April 10, 2014
I was disappointed with the news stories about Hewlett Packard’s recent hitch in its git-along. For example, I read “Hewlett Packard Agrees to $108 Million Fine for Foreign Bribes” and saw not one reference to information retrieval, search, and content processing technology. In my view, had HP used the Autonomy technology to process its internal information, IDOL and the Digital Reasoning Engine would have generated some outputs that pointed to anomalies like those the investigators found.
Apparently “findability” is more difficult than it appears even when the company in the spotlight owns one of the go-to search systems. I assumed that it would be trivial to run a few queries and produce documents and “big data” that would show that Hewlett Packard what was cooking in its subsidiaries or with non US deals.
Search apparently was not up to the task because allegations had to be “resolved by third parties.” Apparently it required attorneys and government folks to figure out that HP was taking some short cuts. Here’s a passage I noted:
“Hewlett-Packard subsidiaries created a slush fund for bribe payments, set up an intricate web of shell companies and bank accounts to launder money, employed two sets of books to track bribe recipients, and used anonymous email accounts and prepaid mobile telephones to arrange covert meetings to hand over bags of cash,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz in the Justice Department statement.
Business actions like those mentioned in the Silicon Beat write up make it clear that HP management may not know what is going on or may not be paying attention to existing information about company activities.
Is this an anomaly?
I can’t answer the question, but when investigators from various countries are able to find useful factoids, it raises one question:
What does HP’s much hyped information retrieval system do for company executives?
Was important management information not available to HP’s senior executives? If so, who filtered the digital content?
This $100 million fine comes on the heels of HP’s paying $57 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit about the “personal computer maker’s former management of defrauding shareholders by abandoning a business model it had long touted.” See http://reut.rs/1iUC0re
The persistent HP business model seems to be one that does not engender my confidence in the company.
I am not sure the IDOL search system is at fault. Does HP use Autonomy’s fraud detection components? Why not index content, run queries, and make decisions based on the heterogeneous types of information that Autonomy can process, usually with some effectiveness?
The jury’s still out on search at HP. Two big fines in a short period of time is unsettling to me because both are germane to the effective use of information retrieval technology.
Stephen E Arnold, April 10, 2014
March 20, 2014
The article titled It’s BrightEdge vs. Searchmetrics in SEO Patent Case on Search Engine Watch warns of containing some “dry legalese”, but when it comes to patent infringements that is difficult to avoid. This particular case involves a complaint filed by BrightEdge, which claims that Searchmetrics is illegally using BrightEdge technology. Dennis Goedegbebuure, head of SEO at Airbnb explains Searchmetrics point of view in the article,
“That system was built in 2009, where we built the strategy starting in 2008, far before the patents by BrightEdge were submitted. We would check the ‘share of voice’ of any eBay page ranking for a keyword, and compare our position with the competition on multiple factors, backlinks and on-page factors; after which, we would be able to estimate what would be needed to push those eBay pages upwards in the rankings.”
This may sound like Google spoofers of the SEO variety getting legally frisky. The article explains that most innovative companies take out patents either as a defensive move against “patent trolls” or simply to avoid having there more unique ideas stolen by competitors. Patent controversies are common, and the system is clearly imperfect between combative companies and patents occasionally being awarded to the wrong company.
Chelsea Kerwin, March 20, 2014
February 28, 2014
Google tends to play the innocent when people challenge the company for displaying results with lewd or inappropriate content. After all, Google simply catalogs Internet content and it can’t be held responsible for what others make, right? Wrong says “Google Loses Big In German Reputation Lawsuit” published in Search Engine Journal. Google has been sued before and played this defense. Logically it makes sense, but Google, as the article suggests, is partially responsible. Google’s algorithms rank pages in search results and the company has control over how the search engines works and how it delivers result.
