – 140 characters at a time – to the torrent of information about current events available on the web.

Although Shirky doesn’t say this explicitly, this is why search is so critical: without search, you can’t find all that information that’s out there waiting to be aggregated, and without search, you can’t filter all that information so that it’s relevant to you. Bad search gives you too much useless information; good search gives you a focused stream of pure gold. Good search also allows you to fine-tune that focus, adding and removing areas of interest depending on what catches your interest that day.

Back to his talk, he discussed amateur forums that provide support or information, specifically one that discusses specific mobile phone handset/carrier combinations and the known issues: a large number of unpaid people with a huge amount of collective knowledge contribute to a knowledgebase for the common good rather than for money. This is a classic case of crowdsourcing, such as is seen in Wikipedia, but he talked more about the notion of community, and the fact that people contribute to such an effort because they enjoy being part of the community. The social aspect of crowdsourcing is really the interesting part: although it’s cool that you create a huge body of knowledge, it’s even more cool to see the connections that are made through the community. He talked about IBM’s DogEar product (an enterprise social bookmarking product that started as an internal tool), and the connections that are being made by looking at who is linking to who’s links. Exposing this sort of information across an organization the size of IBM shows how connections can be made between people who normally would never have visibility of each other, even though they have common interests. It’s not about whether an organization is open or closed, it’s about the permeability of the interfaces between parts of the organization.

Digital tools lower the cost of failure. Get out there, build something social and risk that failure: it’s not going to cost you very much.