Graph Search from Down Under

We’ve already written about the new concept called Graph Search, which is being popularized by Facebook. Wouldn’t it be cool if we applied this to the enterprise as well, as I wrote in an earlier blog post on Enterprise Graph Search? That’s what Australian startup company Lumanetix thinks, when they created the SPAR-K graph search engine for the enterprise.

Applied graph search

As seen in the screenshots of the product, the product do queries against relational databases with linked data objects such as Movies linked to People in Casts, or Managers of Departments in an organization. One difference to Facebook graph search is the more Google-like query syntax which is keyword-based where Facebook uses natural language processing to describe specific queries.Graph search applied to the enterprise

It’s exciting to see that the market is picking up speed with new innovations in the enterprise search field, as Lumanetix SPAR-K is an example of.

 

/Christian Ubbesen

Enterprise Graph Search

Facebook will soon launch their new Graph Search to the general public, and it has received a lot of interest lately.

With graph search, the users will be able to query the social graph that millions of people have constructed over the years when friending each other and putting in more and more personal information about themselves and their friends in the vast Facebook database. It will be possible to query for friends of friends who have similar interests as you, and invite them to a party, or to query for companies where people with similar beliefs as you work, and so on and so forth. The information that is already available, will all the sudden become much more accessible through the power of graph search.

How can we bring this to an enterprise search environment? Well, there are lots of graphs in the enterprise as well to query, both social and other types. For example, how about being able to query for people that have been members of a project in the last three years that involved putting a new product successfully to the market. This would be an interesting list of people to know about, if you’re a marketing director that want to assemble a team in the company, to create a new product and make sure it succeeds in the market.

If we dissect graph search, we will find three important concepts:

  1. The information we want to query against don’t only need to be indexed into one central search engine, but also the relations and attributes of all information objects need to be normalized to create the relational graph and have standard attributes to query against. We could use the Open Graph Protocol as the foundation.
  2. We need a parser that take human language and converts it to a formal query language that a search engine understands. We might want to query in different human languages as well.
  3. The presentation of results should be adapted to the kind of information sought for. In Facebook’s example, if you query for people you will get a list of people with their pictures and some relevant personal information in the result list, and if you query for pictures you will get a collage of pictures (similar to the Google image search).

So the recipe to success is to give the information management part of the project a big focus, making sure to create a unified information model of the content to be indexed. Then create a query parser for natural language based on actual user behavior, and the same user studies would also give us information on how to visualize the different result set types.

I believe we will see more of these kind of solutions in the coming years in the enterprise search market, and look forward exploring the possibilities together with our clients.

Accessing Enterprise Content with Mobile Search

Today many IT departments are investing in mobile technology to make their internal enterprise content accessible in employees mobile phones and other mobile devices. We all want to be able to work without being at the office, and without having to run around with the job laptop. Imagine being at a business lunch and you want to pull up some presentation you have on the company intranet, why not just use the mobile phone?

In some organizations this is possible, and in some it still isnt’t. And in most organizations you don’t have access to all the documents and content available internally in document management systems, file shares and databases. And even if you did have access to the content in your mobile phone, you wouldn’t want to start browsing for it because it’s just too cumbersome to find it.

Here’s an idea for you: why not utilize the enterprise search platform to make the content both accessible, findable and readable?

First step is to make the content accessible. Since all content is already being indexed by the search engine, it’s already in one central place, at least in text representation. If you have a solution in place for having mobile phones access the company intranet, it should be fairly simple to open up for mobile devices to access the enterprise search web interface as well, with security credentials still in place.

Secondly the content need to be findable, and what better way to find information on a mobile phone is there than to search for it? With mobile search user interface patterns this will be much more efficient than traditional browsing for information.

And third, when you have found your document, you can use search engine features such as fingernail previews, automatic summarization and HTML conversion to make it easily readable on the mobile device.

Check out my presentation on SlideShare on accessing content with mobile search as well.

If you already have an enterprise search platform in place, why not start researching how to utilize it to make your enterprise content accessible on your mobile phone?

And if you don’t have an enterprise search platform in place, I suppose you now have yet another reason to add to your business case for investing in one.

Analyzing the Voice of Customers with Text Analytics

Understanding what your customer thinks about your company, your products and your service can be done in many different ways. Today companies regularly analyze sales statistics, customer surveys and conduct market analysis. But to get the whole picture of the voice of customer, we need to consider the information that is not captured in a structured way in databases or questionnaires.

I attended the Text Analytics Summit earlier this year in London and was introduced to several real-life implementations of how text analytics tools and techniques are used to analyze text in different ways. There were applications for text analytics within pharmaceutical industry, defense and intelligence as well as other industries, but most common at the conference were the case studies within customer analytics.

For a few years now, the social media space has boomed as platforms of all kinds of human interaction and communication, and analyzing this unstructured information found on Twitter and Facebook can give corporations deeper insight into how their customers experience their products and services. But there’s also plenty of text-based information within an organization, that holds valuable insights about their customers, for instance notes being taken in customer service centers, as well as emails sent from customers. By combining both social media information with the internally available information, a company can get a more detailed understanding of their customers.

In its most basic form, the text analytics tools can analyze how different products are perceived in different customer groups. With sentiment analysis a marketing or product development department can understand if the products are retrieved in a positive, negative or just neutral manner. But the analysis could also be combined with other data, such as marketing campaign data, where traditional structured analysis would be combined with the textual analysis.

At the text analytics conference, several exciting solutions where presented, for example an European telecom company that used voice of customer analysis to listen in on the customer ‘buzz’ about their broadband internet services, and would get early warnings when customers where annoyed with the performance of the service, before customers started phoning the customer service. This analysis had become a part of the Quality of Service work at the company.

With the emergence of social media, and where more and more communication is done digitally, the tools and techniques for text analytics has improved and we now start to see very real business cases outside the universities. This is very promising for the adaptation of text analytics within the commercial industries.

Inspiration from the Enterprise Search Europe 2011 conference

A couple of weeks ago, me and some of my colleagues attended the Enterprise Search Europe conference in London. We’re very grateful to the organizer Martin White at IntranetFocus for arranging the event, and having us as one of the gold sponsors.

For me it was the first time in years I attended a conference like this, and while it was “same old, same old” for many of the attendees, for me it was enlightening to meet up with the industry and have a discussion on where we are as an industry.

There were mainly software vendors and professional services/consultants there, as well a few customers or actual users of enterprise search… and I think the consensus of the two days were that we in the industry STILL haven’t really figured out what we should do with the enterprise search concept, and how to make it valuable for our customers. We at Findwise are not alone with this challenge, but rather it is an industry challenge. There are some vendors who seem to be doing some good work of delivering real value to customers, and also there are a few colleagues to us in the industry that do good professional services/consultant work. At first it was a bit of a downer to realize that we haven’t progressed more during the 10 years I’ve been in the business, but at the same time it was very inspirational to see that we at Findwise together with a few other players, seem to be on the right track with our hard work, and that we have the position to solve some of the real industry challenges we’re facing.

As I see it, if we gather our forces and make a focused “push forward” together now, we will be able to take the industry to a new maturity level where we better solve real business challenges with enterprise search (or search-driven Findability solutions, as we like to call them).

My simple analysis of all the discussions at the conference is that we need to do two things:

  1. Manage the whole “full picture” of enterprise search – from strategy to organizational governance, involving necessary competencies to cover all aspects of a successful Findability solution.
  2. Break down the customer challenge into manageable chunks, and solve actual business problems, not just solving the traditional “finding stuff when needed” challenge.

I think we are on the right track, and it’s going to be a very interesting journey from here on!