IBM, which is more forthcoming about its algorithms, uses a blend of weighting factors for relevance in its enterprise search. These include: user click patterns, the format and position of an entry in a document (headings have higher relevance than in-text entries), metadata (so that text in a link will be ranked differently than similar text in the body of a document), and so on.
Most products today provide a way of increasing relevance of certain documents or URLs so that they occupy first place in a given search. (For example, a query on "sexual harassment" can be tweaked so that the company's policy is always the first item returned.) In addition, many products enable customization for company-specific lingo. This permits search engines to know, for example, that a query regarding "Region 1" refers to the Eastern seaboard.
Proceed with security in mind
Access control is a central aspect of BI search. This problem occurs in two directions: how does an employee access all the needed data for a report and how is an employee blocked from seeing confidential data? In a perfect world, single-sign-on would address the first issue, and access to a directory LDAP server would resolve the second. The problem is in the implementation: much of the data is located on systems whose access control is not tightly neatly defined by a corporate-wide access mechanism.
The problem is actually worse than it appears. Says Maxime Tiran, an engineer in IBM's Data Management division, "When company IT departments set up enterprise-wide searching tools, they are frequently horrified by the kinds of confidential data that is widely accessible and completely unprotected on their intranets."
Security schemes vary, and sites contemplating adding search to their BI need to determine how access control is handled by the products they're considering. Many products simply pass the user credentials to the BI package or other back-end software and rely on those applications to limit the returned results according to their built-in access mechanisms. This aspect is a particular strength of Oracle's Secure Enterprise Search product.
On the horizon
Michael Corcoran, who heads up Corporate Strategy for Information Builders predicts that the integration of BI and search will only become tighter. Search engines will gain better access to BI data and the BI companies will facilitate this process. For example, Information Builders today can take data from transactions in process and make it available to Google's Enterprise search engine.
Information Builders has a division that provides some 300 connectors to data sources and it is actively using them to broaden the reach of search capabilities and its own BI products. Says Corcoran: "This greater integration will really help users. Today, BI still requires users to know where their data is. For example, they still must specify 'call center data.' However, the needed data could be anywhere, and the user should not need to know its origins to be able to locate it."
The next step, says IBM's Andrews, involves integrating analytics functions with search and being able to query the data in a variety of ways to probe for market opportunities that equate to increased sales and greater efficiencies. For the time being, however, most enterprises will be content just to have better access to the business intelligence they currently generate.
Enterprise search vendors bet heavily on BI
The intersection of BI and enterprise search is seeing more traffic all the time. Already this year, Google, IBM, and X1 have released new products, and Oracle promises to do so later this year. Here is a short list of solutions from market leaders that should be considered in the evaluation phase.
Cognos8 Business Intelligence: The combination of ESP from Norwegian firm Fast Search and Transfer (FAST) and Cognos 8 BI with Cognos Go! Search Service enables workers to quickly find reports, analyses, scorecards, and other BI assets, along with corporate content, and other forms of structured and unstructured business information. The FAST product can also perform analysis of Cognos-generated data during the process of returning search results.
Google Search Appliance: The king of Web search has an enterprise search solution that sells only with bundled hardware. Starting with designs for searching as many as a half-million documents, it can scale to clustered systems with 20 times that capacity. Google passes queries to back-end enterprise applications to search their own databases and return the results to Google; it does not connect to the data directly. However, it can access your company's structured data if stored in any of the leading DBMS's. A new feature of the Google Search Appliance, called Google OneBox for Enterprise, delivers information from business intelligence systems, such as those from Cognos, Employease, Netsuite, Oracle, Salesforce.com, and SAS.
IBM OmniFind: IBM WebSphere Information Integration OmniFind Edition, a component of the WebSphere Content Discovery for Business Intelligence solution, has remarkable scalability and built-in access to numerous BI applications -- the latter due to the company's constant acquisition of firms specializing in enterprise data access tools, such as those from iPhrase, which IBM purchased late last year. Depending on configuration, OmniFind's search results can be clicked on for further data drill-down. This feature is enabled in part by IBM's capability to search data warehouses. Access control to the search data is enforced by the OmniFind software.
Oracle Secure Enterprise Search: Emphasizing scalability and security, the search index is stored in a secure database and it uses Oracle identity management solutions to control access. It offers the capability to search against document management systems, BI apps, and portals. Searches can be audited and logged as well. The product is undergoing a significant transition (presumably due to Oracle's recent acquisitions) and a new version is not expected until late this year at the earliest. The company was unwilling to discuss features of this version at press time.
X1: The X1 Enterprise Platform from X1 Technologies is an enterprise search engine that federates results from desktop and enterprise search engines -- both from X1 and, uniquely, those of other vendors including Google. X1's highly regarded desktop search software -- considered by many to have the best interface -- is available at no cost.
The enterprise engine is the only one in this list that can search through e-mails and other desktop documents and federate them with back-end searches. X1's own enterprise engine is a scalable solution that can be clustered and centralized across multiple locations or combined with those from the other three vendors in this list. As a result, for compliance and enforcement purposes, X1 is probably the strongest solution currently available.