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IT revs up search engines

Companies are using enterprise search tools to unlock key information buried in internal databases and to boost e-commerce.

By Michelle Hope, Network World
March 07, 2005 12:06 AM ET

Network World - Internet search has become a staple in the daily diet of most IT professionals. Need to learn about radio frequency identification or the latest trends in offshore outsourcing? Search for it online. Want to find a JavaScript workaround? Look for user threads in a Java forum.

It don't come easy

IT executives now are applying a more sophisticated, enterprise version of search functionality to corporate Web sites and intranets to improve the search experience for e-commerce customers, business partners and employees. Beyond that, enterprise search tools are being aimed at internal databases, even databases residing on mainframes, for specialized functions such as data analytics, knowledge management and business-process management .

Christian Book Distributors (CBD) wanted to improve the search and browse functionality on its e-commerce sites, most notably , according to Mark Pepin, assistant vice president for the Peabody, Mass., company. CBD chose Endeca's ProFind for the task. "We really liked the technology that drove Endeca," Pepin says. "It was very similar to the technology we built our site on."

After they implemented the product, it wasn't long before Pepin and his team started to see how Endeca also could help CBD reduce the time it took to roll out marketing campaigns. "We saw it was also a great data-mining tool, which made it a good fit for direct-marketed, targeted e-mails to our customer base," he says.

Before using ProFind, it took several hours to run a traditional database query. "With Endeca's ability to slice and dice our data, we could load up all of our separate customer information - purchase history, author history, product categories - on a separate platform. We were then able to quickly segment the list. We could go and mine customers, clicking on anybody who had purchased a particular author in the past, and it would literally bring back information in seconds," Pepin says.

Web search vs. enterprise search

The ability to process a company's structured and unstructured data, stored in a variety of formats, is what separates enterprise search tools from more public Web search engines, according to analysts. Structured data exists in database tables, usually associated with a company's ERP, CRM or custom database systems. Unstructured data can take the form of e-mails, Microsoft Office-type files, Adobe PDFs and a host of other current or legacy file types scattered throughout a typical corporation.

Questions to ask when beginning a search project
Gartner recommends that corporations begin any search vendor evaluation project by ruling in vendors rather than ruling them out.
Does the company desire or accept an application service provider model of search provision?
Does the company desire or accept an appliance model for search provision?
Will the vendor serve one project or be an enterprise-wide default for all new projects?
What repositories of data will be searched? Will the search product call applications or simply search an index? Will text be the only significant format in which information is stored?
What level of security will be necessary, and what means of authentication will be used?
What interface will be used for result selection? Will the company desire categorical navigation? Is persuasive merchandising a goal?
What interface will be used for query input? Will the company need to use a natural question format, or stick to the familiar keyword input format?
Source: Gartner
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Public Web search engines primarily support HTML file formats, and possibly a few standard office formats (Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat PDFs). Enterprise search products often provide gateways that let the products search and retrieve content from a range of file formats, even legacy files on mainframes.

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