The German case deals with a man who sued Google to remove detrimental photos from search results. He won suits to keep the photos from publication, yet they still appear on the Web. The judge ruled in the defendant’s favor. The article explains that this might set a precedent for Google, but:
“The target of this particular lawsuit suggests in an interview that lawsuits could help to solve this responsibility problem. In essence, he suggests that only people who have completed court cases should be able to remove their photos from Google. It seems smart, but again, I have some concerns. Lawsuits like this are very expensive, and not everyone has the money to hire a lawyer and take time away from work in order to appear in court. Similarly, court cases take months or years to resolve, and they generate a lot of web interest. As a result, people who file often find that their problems are magnified as the case moves forward, and they suddenly have much MORE data to remove.”
Hurdles aside, if someone has the time, money, and patience what is to keep them from suing Google. I can imagine an entire department at Google dedicated to controlling data removal from search results. Brin and Page are probably worrying at this moment.
February 19, 2014
The article titled Debt Maturities May Blow the Whistle on Altegrity on the Deal Pipeline explores the possibilities facing the Virginia based company. Altegrity is a private-equity owned background check company with the subsidiary US Investigations Services Inc. (USIS). The company was responsible for vetting both Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis (the Washington Navy Yard shooter). The article explains,
“In a complaint filed on Jan. 22 in the U.S. District Court … the DOJ suggested penalties of $5,500 to $11,000 per violation of the firm’s quality review protocol for 665,000 cases, or about 40% of the cases Altegrity subsidiary, US Investigations Services Inc., has handled. On the low end of that spectrum, the damages could reach $3.7 billion. However, the fund manager noted that Altegrity could seek to settle the case for a much lower amount, curtailing…a lengthy litigation process.”
A USIS spokesperson defended the company with the statement that the allegations only refer to a small group of people over a short period of time. One looming factor mentioned by S&P analyst Brian Milligan are Altegrity’s 2015 debt maturities, which allow the company some wiggle room for negotiation. We should also note that is the company that has owned Kroll, the corporate security firm, since about 2007. Kroll has a search component acquired from Engenium in 2006.
Chelsea Kerwin, February 19, 2014
February 10, 2014
I read “Fastgründer John Markus Lervik dømt til fengsel.” Assuming the story is accurate, Dr. John Lervik, the founder of Fast Search & Transfer, will serve at least one year in prison. The issue is related to the financial reporting of Fast Search & Transfer.
In 2008, Microsoft purchased the company for about $1 billion, a deal compared to the price Hewlett Packard paid for Autonomy and about what Oracle paid for Endeca. Mr. Lervik will pay to pay legal fees. He will take appropriate legal steps to overturn the decision.
Enterprise search is a tough nut to crack technically and financially. The monetary challenges stem from the brutal costs of marketing and customer support. But these are at least as expensive as the cost of dealing adequately with technical challenges of enterprise search. For example:
- The time required to make a system deliver what the marketers assure customers are “ready to deploy” functions. Most large scale search solutions are not products. These are complex systems. Because each customer has specific requirements, the marketers do not understand that what they sold may take time to create, test, and deliver. Time is money. With an open ended problem, the cost is staggering.
- The problem of responding to crashes. When an enterprise search system flips over and dies, the cause may be the vendor, the reseller, or the client. Unfortunately the vendor takes the heat because many tech centric managers feel the “buck stops here.” Responding when a client is crazy mad is expensive. Failing to address the client’s need may delay payments or trigger legal action. Expensive stuff.
- The need to invest to keep pace with the information environment. Most of the mainstream search systems, including Fast Search and other older systems, focused on text. Handling different file types and different content types is an expensive operation for some vendors. The choice is stark: Spend and develop the components in house, spend money for third party solutions and then spend more to integrate those solutions into the core system, buy a company that has the people and the software needed, or ignore the client. There may be other options, but these four have big price tags. The cost of keeping up is brutal because information retrieval does not stand still.
