Selling Search Internally–Part 2–How to get buy in from the staff

“The truth is that if your end user of the solution doesn’t like the solution, they won’t use it.”

You’ve convinced the powers that be that a search solution is a necessary strategy for success and competitive advantage. Congratulations! Nice work. Think your job is done? Not by a long shot.

Ask your staff–what would a good solution look like to them? After you’ve decided to move forward with a search solution, it’s important, no–it’s crucial that you consider strongly the end user. If you have a web portal that you manage, it’s worth polling your typical customer to gather vital data on how they want their experience to be. If you are looking at an enterprise search solution, you need to spend time exploring what your staff wants and needs out of a solution, and ensure your search solution addresses design for them….not a boilerplate solution that only meets some of your needs. Search is an expensive endeavor, if you’re spending the money, you might as well get exactly what you want.

The truth is that if your end user of the solution doesn’t like the solution, they won’t use it. So getting the end user involved in the planning stage of the search project is vital to it’s overall success. If they have input to it’s overall features and design, they will be more invested in using it. Involving users manufactures all kinds of good-will collateral that can help develop better morale and a positive workplace. Doing this early in the process also introduces change more slowly to users–and people rarely react well to lots of radical change.  Making them a part of the process and doing it early with lots of prepping for change can affect overall satisfaction rates with the search implementation after it’s complete.

Once the implementation actually goes live, you’ll need to ensure a training plan is in place and executed to ensure ongoing success.  A successful search solution isn’t just done once it’s implemented.  You need to work to include your whole team in the training process, and allow them to see for themselves how the solution is going to help them in their day to day tasks. If you included your staff in the planning of the design from the beginning, you’ll be much more successful once the solution is deployed, because they were part of the solution all along.

Selling Search Internally–Part 1–How to get buy-in from your boss

“If you don’t drive your business, you will be driven out of business.” –BC Forbes

You are a <insert your profession here>  (Department Head, IT Leader, Operations Regional Manager, HR Manager, End User) in your business or organization. You have a problem. You can’t find information. Your staff is spending time tracking down that invoice from a few years ago, looking for the part number that a customer needs, searching for that great resume. It’s somewhere….but where? You see your staff is frustrated, disenchanted, defeated. You see that time is being wasted, and customers are grouchy because they can’t access products or information you have online. Maybe you’re losing customers. It’s hard to tell because you just got another 20 emails since you checked an hour ago and there are 10 reports on your desk awaiting your review. You are awash in information–drowning, and you are supposed to be in charge of keeping all this organized. Sound familiar?

Search solves this. Search, discovery, sharing information…it all leads to faster service to customers, less staff frustration, and higher productivity. It has been said that a good search solution either saves you money inside the firewall or makes you money outside the firewall. Either way, your organization is more competitive with a search solution that delivers the right information at the right time.

But how do you convince the boss that your company would benefit in an investment in search technology? This is the tricky part for many managers inside organizations. Search is hard, and often expensive. Here are the main points you should make with your boss.

  • Search isn’t a box, it’s an engine
  • Search makes money / saves money = bottom line results
  • Sharing information promotes better decision making, faster response time
  • Search will give your organization a competitive edge in a cutthroat marketplace

This isn’t a single conversation. The most successful campaigns for better search technology involve many voices, not just yours. An organized vocal group inside your organization who can present business leaders with a solution that will effect the bottom line is hard to ignore. And the basics in selling any idea to your boss should also be minded, such as:

  • If you come with a problem, come with a solution
  • Give real examples to back up your suggestions for improvement
  • Be diplomatic: even the best organizations can be political
  • Maintain relationships (don’t throw anyone under the bus)
  • Who will benefit and how?  Break it down for consideration

Change is tough, but I find that this saying by B.C Forbes sums up why it’s important to push the issue If you don’t drive your business, you will be driven out of business.”

Search and Steel Girders

“Search by itself may look like a simple box, but behind the box is a foundry of girders, cross beams, and structural support that allows you to find what you need.”

“Search ties people together…”

This was one of the many themes at the Enterprise Search Summit in Washington, DC last week. It seems like a fairly obvious statement, but it quickly becomes part of the landscape, taken for granted even though the landscape couldn’t function without it. I have compared search function to the steel girders of a skyscraper. When you walk into the building, you aren’t thinking about the beams holding the building up or connecting floors, but without them, you wouldn’t have a building at all (you couldn’t even find the lobby). Other metaphors overheard include oxygen (invisible yet essential), sunlight (lest we remain in the dark) and electricity (everything stops without it).

Attendees of the conference know how important search is to companies, but increasingly, companies are taking search for granted. There is a fundamental gap in communicating the importance and difficulty of implementing a good search platform.

