Enterprise Search and Business Intelligence?

Business Intelligence (BI) and Enterprise Search is a never ending story

A number of years ago Gartner coined “Biggle” – which was an expression for BI meeting Google. Back then a number of BI vendors, among them Cognos and SAS, claimed that they were working with enterprise search strategically (e.g. became Google One-box partners). Search vendors, like FAST, Autonomy and IBM also started to cooperate with companies such as Cognos. “The Adaptive Warehouse” and “BI for the masses” soon became buzzwords that spread in the industry.

The skeptics claimed that enterprise search never would be good at numbers and that BI would never be good with text.

Since then a lot a lot has happened and today the major vendors within Enterprise Search all claim to have BI solutions that can be fully integrated (and the other way around – BI solutions that can integrate with enterprise search).

The aim is the same now as back then:  to provide unified access to both structured (database) and unstructured (content) corporate information. As FAST wrote in a number of ‘Special Focus’:

“Users should have access to a wide variety of data from just one, simple search interface, covering reports, analysis, scorecards, dashboards and other information from the BI side, along with documents, e-mail and other forms of unstructured information.”

And of course, this seems appealing to customers. But does access to all information really make us more likely to take the right decisions in terms of Business Intelligence. Gartner is in doubt.

Nigel Rayner, research vice president at Gartner Inc, says that:

”The problem isn’t that they (users) don’t have access to information or tools; they already have too much information, and that’s just in the structured BI world. Now you want to couple it with unstructured data? That’s a whole load of garbage coming from the outside world”.

But he also states that search can be used as one part of BI:

“Part of the problem with traditional BI is that it’s very focused on structured information. Search can help with getting access to the vast amount of structured information you have”

Looking at the discussions going on in forums, in blogs and in the research domain most people seem to agree with Gartner’s view: enterprise search and business intelligence makes a powerful combination, but the integrations needs to be made with a number of things in mind:

Data quality

As mentioned before, if one wants to make unstructured and structured information available as a complement to BI it needs to be of a good quality. Knowing that the information found is the latest copy and written by someone with knowledge of the area is essential. Bad information quality is a threat to an Enterprise Search solution, to a combined BI- and search solution it can be devastating. Having Content Lifecycles in place (reviewing, deleting, archiving etc) is a fundamental prerequisite.

Data analysis

Business Intelligence in traditionally built on pre-thought ideas of what data the users need, whereas search gives access to all information in an ad-hoc manner. To combine these two requires a structured way of analyzing the data. If the unstructured information is taken out of its context there is a risk that decisions are built on assumptions and not fact.

BI for the masses?

The old buzzwords are still alive, but the question mark remains. If one wants to give everyone access to BI-data it has to be clear what the purpose is. Giving people a context, for example combining the latest sales statistics with searches for information about the ongoing marketing activities serves a purpose and improves findability. Just making numbers available does not.

enterprise search and business intelligence dashboard

Business intelligence and enterprise search in a combined dashboard – vision or reality within a near future?

So, to conclude: Gartner’s vision of “Biggle” is not yet fulfilled. There are a number of interesting opportunities for the business to create findability solutions that combines business intelligence and enterprise search, but the strategies for adopting it needs to be developed in order to create the really interesting cases.

Have you come across any successful enterprise search and business intelligence integrations? What is your vision? Do you think the integration between the two is a likely scenario?

Please let us know by posting your comments.

It’s soon time for us to go on summer vacation.

If you are Swedish, Nicklas Lundblad from Google had an interesting program about search (Sommar i P1) the other day, which is available as a podcast.

Have a nice summer all of you!

6 thoughts on “Enterprise Search and Business Intelligence?

  1. At JCDEC where Findwise is involved we actually do have both an Enterprise Search solution based on Solr and a BI-solution based on Spotfire on the way in. I think there are many possibilities of exploring ideas in your post and much more in in our lab 🙂

  2. Yes, I’m also convinced that the best result comes from actually trying and exploring ideas..!
    The problem generally is that the business is waiting for the vendors to present a product that can fulfill their needs, and the vendors are waiting for the business to describe what they actually want to solve. To combine Solr and Spotfire would be a really interesting way to erase the boundary between structured and unstructured data..if you do so in the future, please post a comment. I believe we are a lot of people interested in development in this area! 🙂

  3. Great post, Caroline. I really like your ideas on purpose driven BI. We have a community for IM professionals (www.openmethodology.org) that discusses related topics and have bookmarked this post for our members. Looking forward to reading more of your work and sharing with our community.


    Thinking outside the box can often lead to development of just another box with its own unique set of built-in biases and limitations. Such is the case with search and business intelligence. How about throwing out ALL the boxes and starting over? Andy why only business intelligence? Isn’t all intelligence potentially business intelligence? Why not connect ALL THE DOTS to reveal as yet undiscovered patterns that become the core of future concepts and theories leading to new opportunities? Enterprise cost savings is just the tip of the iceberg.

    It seems to me the inescapable truth of such an undertaking would be to change the underlying fabric of the Internet Itself. Is anybody up to the task? For a glimpse into that future, see my comments at http://www.squidoo.com/UnstructuredInformation

  5. We will move in this direction this autumn I hope. A first step would be to have Christian and Simon organise a brainstorm on how to provide log data from Solr in a form that can be imported into Spotfire and voilá – instant search analytics 🙂

  6. Pingback: Findability blog: Wrapping up 2010

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