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ISYS Search Software

An Interview with Scott Coles

Scott Coles of ISYS Search Software

Several years ago, I was trying to find a search system that would allow me to make sense of Google's patent documents and technical papers. I needed a system that could ingest lengthy documents and update the base index quickly. I also needed a system that would perform entity extraction. My point of entry to Google's technical information is the name of the Googlers involved in a particular invention or technical project. I ran a number of tests and the ISYS Search system became my workhorse five years ago.

In my April 2008 study, Beyond Search, for the Gilbane Group, I identified five companies involved in search and content processing and organizations to watch. ISYS Search Software made that short list as well.

The company has grown rapidly and now has a new CEO, Scott Coles. I wanted to find out what his plans for ISYS Search Software would be. Search and content processing has become a crowded market sector. Most organizations with search systems now face user demands for more than key word retrieval.

I recently spoke with Mr. Coles. The full text of the interview is below.

I understand that you have joined ISYS recently as the company's US president. What's your background?

I think you could say that my background is evenly divided between leadership of technology development and business development. In the mid nineties I was fortunate enough to head up one of the first Bell Labs R&D groups outside the US, and more recently I had executive leadership roles with EDS and Avaya. The common theme throughout my career would be the commercialization of innovation and the positioning of technology as an enabler of efficiency in business. A great fit for where Enterprise Search finds itself today.

As you learn more about the ISYS technology and the uses of the system by ISYS customers, what are the key strengths of the system that you have identified?

Certainly the key aspect of the company that was apparent to me from day one was the long history ISYS has in Enterprise Search. This translates to a tremendously reliable core search engine that underpins our product line. We are seeing significant increase in other software vendors coming to us to license our engine for incorporation into their products. This marks a general industry trend that I believe will increase significantly in the coming year. A number of applications today that previously had either none or only rudimentary search are finding that their products can be significantly enhanced with a sophisticated search engine. The amount of data that these applications have to deal with is now becoming so large that some form of pre-processing to narrow down to that which is relevant is becoming essential.

Where does search fit into organizations in 2009?

This question may well become where doesn’t it fit! Almost everything we do inside an organization requires decisions based on information. As the amount of available information increases so does our use of search to limit the information to that which is relevant. It is this idea of relevance that is driving a lot of what we do here at ISYS.

What is making search more important to organizations in the present economic climate?

There are a couple of things to bear in mind here. Firstly, as we head into economically more difficult times, people are going to be asked to do more with less. That will translate to a lot of scrutiny on business efficiency. Any business tool that can increase efficiency will become more important to organizations, and Search certainly falls into this category.

Secondly, whether it is driven by legislation or otherwise, there is a significant increase in document retention in every business. If you retain documents, you need to be able to find them later; finding them of course requires products like ISYS!

Users continue to complain that some enterprise search systems are too difficult to use, lack the needed information, and cannot be customized to a user's needs? How is ISYS responding to these market demands?

A product that is difficult to use won’t get used to its full capability. We have spent a lot of time over the years engineering our products to work ‘out of the box’ to allow people to get up and running very quickly, whether they are a single user or the administrator of a large network installation.

The other point to make here is around relevance. It is not for the search engine, or search engine provider, to determine what is relevant in a given search. Relevance is relative. Different people searching the same set of data will have a different view on what is relevant to them. Successful search engines provide the best tools and the best interface to allow users to customize and interact with the application to define what is relevant to them.

SharePoint seems to be the de facto choice for as many as 100 million organizations wanting content management, search, and collaboration. Where does ISYS fit into a SharePoint installation?

ISYS provides the ability for a user to search any or all corporate data silos from a single user interface. An enterprise using SharePoint for content management is likely to have information repositories outside the scope of SharePoint, for example relational databases, file-systems, email, accounting data, and other document management systems. ISYS can search all data, both inside and outside of SharePoint. In addition, ISYS provides high quality relevant results through features such as Boolean search operators, multi-dimensional clustering, and many others for which SharePoint users have expressed a desire that are currently not available in the native SharePoint product.

Five years ago, the leading vendors in search were Autonomy, Convera, Endeca, Fast, and Verity. Today, only Autonomy and Endeca are independent companies. Companies such as ISYS and a handful of others have grown rapidly. What has contributed to the success of ISYS in a market that has experienced significant attrition?

Well, I think there are probably a couple of answers to this, at different ends of the spectrum; firstly, search is becoming a valuable asset that is attractive to companies without that technology in house. While some companies are not around anymore I would still rate them as successful as the technology or products they had were of enough interest to others to prompt an acquisition.

The other answer to this question is that companies in any industry can fail if they extend themselves outside their core competency. We have been in the enterprise search business for 20 years; it is the only business we are in and we happen to be very good at it.

Some vendors of search and text processing have almost abandoned the enterprise market. A good example is Stratify, which is now part of Iron Mountain, a records management company. Stratify is almost exclusively a system for lawyers involved in litigation. What specialized markets is ISYS serving? What are the functions and features of the ISYS system that customers have found attractive?