Companies who need search to run on their website or intranet, expect search to work as it does on the Internet, but this is an apples and oranges scenario.

Here are the main disconnects:

  1. Search is easy
  2. Search is cheap
  3. It never has to be touched again

People expect search inside the firewall to function much like Google does outside the firewall. Google exists for end users and is really, really incredible. It Geo-locates, it auto-completes. It uses your browsing history to provide more relevant results. And you had no financial investment in using this really lovely, elegant, useful tool that doesn’t just assist your Internet experience, but facilitates it. But behind the firewall, things are different. Let me explain.

  • Your business content isn’t publicly available or known. I mean, that would be bad, right? It’s behind the firewall for a reason. So keeping it there yet allowing your staff to access certain levels of information takes some architecture and planning.
  • Google has thousands of developers working on this beautiful, incredible technology every day. They finance this by ad content. How many people do you have on your search team? And how much of their day do they really spend on search? What department is being billed for it? Business leaders need to embrace this as a necessary cost of doing business and budget accordingly, or face the crippling result of staff and customers not being able to find the information they need.

  • 80% of your content is unstructured. Meaning, search engines can’t really read it until some love and care is put into cleaning the data. This is a vital, yet time intense process. Our VP of Search Technologies Michael McIntosh says “We spend about 90% of our time on the document processing pipeline, conditioning data to be fed into the engine.” Moreover, unstructured data isn’t a set number. It’s being creating faster than you can blink by your entire enterprise. Processing it is never a done deal.

So if search connects us, hopefully this finds you thinking about search in more realistic terms. Search by itself may look like a simple box, but behind the box is a foundry of girders, cross beams, and structural support that allows you to find what you need to “make money outside the firewall or save money inside the firewall.”

Search Fuels Business Intelligence for Decision Making

“The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds.” said Arthur Miller. Can your search technology find the gems buried inside your own business?

“The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds.” said Arthur Miller. The same can be said about the invaluable data inside your business. It’s there, ready to be mined. But unless you have the right tools, you’ll never get to those diamonds.

Content is expanding at an exponential rate. I don’t know anyone in any business who can keep up with the pace of content growth, without the use of powerful search engines to find and extract relevant information. Business analysts expect content to grow 800% over the next 5 years. Business intelligence requires extraction of the right information, and most enterprises have both structured and unstructured data. Structured data is easy for most search engines to search. The rub is in unstructured content–of which there is abundance. Unstructured content is said to account for 70-80% of data in all organizations. This type of content is often in the form of documents, email messages, health records, HTML pages, books, metadata, audio, video, and various other files. All these files have to be “cleaned up” before feeding them through a search engine in order to get results with any kind of value or relevance.

Mining this data is going to be essential for not just the success, but the survival of many businesses. James Kobielus, an analyst at Forrester Research, reports in an interview with ComputerWorld that businesses will increasingly turn to a self-service BI throughout 2011 and beyond. “Increasingly, enterprises will adopt new Web-based interactive querying and reporting tools that are designed to put more data analytics capabilities into the hands of end users,” he said. A good search engine that can find data quickly and easily can “take the burden off IT and speed up the development of reports to a considerable degree,” Kobielus said. The information mined by a search engine tuned to the specific business needs facilities better decision making for people a every job function within the enterprise. “Because every business is a little different, and so many organizations house so much unstructured content, most search engines can’t cover everything that is needed without some customization” said Michael McIntosh, our VP of Search Technologies at TNR Global. “Data conditioning is vital to unstructured content. Without someone paying attention to filtering out the garbage in unstructured content, you’re not going to get a good search result. The last thing a business needs is it’s search results working against them.”

“The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds.” said Arthur Miller. Can your search technology find the gems buried inside your own business?

For more information on how data mining and a customized search engine can move your business forward, contact us for a free consultation.

Living with Bad Enterprise Search: The Costs of Not Finding What Your Business Needs

Search technology is critical to the mission of any business. It facilitates cash flow, revenue, Business Intelligence (BI), productivity and employee satisfaction.

Do you remember TV Guide? There was a time when TV Guide sat on nearly every coffee table in every living room in America. If you didn’t have a subscription, you would grab it in the checkout line at the grocery store every week. If you wanted to plan out your evening in front of the tube, you would pick it up, thumb through it, read the synopsis of the show, and make an informed decision about watching Dallas or Falcon Crest that evening.

