Attivio: Dines on Data Dexterity

March 7, 2016

Attivio was founded by some former Fast Search & Transfer executives. Attivio also had a brush with a board member who found himself in a sticky wicket. Quite a pedigree.

I read “Enterprise Search Takes Its Place at the Big Data Table.” The write up is built upon an interview with the chief executive officer of Attivio. Nice looking fellow who had a degree in music and marketing and an MBA from Wharton, the institution which helped educate Donald Trump.

What caught my attention were these points in the write up. My observations are in italics:

  • Enterprise search has been around for two decades. [Nah, enterprise search is closing in on 50 years of fun and delight.]
  • Enterprise search “finds unstructured content housed in file shares like SharePoint and other content management systems, in email archives, and in the content repositories of applications like customer relationship management. [Yep, and that is part of the problem with enterprise search. The bulk of the systems I have examined do not handle video, audio, binaries, and odd ball file types like those in ANB format very well or not at all. Plus users expect comprehensive results updated in near real time presented in a form which allows instant use.]
  • Enterprise search does analytics and accelerated data discovery. [Yep, if the customer licenses a system like BAE NetReveal, the Palantir platform, or another industrial-strength fusion vendor.]

What I found interesting was the phrase “reducing the time to insight.” There is a suggestion from Attivio and from other vendors that their systems process digital content in a super fast mode.

In our testing, we have found that throughput for new content can require considerable investment in engineering and processing capability. Furthermore, dealing with flows from intercepts or other high volume content sources, most enterprise search systems cannot handle:

  • Processing large flows of content in a matter of minutes. Hours or days is a more suitable time unit
  • Updating the index or indexes
  • Integrating real time data into search results, reports, and visualizations in a dynamic manner.

That’s why outfits who are emulating Palantir-style information access use open source search and then invest hundreds of millions in specialized engineering, interfaces, and fusion technologies.

Enterprise search vendors chasing Palantir-type systems are delivering what marketers find quite easy to describe. Here’s an example:

Not only that, but many enterprises can only “see” 10 percent of their data. The other ninety percent remains hidden—dark data. Data is often locked in silos, and it’s just too time-consuming to get it out. And making connections across structured, semi-structured, and unstructured information to serve to a BI tool is a completely manual, slow process – although highly valuable for developing strategic insights. Organizations that can cross this chasm will be poised to transform productivity, mitigate risks, and seize market opportunities.

The only hitch in the git along is that systems which handle “dark data” are available now. There are outfits able to handle “dark” data today. True, these are not based on enterprise search concepts because the core of a utility function is not a solid foundation for next generation information access. There are platforms which deliver actionable outputs. Even more interesting is that the US government is funding research to develop next generation systems designed to leap frog Palantir, i2, DCGS-A, and many other solutions.


Marketing is one thing. Delivering a system which works reliably, exhibits consistency, and integrates with work flows is a work in progress.

The notion that a Fast-type system can deliver what a Palantir-type system does is something I believe is wordsmithing. Watson does wordsmithing; others deliver next generation information access. Has Attivio hit a home run with its new positioning? Is the Attivio solution a starter for the Hickory Crawdads? My hunch the folks investing $70 million in Attivio want to start for the Boston Red Sox this year. Play ball.

Stephen E Arnold, March 7, 2016


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