- Figuring out why routine operations are slow or output unexpected results. Most search systems are far trickier to set up than licensees expect. With many knobs to turn, Fast Search could be tweaked so that results could boost certain content or address relevancy under specific circumstances. In a complex system, like Fast and many others, turning one knob and experimenting with threshold values could cause some darned exciting consequences. Rolling back those changes was an exciting operation in itself. When a Fast engineer had to figure out how to get the system back on track, the work was not trivial. What’s it cost to get an expert engineer to figure out what a licensee did? In many instances, a lot.
If you add up the costs of the technical work required for a complex search system, the need for money is significant. Dr. Lervik is not a financial expert; he is an expert in information retrieval. Not even ex-Googlers are adept managers. Witness the AOL goof related to “distressed babies.”
But a senior manager is expected to find solutions to difficult managerial, technical, and financial challenges. If the news story is true, it seems that Dr. Lervik was caught in a situation that set the stage for the unfortunate drama that has been playing out over the last five years.
The big question is:
Will other search and content processing vendors find themselves in a similar situation?
In my opinion, yes.
Warning signs are easy to spot. When search vendors that are seven or 12 years old continue to suck in venture funding, the warning flags are flying in my opinion. Search is essentially a zero license fee utility at this point. Firms that have yet to return a profit or show significant growth may find themselves taking financial short cuts.
The Xenky analyses make clear that financial stress is nothing new to search vendors. Check out the Convera, Delphes, and Fulcrum Technologies profiles. What’s different is that in today’s business environment, the consequences may be increasingly severe. You can find case studies of search vendors at www.xenky.com/vendor-profiles. There is no charge for these reports. Many describe enterprise search solutions that struggled financially and either shut down or sold out.
Enterprise search is a tough business. A sad quack for Dr. Lervik.
Stephen E Arnold, February 10, 2014
February 10, 2014
Americans in Paris. The stuff of songs. Sometimes Americans and the French struggle to find common ground. There is cheese. French cheese does not often come in shrink wrapped plastic. French wines are different from the stuff whipped up in California.
I noted another example of what I call the “French waiter syndrome.” The FWS refers to the problem some Americans find when ordering a meal in France. The opportunity for misunderstanding increases with the emergence of more and more American traits.
Here’s a recent example: The Google.fr home page.
interesting. I assume ideas about privacy are part of the FWS.
Stephen E Arnold, February 10, 2014
February 3, 2014
A happy quack to the reader who sent me a link to “Max Mosley: Google Is So Arrogant They Do Whatever They Like.” I am not sure about the accuracy of the story, but the tone and approach was interesting to me.
The focus of the article is Max Mosley, who “served as the long-time president of Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for Formula One and other international motor sports. My hunch is that the fellow is not a fan of Google’s self driving vehicles, but I am just speculating.
The gist of the Mosley Google mash up is that:
Google continued to list search results containing links to illegal photos of Mosley. He sued in both France and Germany to have the images automatically filtered out of search results. In November 2013, a Paris court ordered Google to filter out nine images. The California-based company says it has already started the appeals process against that ruling. On Friday, a Hamburg regional court issued a similar verdict. It ordered Google to block six images showing the racing boss in a compromising setting…
Tucked in the article were several comments I jotted down as quotes to note:
- “It is enormously expensive to sue in the US. Besides, to be honest, I have very little confidence in the US courts. If I had sued in England, it would have been seen as an entirely English thing. The truth is that it’s a European issue. And that’s why I took it to Germany and France — both countries have weight in Europe.”
- “If you ask Google to “take down these pictures,” then they do it, even though they aren’t very quick about it. At the same time, Google denies that it has the technological capacity to filter out images. But that’s nonsense. They are actually lying. And this despite their motto “Don’t Be Evil”. There’s something seriously wrong with Google. Technologically, they’re brilliant, sensational. But morally, its management is completely adolescent. The company is so big and so arrogant, they do whatever they like, they think they are above the law.”
- “But in the end it has to decide whether it wants to live in a democracy. Google behaves like an adolescent rebelling against the establishment.”