Then everything changed. Not overnight, but let’s fast forward to today. If you are 20, you don’t know what TV Guide is. Most cable packages have a guide built in so you can plan your viewing, record shows you will miss, or call up ones you want to watch, even from last season. Schedules for networks are posted online. And it’s a good thing, because back when TV Guide sat on our coffee tables, there were three networks. How many are there now? Imagine how thick that TV Guide would be.

The explosion of content is not exclusive to television. Businesses have had an estimated 60% growth in digital content per year, and it shows no signs of stopping. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses haven’t upgraded their cable box, so to speak. They are looking for crucial documents and data on a manual dial. The truth is, companies have been living with bad search for a long time. And they’ve been paying for it.

The IDC estimates that 2.5 hours a day per employee are wasted looking for information they need to perform their job, or recreating that information altogether. Additionally, making sound decisions depends strongly on having valid information to make those decisions. Without access to information, bad business decisions are made, and bad business decisions are deadly to the enterprise. Business intelligence efforts can fall short without the right search platform powering fast relevant results. Worst of all, if your customers cannot find the product or service they need on your system, they will go somewhere else for it.

Content Management Systems are gaining in popularity, but what’s powering the search? How well does it deal with unstructured content? Does it give results with the relevance you need to make the best decision? Can your employees find what to need to execute their tasks? Can customers find your products?

Search technology is critical to the mission of any business. It facilitates cash flow, revenue, Business Intelligence (BI), productivity and employee satisfaction. It has an immediate impact of the bottom line of the business. It is an essential ingredient to the successful enterprise on so many levels, to run a business with inadequate search technology is like using an old copy of TV Guide to try and find and decide what to watch.

If you are assessing your search platform and it’s bottom line impact on your business, contact us.  We can analyze your systems and provide a free consultation on the best enterprise search solution for your company.

FAST ESP to Lucene Solr Presentation: Open Call for Questions

To pre-load the discussion on Michael’s Enterprise Search: FAST ESP to Lucene Solr talk, send your questions to: We want to hear from you!

TNR Global is excited to be participating in the Apache Lucene EuroCon conference in Barcelona.  Our own Michael McIntosh is scheduled to present:  “Enterprise Search: FAST ESP to Lucene Solr” Here is your chance to pre-load the discussion. Before Michael puts the final touches on his talk, he wants to know what issues or questions you may be have.  In the following video, he touches on some of the highlights of his upcoming talk, and asks for your input.

Enterprise Search: FAST ESP to Lucene Solr pre-conferece video - Click to Watch
Enterprise Search: FAST ESP to Lucene Solr pre-conf video

To participate in advance, send you questions or comments to:  While Michael cannot promise he will include your question or commentary in his actual talk, he will work to address them in an upcoming White Paper, to be released after the conference in November 2011. We look forward to hearing from you!

Crawling Solr

“We are looking at creating a suitable enterprise crawler to replace the one provided by ESP to support customers doing a ESP to Solr migration.”

Recently there has been a lively discussion on Linked In’s Enterprise Search Engine Professionals Group started with this question:

“Is it an handicap for Solr to depend on third party solutions for crawling the Web like Nutch?

Our own Michael McIntosh felt compelled to respond. What follows is his post to this topic in it’s entirety.

“This topic makes me think of the saying “Write programs that do one thing and do it well.” The longer version of this philosophy, as expressed by Doug McIlroy, is this: “Write programs that do one thing and do it well. Write programs to work together. Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.” Solr stands very well on its own and, based upon my impression of the Solr community so far, more people currently use Solr for structured content vs unstructured like web documents. I think that Solr should have some ‘out of the box’ web crawler implementation available, but it should not be the core focus. It can serve to allow new users of Solr to focus more on the Solr/Lucene side of things and not have to worry about rolling their own crawler or figuring out which is the best third-party crawling solution to use. I suspect that many people who need to do crawling can get by with a fairly basic crawler. My impression of Nutch so far is that is more complicated than most Solr users need out of the starting gate. That said, if you have a business that deals with large amounts of crawled unstructured content, its very likely they will need something more robust than you can reasonably ship & support as part of the Solr project. For one of our clients, the size of our dataset has grown from needed just a couple boxes, to multiple clusters with many machines each. One of the newest developments is the growth of the amount of unstructured content has grown to a size where we now need a crawler CLUSTER. When we first started on this, it never occurred to us that we might need multiple machines for the crawling side of the equation, but it has happened. But I think our case its less common. All in all, I think Solr should have a bare-bones reference implementation of a crawler that can easily be expanded upon, but it is probably not an effective use of effort to Solr developers to focus on the crawling side. Let a third party focus on the issues of crawling, it is a deceptively complicated issue.”

