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Friday, March 27, 2009

Unified Access for Enterprise Content: Is Search Technology the Key?

While many suppliers of enterprise content technology are struggling to define a path towards growth this year, one arena that continues to hold its own in the face of adverse market conditions is enterprise search. According to IDC analyst Sue Feldman, one of our most trusted sources of content technology intelligence, the enterprise search market grew by approximately 22% in 2008, not even pausing for breath in the fourth quarter. Enterprises around the world are seeking out ways to get more "bang for their buck" from their information resources, trying to corral all of their knowledge assets into easily accessed collections through search technologies.

Feldman notes that vendors are starting to gain traction with a concept called “unified access” — the ability to pull content from a variety of internal and external sources into a single platform. As the company which has been trying to "unify everything" for our OEM partners for years, the fact that vendors are beginning to focus on pulling together disparate content sources through search engines and other technologies comes as no surprise. The main question is, are most enterprise-oriented content and technology companies truly ready to supply their clients what they need to provide truly unified access to content? And, perhaps more to the point, do they really understand what is required for successful unified access from both a content and a technology perspective?

What seems to be happening is that many technology companies which have been focused on "nuts and bolts" enterprise technology issues such as data storage, document management and networking are beginning to discover that there are strong pressures from their client base to deliver more than nuts and bolts and software for the princely sums that their products and services have commanded in the past. Some of these companies have been thinking of themselves as "information companies" for many years, but then discovering that there is a gap between what their own particular flavor of technology can deliver to their clients and what their clients really consider to be valuable information services. Managing files or databases is one thing: pulling together every conceivable information resource needed into a cost-effective framework that meets everyone's group and individual needs for information is quite another.

And the needs of enterprises for information don't stop at merely federating the right search engine results into a common framework. Sue Feldman mentions in a recent report that enterprise content users are particularly keen to get subscription content melded in with internal and Web resources far more effectively than in the past. It's an "on demand" world today, making subscriptions for fixed collections of content for fixed groups of users less attractive than being able to extend rights to subscription content to the people who really need it in the "here and now." These are problems that subscription information services wrestle with regularly, but they're generally not the kind of thing that technology companies focus on deeply. Similarly, subscription information services companies generally tread fairly lightly on the really knotty enterprise content integration issues that technology companies focus on regularly.

How does a technology company shoehorn content from thousands of different types of content sources, including any number of subscription information resources, into a cohesive whole that protects the value of their brand? Well, search technologies can play a key role, but it takes more than a simple crawl of easily accessed content sources to pull all of the content that an enterprise needs from internal and external sources into a common framework. Most search engines are geared to handle just a handful of different types of content repositories. In the typical enterprise there may be hundreds and even thousands of different kinds of content sources that need to be brought into a common framework. Even if you were able to crawl all of those sources with one search engine, good luck building a common index for them. The timeliness and size of that index would always be a major design and maintenance compromise.

As the leading source of OEM content integration technologies, MuseGlobal finds itself oftentimes at the intersection of these very thorny issues. Enterprise technology companies need to respond rapidly to client demands for completely integrated content sources that cross many different technology suppliers while maintaining the value of their core technologies in the eyes of their clients. Enterprise information companies need to be able to "play the game" of enterprise information integration successfully with whatever technologies suit their clients best - while maintaining a clearly understandable value proposition to the people using and paying for their content. In both instances the key to a viable solution for both the short term and the long term lies oftentimes in MuseGlobal's ability to unify access to more types of content from more types of content sources than any other content integration technology available today.

That's why MuseGlobal's Smart Connector technologies are so popular these days. Smart Connectors enable connectivity to thousands of different types of content sources on an "on demand" basis from any technology platform, combining in a common format all of the information that someone needs into the most relevant "just-in-time" information that people need based on a single query. Then Smart Connectors can push back to those sources whatever updates that clients may need to post to them.

MuseGlobal has done it hundreds of times for thousands of enterprise installations for nearly a decade. How can enterprise subscription information services ensure that their clients will not lose sight of their services as their complex integration needs threaten to leave their products and services out of the picture? MuseGlobal's ability to integrate not just content sources but complex and multi-layered security and access permissioning into simple and easily administered single sign-ons for their users ensures that their content will be at their clients' fingertips on whatever platform suits them best. Best of all, it's all stuff that we've done again and again - we've ironed out pretty much all of the big issues that most companies will face in staring down the challenges of unified access to content.

It turns out that although search solutions are a big part of what people are willing to invest in these days that it takes far more than search alone to meet their expectations. It takes the ability to unify absolutely everything into the freshest and most relevant information resources available, the ability to do it rapidly, cost-effectively and efficiently, the ability to maintain the unity of your content sources with as little work as possible and the ability to keep potentially complex administration needs from turning a beautiful solution into a cauldron of troublesome issues. This is all do-able stuff - or, should I say, done stuff. At least we think so. "Bang for the buck" from unified access is not news to us - it's just what it takes to do unified access right.

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