SBAs: Information Tools Where One Size Does Not Fit All

First of all, thanks to Bill Ives for his post about Exalead and Search-Based Applications (SBAs).

In my discussions with Bill and others, I’ve heard a consistent refrain that an essential element of SBAs is that they enable an immediate action as opposed to providing more content for research. As Bill points out in his post, there is a compelling business case for making decisions with speedy access to as much relevant data as possible. This is exactly what SBAs allow business users to do.

An illustrative example would be our partner, the vdR group, who is using Exalead CloudView OEM to create SBAs for engineering and manufacturing organizations. Their product, Partrieve, enables engineers to locate specifications and designs for re-use in new projects. Simply put, Partrieve empowers vdR’s customers to be more efficient, to lower manufacturing costs and, ultimately, to improve profitability. It’s not a big jump from this example to say that SBAs in general empower people (and, by extension, businesses) to do their work more efficiently and creatively…and isn’t this an essential cornerstone of search technology?

As with any tool, however, the trick is in making the right design decisions so that its strengths are in line with the needs it is built to address. Based on our experience with applications we’ve helped develop and deploy, we see three unique, SBA-specific categories of capability: Usability, Agility and Performance.

  • Because SBAs generally serve thousands or even millions of users, they need to be immediately usable and useful, without requiring extensive training (read: without being a time suck).
  • In today’s fluid, rapidly evolving world, SBAs need to be eminently adaptable to proprietary, changing business practices and to evolving information needs.
  • Given the large amounts of information that are often sourced, the high activity of user communities and the need to constantly update information in real time, unwavering performance levels – at an affordable cost – is a critical must.

Though these broad requirements are consistent across businesses and industries, the specific needs of any given organization are unique and likely to change over time. This is why a “one-size-fits-all” approach to search is dangerous. In every industry, tools are the quintessential means of improving productivity, but these tools need to be specially designed and customizable to achieve tailored results and provide the desired and user-demanded differentiation. So, we think there will be a ‘long-tail’ of SBAs alongside general-purpose search tools from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft just as there are special purpose tools for producing today’s wide spectrum of products and materials.

The result is that every organization will be able to reap the decision-making benefits of an SBA that is right-sized to meet their needs.