Searching for Answers at ESS East

May 19, 2009

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In May, from across the globe gathered in New York City at Enterprise Search Summit East, for two days of intensive, in-depth discussions about the world of search. With a host of new problems to conquer, and a handful of persistent issues yet to be solved, attendees and speakers alike arrived prepared to hammer out fresh solutions and new answers. The conference was kicked off by Ramesh Harji, Head of Information Exploitation, Capgemini UK, who painted a picture of how high the stakes are for enabling information discovery--providing research that demonstrates that $100 billion per year is being lost in the UK alone due to inefficient information exploitation. Other popular keynote sessions like “Search, Scent, and the Happiness of Pursuit,” lead by Jared Spool, founder of User Interface Engineering, and “Improving Security Through Information Awareness,” by Win van Geloven, VP information technology, National Coordinator for counter terrorism, the Netherlands, framed the scope of the problems faced by knowledge professionals today. 
Not surprisingly, even at a search event, you can't escape news about the struggling economy. Yet, according to the exhibitors, working with government and healthcare sectors has provided some vendors with steady growth over the past few months. Attendees, on the other hand, came with a strict focus on finance and delivering results to their bottom line. They sought inexpensive solutions for their search problems. Many of speakers offered variations of the same answer: Make the most with what you've got. 

In his session titled “Alternatives to an Expensive New Engine,” Miles Kehoe, a founder and president of New Idea Engineering, Inc., explained that the blame for a company's search problems may lie with the implementation. “Maybe it is not the technology, it may be your methodology,” Kehoe says. “Search is not a fire and forget technology.” It takes time to build the proper platform to fit individual needs, and companies have to be more willing to invest in search teams, and revamped strategies. Companies that are not willing to do this often find that they replace old search engines with shiny new ones, only to have the same problems arise.

Alice Redmond-Neal, chief taxonomist for Access Innovations, Inc., says, “You should use what you have and don’t abandon [your search technology]. Often that means partnering with other tools.” If money is an issue, adding features from a new platform to an already existing technology may be a better fit than implementing a completely new system. Stacy Monarko, director of product management for Vivisimo and speaker at the “Search Tools at Work” session, explains that now more than ever “organizations need to do more with less, and make smart decisions.”

Though the economy was certainly a key issue among attendees and speakers, everyone was happy to look to the future of enterprise search rather than dwell on the difficult present. With panels like “Emergent Social Search Experiences” and “Social Search for Knowledge Sharing,” social search and collaboration was one major trend that had a big showing at the summit.

As Stacy Monarko, Director of Product Management, Vivisimo explains, given that search ftouches so many people within an organization, it is really a collaborative tool. With features such as the ability to tag search results, and add comments, users are becoming more involved with their research and the tools they use to do it. She believes that the social search trend will continue to “give control to the end users,” especially now as web applications begin to compete with personal email as a communication tool. “The web is continuing to evolve and enterprise technology will have to keep up,” says Monarko. 

Putting end users in control of search is a sentiment echoed by Bruce Molloy, CEO of Connotate Technologies, a provider of web-monitoring and web-mining solutions. Users are demanding the ability to share information across the enterprise, and to do this, companies will need to implement more “active and personalized” search tools, says Molloy, instead of leaving employees to dig through mountains of web data on their own.

Other search topics that seemed to be grabbing the interest of presenters and attendees alike included the growth of mobile search, and a push toward understanding why certain search results are returned, instead of how they are returned. Derek Fung, senior product manager for Recommind and speaker during the “Search Tools at Work” session, says there is now a “push toward accountability” with search, adding that it is “more important to find out why” results are returned, even though he admits it is far more difficult.

Whether attendees wanted to learn how to improve an existing technology, or hear a step-by-step guide on choosing a new search engine, the Enterprise Search Summit had something to offer everyone. It is clear that even in these troubled economic times there is still a tremendous focus on the potential of enterprise search to unlock the value of an organization’s information. As Sid Probstein, CTO of Attivio, says, “This is an amazing time to be in the information access space.”