Smart Search: Business Intelligence and Search

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Not so long ago, business intelligence (BI) and search existed in two different realms. Business intelligence was the purview of highly trained professionals mining structured data sets with precise queries to arrive at quantifiable result sets. Search was a free-for-all, allowing untrained users to send out great “what-ifs” across vast arrays of unstructured data, trading off context and precision for breadth of results.

These days, however, the maturing of the business intelligence market and heightened user expectations for easy information access means the gap between BI and search is narrowing. The question is: Will the two ever become one?

BI Market Matures
In most enterprises, BI applications have been used by a small number of highly trained “super users” who design reports to answer end users’ questions, and provide context to tease out meaning from result sets. Bill Gassman, research director at Gartner Group, observes that “BI was traditionally used in finance functions, where users placed a premium on data accuracy” and were willing to invest several hundred thousand dollars in a reliable BI system. Increasingly, BI vendors are recognizing the wisdom of bringing BI to the masses, and not just because their licensing models are based on usage.

According to IDC Research’s June 2007 study “Worldwide Business Intelligence Tools 2006 Vendor Shares,” the market for business intelligence tools grew 11.5% to reach $6.25 billion in worldwide software revenue in 2006. The sheer size and maturity of the business intelligence market has increasingly attracted the attention of enterprise solution providers like Microsoft and IBM, putting pressure on established BI vendors to find ways of differentiating their solutions and reaching new users. Gassman says, “If you think about it, the number one BI tool is an Excel spreadsheet. Microsoft has all the parts [for a BI solution]; they would just have to put it together.”

One logical way of making established BI tools attractive to a larger group of users is by layering functionality to enable employees who are not trained BI professionals to unlock the secrets of corporate data sets and discover pertinent answers outside the firewall. “BI vendors are motivated to support anything that complements their solution,” observes Lyndsay Wise, senior research analyst with Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC). Wise points to third-party data integration capability as a recent trend that many BI providers lauded. “Even vendors who offered their own data integration functionality supported it,” Wise says, because it ultimately made their own products more appealing.

BI and Search Teamwork
Traditional BI vendors seem sold on the benefits of layering search capa- bilities onto their products, if the spate of partnership and acquisition announcements made over the past 18 months is any indication.

In May 2006, Cognos sounded the charge, announcing separate partnerships with Autonomy, Fast Search and Transfer (FAST), and Google that would facilitate searching on its Cognos 8 BI platform and include both structured and unstructured enterprise data in the result set.

In the case of the Google partnership, the combined solution enables reports, metrics, and dashboards contained in the BI application to be accessed directly from Google’s Search Appliance and its OneBox for Enterprise. Rob Rose, chief strategy officer at Cognos, says, “With this alliance, Google and Cognos can help companies enhance the value of their BI deployments by making full report content, from financial to operational reports, searchable by anyone in the organization.”

In January of this year came the news that Information Builders was integrating Google’s search capabilities into its WebFOCUS Magnify product. Magnify uses the metadata from Google or other search engines to index structured data records and provide access to all WebFOCUS capabilities through the search interface. When a user performs a keyword search, indexed content is rapidly scanned to create Google-style results drawn from all data sources across the enterprise. Links are then presented to allow the user to compile reports and access information in a format they choose.

Business Objects took the game a step further in May 2007 when it acquired Inxight, a company with expertise in enterprise search and text analytics, a process that can be critical in applying structure to unstructured data. Says Wise, “The idea is that Business Objects will integrate Inxight’s technology directly into its product offering.” She adds, “This is a case where the combined technologies are very intuitive. User adoption is so logical that it becomes standard.” Gartner’s Gassman is similarly optimistic about integrated search becoming a customary component of BI in the not-so-distant future. “Now that Cognos and Information Builders are marketing themselves as combined BI/search vendors, all the BI players have to go there.”


 

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