Fast Search readies search application for publishers

Fast Search is releasing an application for publishers designed to let them create and distribute electronic publications with advanced search features.

Fast Search & Transfer has developed an enterprise search application tailored to professional and corporate electronic publishers, the company is expected to announce Tuesday.

The application, called Fast ProPublish, is designed for end-to-end electronic publishing. It lets publishers grab information from a variety of data sources, such as file systems, content-management platforms and databases, and process and package the information. It then allows publishers to deliver the information both online, such as in Web sites, and offline, such as in CD-ROMs. More importantly, the application lets publishers build advanced search and navigation capabilities into the electronic publications.

Fast ProPublish also contains features for publishers to protect the content by establishing granular access and rights levels to publications, managing licenses, implementing subscription models and providing document-level security. The application is based on the NXT electronic publishing product that Fast acquired when it bought NextPage's Publishing Applications Business Unit last year. Fast ProPublish mixes the electronic publishing capabilities of NXT with Fast's enterprise search technology.

Fast ProPublish is aimed at two main markets. The first is the professional reference publishers market, or companies such as Reed Elsevier and The Thomson Corp. that generate books, journals, articles and documents to clients in industries such as finance, law and health care. "These publishers' clients are typically lawyers preparing for a case, insurance underwriters (assessing claims) and doctors doing research," said Todd Mickelsen, vice president of publishing applications at Fast, based in Oslo, Norway.

The second group of targets for the new product are corporations such as investment banks, insurance carriers and accounting firms that have large publishing units that generate a variety of publications for their employees and clients. "These are companies that act as quasi-publishers, creating manuals and books and the like to deliver to employees, partners and customers," Mickelsen said. "In many cases, these companies have to marry internal information with external information they get from professional publishers."

One customer who is eager to get his hands on Fast ProPublish is Phillip Claiborne, chief information officer at Municipal Code, in Tallahassee, Florida. Municipal Code is a legal publishing company that codifies ordinances for municipal governments and publishes them in print and on the Web. The company has used the NXT application for about two years and Claiborne is excited about migrating to ProPublish to take advantage of its improved search and navigation functionality.

"NXT just has basic search capabilities. It doesn't have the taxonomy, the hit highlighting and other features Fast can bring to the table. We'll have some really robust search capabilities with ProPublish, so users can engage in a discovery process and drill down to the content they need instead of having to browse through the whole book," said Claiborne, who has seen two demos of the new product.

Mixing the search functionality from Fast with the publishing capabilities from the NextPage product is a good move because there is increasing demand for improving the search and navigation features in electronic publications, an analyst said. "What the major, large directory, reference and professional journal publishers have typically not provided is state-of-the-art search technology with their products. There's a lot of pressure on those publishers now to offer a much more modern search facility," said Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with Delphi Group.

The demand for better search technology is coming from subscribers to these publications, who in many cases are corporate researchers and librarians working under increasingly tight deadline pressure, Reynolds said. "The time frames under which the information professionals are now working have been dramatically compressed. They don't have 3 or 4 days to go research something in the corporate library. Now it's a matter of minutes or hours to search both online information, internal information and the professionally published journals," he said. The ultimate goal is "streamlining the job of the information professional or librarian so they can process more questions and do more research in a given amount of time."

ProPublish seems fairly distinctive in the market right now as an application that address the full gamut of what a professional publisher needs to gather, process and distribute its information along with advanced search capabilities, Reynolds said. "To my knowledge, this is the first time anyone has offered that full suite of things in a pre-packaged product," he said.

Fast ProPublish will be available as of Tuesday and starts at around US$100,000.

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