After his post I caught him in the office and asked where he was going with this line of thinking. “We are looking at creating a suitable enterprise crawler to replace the one provided by ESP to support customers doing a ESP to Solr migration.” He revealed. Sounds like a very promising solution to a fairly big, and common problem for companies with vast amounts of metadata. And as for unstructured content? Well, it’s the proverbial elephant in the room, don’t you think?

To see the entire conversation, with contributions from experts in the field of search architecture, click here. To get in touch with Michael directly to discuss your architecture and crawling needs, contact us.

Building for Enterprise Search: A Systems View, Part 2

“It’s important to incorporate expected behaviors into modeling and monitoring on both applications and systems sides and how they interact with one another.”

When we left off, Michael Klatsky, VP of Systems Administration was telling me how important communication between the systems side and search side of is to developing an enterprise search solution. The process of building, testing, monitoring, adjusting, more testing, and more monitoring ensures systems function that way they are intended to function. Let’s resume our conversation where Michael discusses the tools he uses to ensure the system he’s building works the way the client wants it to. This is the second portion of a two part blog post.
Tools for BDD: Part 2

Karen: It’s sounding like the Search Team and Sys Admin Team need to have a good relationship and communicate often to ensure the system will accommodate the work the search team does.

Michael: Yes, search sometimes has to construct their scripts to conforms to systems. Testing is run on both sides, but small changes can affect others down the line, so it’s important to incorporate expected behaviors into modeling and monitoring on both applications and systems sides and how they interact with one another.

Karen: How do you make sure that happens?

Michael: We’re exploring some tools to help us make sure the machine will act just as we expect it to, like cucumber and cucumber nagios We’re using certain tools to facilitate the systems behaves in the way that we expect it to. We’re exploring cucumber for basic modeling and for testing. Cucumber is cool for testing because it returns values to you in colors. Red, meaning it failed, yellow meaning there’s problem, and green meaning its good. According to their docs, they instruct you to “keep running it until it’s a cucumber.”

Karen: Ah, I get it.

Michael: Right. And what cucumber nagios does is it takes cucumber and allows you to create a nagios monitoring check script. So if you pass, great, if you god red, nagios will throw an alert to the systems administrator so we have an opportunity to fix it before more is built.

Karen: Sounds like it’s an attentive way to build a system.

Michael: The only way to scale is to have machines do things for themselves. That’s the way to do it.

Karen: To automate.

Michael: Yes. Automation. Not to just set things up to automatically do configuration management beforehand, but to test afterwards to determine that your machine is behaving just as you (and your client) envisioned it.

For more information on how you can plan your enterprise search in cooperation with your systems administration team, contact us for a free consultation.

Building for Enterprise Search: A Systems View, Part 1

We need to determine what right looks like, and have the system behave that way.

I sat down with our VP of Systems Administration, Michael Klatsky to discuss some of his thoughts on how Systems Administration needs to work in concert with the Search Team to implement search technologies for clients. This is the first portion of a two part blog post.

Karen: You wanted to discuss how your approaching the systems side of search, and using a Behavior Driven Development (BDD) approach. Tell me about that.

Michael: Well, one of the problems we run into when systems brings up machines for enterprise search clusters is the search software (FAST ESP for example) is very particular about it’s environment- more so than many of the more common applications such as the Apache webserver. Properly configured DNS, specific environment variables, specific library versions have to be present. There are ownership and permissions that need to be in place, and performance metrics that must adhere to a given baseline. There can be slow disks can affect performance. There has to be the right amount of memory, and different classifications of systems roles. Currently, we have homegrown scripts that bring up systems, then we have other scripts we run to detect issues. These scripts will tell us if the system is ready for what we need it to do. We also monitor the systems for standard items such as diskspace, memory usage, as well as basic search functionality. For example we’ll run a quick search on say paper clips, and if comes back with results we know it’s running.

That’s what we’ve done historically. But now, we need to bring up larger numbers of machines,and have confidence that they will perform exactly as we expect. Additionally, we have a set of functional tasks that must be available without fail As we bring up clusters of larger numbers of machines, and as we need to be more nimble, how can we ensure that it will respond the way we expect it to?

Karen: This is where Behavior Driven Development comes in, right?

Michael: Right. There is a lot of discussion out there on Behavior Driven Development which would include behavior driven modelling, behavior driven monitoring, behavior driven architecture and infrastructure. So not only does a machine come up and is listening on these ports, but I can bring a machine up, I can go to that machine and I’m able to log in, install certain software, and peform tasks. I can go to another machine and perform a task. So, the question is, how do you model that? How do we ensure the system will behaves as it should?

Karen: So you’re looking at replicating the behavior of these systems so that every time we deploy something it will be the same way.

