Banks get search lessons from CSIRO

Inadequate information search facilities may be costing Australia’s banks more than just a bruised ego, according to CSIRO principal research scientist, David Hawking.

Hawking, who oversees the development of CSIRO’s Panoptic search engine said there is a compelling business case for effective data retrieval via search technology.

“One business case is competitiveness and the banks are good examples,” he said. “I don’t mean to pick on the banks but it’s really difficult to go to their Web sites and search to the right place. This represents significant competitive advantage.”

CSIRO has performed tests to compare its Panoptic to the banks’ existing search engines with surprising results.

“Panoptic’s search algorithm returns the most appropriate answer,” he said. “For example, a search for ‘home loans’ in one particular bank’s search engine will return a list of outdated media releases, whereas Panoptic will direct you to the home loans centre. Being able to distinguish the valuable answers is important.”

Although Hawking conceded the amount of money the banks are "wasting" due to inefficient search capabilities is difficult to study, he cited research from the US that claims lack of data accessibility can cost large enterprises in the order of $10 million per year lost productivity.

“Employees could create documents that already exist as well as waste time searching for information,” he said. “We don’t have the resources to do an A versus B study at the banks but we would like to quantify it. It’s easy to quantify in a call centre; because the search saves an average of 30 seconds per call, overall costs are reduced.”

Internally, all e-mail sent to Panoptic is searchable which Hawking described as “totally invaluable”.

“This could be offered to banks and insurance companies and come in handy,” he said. “It’s also useful for troubleshooting and fault finding for previously encountered problems making it ideal for helpdesk environments.”

Included in Panoptic’s repertoire of “manage all your data” functionality is multiple query support, relevance ranking, context sensitive results, document viewing in any browser, CMS interaction, and database indexing. Panoptic ships with Linux as a “dedicated system” but also runs on existing Linux, Windows and Solaris installations.

Since the first installation at the Australian National University five years ago, Panoptic now has 31 installations including the NineMSN media portal.

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