Mr. Mosley reveals that he uses Gmail, adding, “I am certain that Google reads all my emails.”
Stephen E Arnold, February 3, 2014
January 7, 2014
The Washington Post story “Government Questioned MicroTech about Its Role in HP Fraud Allegations” puts search and content processing in the spotlight. The newspaper is digging into the interesting underbelly of US government contracting. (The full series is at http://wapo.st/19aZwPh.)
I am certain that there are many fascinating tales about the interactions of contractors, contract officers, politicians, and lobbyists. The Washington Post is hopping into the fray and not a minute too soon to probe activities somewhat less fresh than the Healthcare.gov project or a number of higher profile projects, including tanks that are orphans and fighters that are too slow, underarmed, and unable to outperform fighters from certain other countries.
In fact, I think the HP-Autonomy deal closed a couple of years ago and US government contracting has been chugging along in its present form for 40, 50 years. Perhaps the procurement processes will change so that contractors’ business practices can change accordingly.
I found this passage from the Post story interesting:
MicroTechnologies LLC is among two companies and six executives who are said to have taken part in the efforts to boost the revenues of software maker Autonomy before its sale to HP, according to documents prepared by the Air Force deputy general counsel’s office that raised the possibility of barring all the parties from receiving federal contracts.
The Post story was picked up by other “real” journalists, including the estimable Telegraph in the UK (See the British take in “Autonomy Founder Mike Lynch under Fire from US Air Force over HP Claims.”)
After working through the stories, I formed several hypotheses:
- Resellers bundled software, storage, and hardware for clients. The reason may be due to a desire to get an “appliance”, not a box of Lego blocks or to procure a system without having to go through the uncertain process of getting approval for a capital expenditure.
- The indirect sales model used by Autonomy with considerable success required Autonomy to pay money when the reseller picked up the phone and said, “We sold a big deal, and we need cash to move forward” or some variation on this theme that is well known to integrators and resellers.
- The business process in place provided payments to resellers because of the terms of a particular agreement with a reseller or class or partners. Autonomy purchased some resellers and integrators to respond to the challenges the indirect sales model posed to Autonomy since 1998.
- Some combination of factors was arbitrated by Autonomy’s financial team.
Autonomy purchased the Fast Search & Transfer government sales unit and that group may have imported some of Fast Search’s procedures.
With Dr. Michael Lynch inventing video technology like US8392450 and US 8488011 filed coincident with the HP closing, was he able to dive into reseller deals?
The fact is that Autonomy is now a unit of Hewlett Packard. What few pay attention to is another fact. HP was an Autonomy partner for a number of years prior to its purchase of Autonomy. HP was part of Autonomy’s indirect sales channel and presumably knows how procurements, sequesters, allocated funds, and the other arcana of US government procurement “works.”
Dr. Lynch did something no other search or content processing vendor serving the enterprise market was able to do. From the inception of Autonomy in 1996, he exhibited an uncanny knack for recognizing trends and incorporating solutions to information access problems on top of those trends. In the course of Autonomy’s trajectory from 1996 to 2011, Autonomy grew as a modern day roll up that generating almost $850 million in 2011.
I am supportive of a historical understanding of search and content processing. On one hand, Autonomy is now HP’s information processing prodigy. On the other hand, HP may not have the management or technical skills to build on Dr. Lynch’s work.
Oracle paid about $1 billion for Endeca, a system that dates from roughly the same era as Autonomy’s system. But HP paid $11 billion for Autonomy and discovered quickly that surviving and thriving in the odd universe of enterprise search and content processing is tough when the steering wheel is in its hands. Is Dr. Lynch on track when he suggests that his management team was more skilled than some realized?
Investigations into government contracting procedures are quite fascinating. I know from some of my past work that bureaucracies work in mysterious ways.
Perhaps some of these mysteries will be revealed? On the other hand, some of the mysteries may never be known. Where are the Golden Fleece awards today? Do bureaucracies have teeth? Do bureaucracies protect their own? Do special interests exert influence? These are difficult questions.