Michael: Right. And if a change is made, even a small change, we’ll see it right away because a system or service will fail and be able to fix it. Sometimes a service will fail silently. But we test and monitor constantly to ensure the system will do exactly what we expect it to do. It’s all a part of the build process.

Karen: Sounds like a smart approach.

Michael: Yes. And if we make a change, we’ll find out how that change will affect the rest of the system. For instance, we run tests and if something is wrong it should give you an error. For example if you change the location of your SSH keys. You may still be able to get into the machine by SSH, but one little change could make it impossible to SSH from one machine to another in the cluster. So rather than find that out after you begin your manual work on that, we make it part of the build process by constantly monitoring and testing the system as we build it.

Karen: It sounds like building a house and then realizing you have bricks out of place after it’s built.

Michael: Worse, it’s like building a house and realizing you forgot to build a door! At the very least while you are building, you can test, and let me know, “Hey! I don’t have a door to my house!” So that I can fix it before you move in.

There are certain things the search team needs to do to ensure their work will function in the system, like SSHing around the machines in the cluster–they need to be able to do that. There are certain ports that system need to be listening on, there are certain services that need to return a normal range of results. We need to define what a proper operation looks like. We can’t necessarily say that if we search for gold plated paperclips for example, that the search result should show 1000 results every time, that may or may not be the case–we don’t necessarily know if this is a proper result every time, but we should determine if the result returned is within a proper range of normal.

We’re defining what a proper operation looks like and ensure it functions that way. Part of the behavior driven model which is what I’m really interested in, we can set up a natural language looking config file. This config file should describe the actions or behaviors I expect. For example, when I go to website and search for gold plated paperclips, I expect to see results. One result should be X. There should be more than Y results. When I return that result, I should be able to click on one result and go to that products feature list. Basically I’m describing how the customer will interact with the search, what I expect the customer to do, and design the system to respond with the customer’s actions in mind.

Karen: So your engineering it with the customer’s behaviors in mind.

Michael: That’s exactly what we’re doing. Then that if I look for a certain item, I get that result, describe the behavior of what the customer should do and make the system behave in cooperation with the customer behavior. We need to determine what right looks like, and have the system behave that way.

Karen: And what right looks like is really different for each client.

Micheal: Yes. You can write in somewhat natural English what that looks like. It’s not magic, but you still have to come up with specification of what right looks like. But you can do a lot of sophisticated things in this manner because you will know you’ll have a website that’s going to perform the way it’s suppose to perform. The bottom line is: Define what your systems should “look” like, deploy those systems using those definitions, and after deployment, test to ensure that those systems “look” like your definition.

For more information on how you can plan your enterprise search in cooperation with your systems administration team, contact us for a free consultation.

Open Source Search: Isn’t It Expensive?

You’ve heard the debate on open source search vs. proprietary search. One question that constantly comes up for prospective clients is “What’s all this going to cost me?”

In these times, it’s a good question. Because proprietary has neatly packaged, practically shrink wrapped plans, it’s much easier to discern how much you will spend on a solution. But how much will it cost? That’s an entirely different question.

I see you cocking your head sideways.

Proprietary search has hidden costs. What if the software doesn’t perform the way you need it to? Does the software understand the nuances of your business? How adaptable is it? How much will it cost to adapt that software to get it to perform the way my business needs it to? Questions like this need to be asked, and answered. Eventually you will ask yourself….why am I paying for all of this? And your developer will ask, “why can’t I access the source code?”

What I’m getting at is this: It is a reassuring feeling for a customer to see what a package costs, to understand what services you will get with a solution, and to anticipate what the licensing fee will cost on an annual basis. If it’s your job to research a solution and present findings to your executive team to make a decision, then proprietary search, on the surface, seems a more secure choice. But rarely, if ever, are these solutions a perfect fit for the customer. It’s like buying a Ferrari, with all the brand recognition and polish a Ferrari offers, and not ever driving it past second gear, or cutting the wheel more than 15 degrees, or getting a chance to have your trusted mechanic look under the hood. This is why open source is such a good solution for businesses who want their IT to move quickly.

We’re hearing more buzz about companies waking up to the agility of an open source solution. Most recently, with the acquisition of Autonomy by HP, the industry is telling stories of ex Autonomy customers migrating to Solr (open source search) with only the annual licencing budget to finance the migration. Without an annual expenditure of cash for licensing, and the freedom of not being under a licensing agreement, companies quickly recoup the initial expenditure of a migration.

What kind of car does your company drive?

If you are examining the different choices for implementing search technology in your organization, contact us.  We’re happy to talk to you about the best solution for your business.