I think the above is a good example of people and business gravitating towards what they are good at. Over the years we have found four key industry verticals and one product niche have emerged for us: government, law enforcement, legal and recruitment are all good markets for us. Customers in each of these areas find our products attractive for different reasons. For example a number of our successes in large government installations are due to our web product’s speed and scalability while our desktop product is a favorite with law enforcement organizations because of its accuracy and entity detection. On the product side, our SDK is finding favor with OEMs and ISVs because of its fast and efficient indexing speed not to mention the increasing need to incorporate fully functional search into various applications.

With a new release of ISYS just out, what are some of the key features that you see fitting into the market's needs in 2009?

Due to the regulatory compliance factors mentioned previously, we’re seeing an increased need for tools that help make sense of the data you have, before typing even a single query. These days, it’s more than simply reducing the costs associated with looking for information; it’s about eliminating the risks associated with NOT finding information when the stakes are high.

Our customers are dealing with mission-critical data, so we’ve taken great care to ensure our new “intelligent content analysis” methods are reliable, predictable and easily understood by the end user. These include parametric search and navigation, visual timeline refinement bars, intelligence clouds, de-duplication and intelligent query expansion. We’ve even added additional post-query processing to help streamline the e-discovery process. The end result is a core set of new capabilities that help our customers better cull and refine efficiently, without cutting corners on accuracy or relevance.

I am on record as using the ISYS system to analyze various technical document collections. One of the characteristics of ISYS that impresses me is the speed with which I can index a large chunk of content; that is, thousands of very large documents. What has ISYS done to deliver what I have described as "excellent content processing performance"?

Because of our work on early computer systems, ISYS has always paid attention to hardware limitations and bottlenecks. It is this careful attention to the limitations of processor and disk access speed coupled with the development of our own file reader set that has allowed us to retain a level of efficiency that sets industry benchmarks. Other solutions often rely on 3rd party content processing tools that can severely impact performance.

I know that ISYS can be integrated into other third party systems. Would you describe one of the more interesting integrated applications a licensee has performed using the ISYS API?

The more interesting applications that our partners are creating all make use of the speed of the ISYS engine to perform real time analysis of data. One company is using ISYS to process media streams on the fly to deliver tailored hourly reports to their clients reporting on where their customers and competitors appear in the press, on radio or on television ... in near real time.

Another is EMC with its EmailXtender family of products. These products use ISYS to index millions of emails and attachments a day. So much content flows through these email servers that if indexing slowed down or stopped – it could literally never catch up.

I recall that I first learned about ISYS from a law enforcement professional. What has allowed ISYS to capture a large, loyal, and growing following in that market?

Yes, law enforcement is a big market for us, both here in the US and around the world. The feedback we get is that our speed of indexing, search accuracy and the ability to create very complex menu-assisted queries have all contributed to this great following. Compared with our competition, we have the highest penetration in law enforcement, police forces and criminal intelligence, so we must be doing something right.

As you look at the forces rippling through the enterprise market, what are three or four of the major trends you see becoming important in the months ahead?

Three that are having a major effect are; the information explosion, mobile access to information and personalized experience.

According to Forrester Research, the volume of information is growing by 50% year on year. The price of storage and the ease with which we communicate electronically have helped fuel this growth. Duplication of content is also a factor. Information access solutions now need to be able to detect and remove duplicate content.

The massive uptake of devices such as Blackberries and iPhones underlies an expectation that users will have access to their own, as well as corporate, information anytime and anywhere. Mobile access to corporate information informs faster decision making and adaptation to changing circumstances.

For example, if you are out of the office and receive an email regarding a contract dispute, you need to be able to pull up and review the contract before you can give an appropriate response. The original contract may reside in another email, or on your desktop, or on a corporate server. Search and Access solutions must provide tailored access to content from these devices in the same way they deliver access via a user’s desktop or intranet portal.

Personalized experience is becoming more important as users become more demanding of the systems they interact with, and applications search for ways to become more efficient. In search, for example, the location and role of an individual plays a large part in determining the relevance.

I know Version 9 has just been released. Would you be able to identify some of the new features and functions that we are likely to see in Version 10 of the system?

Well, for specifics, watch this space – let’s not give too much away to our competitors! But I will say that the enterprise search engine of the future will use intelligent data source gathering agents, will search by example and with more context and will process questions the same ways humans do. I think you’ll find the next generation of both our retail products and embedded components will build on these areas to deliver a more intuitive and relevant information access and discovery experience.

Arnold IT Analysis

Fast indexing, entity extraction, automatic classification--these are features that I find useful in my work. In my work with law enforcement, I have learned that ISYS Search Software has a strong following in this market sector. The system is easy to set up and use. With Version 9, ISYS Search Software's engineers have added a number of enhancements. The system scales and provides a "snap in" solution for Microsoft SharePoint licensees who want a more robust search solution. You can get more information about the ISYS Version 9 system here.

Stephen E. Arnold, December 1, 2008

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