Maybe there will be answers in 2014? On the other hand, there may be more public relations, content marketing, and spin. I hope those involved with the matter dig into Bayes-Laplace methods, Shannon information theory, and Linear Weight Networks. The methods can help separate noise from high value information.
Stephen E Arnold, January 7, 2014
January 7, 2014
If this tale is true, it gives us a new angle on real journalists. Blogger Nate Thayer charges, “How Ted Koppel and ABC TV Tried to Steal my Life Work.” The freelance journalist’s post begins with a bold move: Thayer declares that though he is legally prohibited from describing what happened, he is doing it anyway. Thayer all but dares his nemeses to try to reclaim their settlement money, which he says went to lawyers and taxes anyway.
As most legal sagas do, this one begins years ago. We are told:
“On July 25, 1997, I was the first outsider to meet Pol Pot since he killed 1.8 million people 20 years before. It was, for a couple of days, the biggest story in the world. I, as a freelance journalist, had the only photographs and video and eyewitness account that existed since Pol Pot did what he did. It was a tumultuous few days of dealing with the very worst of what the big media companies represented.”
See the story for the details (and see here to brush up on Pol Pot), but basically Thayer says ABC agreed to certain terms regarding Thayer’s valuable footage, then brazenly broke them, callously scooping Thayer of 15 years of work.
“My picture, credited to ABC TV, was published on the front pages of hundreds of newspapers around the world, my footage was distributed around the globe, and my story was written in virtually every major news organ on earth, credited to ABC TV, before I actually had written my own story…. ABC distributed transcripts of the trial of Pol Pot I had made and allowed other news organizations to view the video tape with strict instructions to credit ABC for the images and story, and then refused to pay me anything unless I signed a release that they did nothing wrong and I promised not to take legal action against them. I refused.”
After spending seven years in court over this betrayal, and winning, why publish these charges now? It looks like Thayer is more interested in exposing ABC as a nest of journalistic-integrity-challenged cads than in recompense. Naturally, there are multiple sides to every story; we don’t know what Koppel and company would have to say about the matter. Though ABC may not wish to dignify the angry article with a response, apparently Thayer has gotten a lot of positive feedback on his post.
Cynthia Murrell, January 07, 2013
December 10, 2013
Those of us who have worked in IT have an idea just how complicated and frustrating computing systems are to set up and maintain. To the rest of the world, though, it seems like the process of implementing even a large system should be much more straightforward than it is. Those tasked with having a certain infamous healthcare website built can probably sympathize with the plaintiff in a case Business Insider calls to our attention in, “Bridgestone Sues IBM for $600 Million Over Allegedly ‘Defective’ System that Plunged the Company into ‘Chaos.’”
According to Bridgestone‘s suit, the huge system they paid IBM $75 million to build for them suffered from “system-wide failures” from day one, and has cost the tire company greatly in cash and hassle. For its part, IBM insists the problems resulted from Bridgestone failing to hold up their end. Not only did the company try to implement the system before it was ready, says Big Blue, they were guilty of “repeated failure” to do what IBM told them needed to be done for the system to work properly. (The article does not specify what, exactly.)
Personally, I am inclined to sympathize with IT pros, even those at the biggest firms. However, I think we must acknowledge that the convoluted nature of computing systems sets the tech category up for trouble in a world where consumers expect quick-and-easy service with a smile.
The article reminds us:
“When it comes to massive multimillion custom-built computer systems, problems frequently happen. Half of IT projects with budgets of over $15 million dollars run 45% over budget and are 7% behind schedule, according to research from McKinsey. IBM seems to have its share of troubled projects. In August, Pennsylvania killed a contract with IBM because, as of July, the project was $60 million over budget and over three years late.”
Will IBM find a way to overcome such troubles? Perhaps Watson can help find the answer.
Cynthia Murrell, December 10, 2013