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September 28, 2011

Table of Contents

Business intelligence ramps up the power for business users
Ness Computing Releases Personal Search Engine App
High-volume capture enhancements from Kofax
Managing SharePoint in the cloud
Vizit adds search and social features to SharePoint
Google Shuts Down Fast Flip in "Fall Spring-Clean"
Influencer Exchange unveiled by Appinions
Covario and Kenshoo Align to Provide Joint Search Marketing Solution
Enterprise Search Summit Expands to Europe

Business intelligence ramps up the power for business users

Business intelligence (BI) software solutions have been evolving steadily to become more usable by business analysts. Given the amount of information that is collected and stored electronically, the incentive is strong to get value from it. But to do so, business users must be able to access it themselves, not wait for a report from IT.

The city of Charlotte, N.C., known for its banking industry, is consistently rated as one of the best places to live and work in the United States. The city government's key business units support a multitude of services that are provided to Charlotte's half-million residents. To manage and improve those services, the city must monitor the performance of its business units across a wide range of activities.

BI tools have proven to be an effective way to analyze performance and provide dashboards, but the development time using some of the available BI tools was unacceptably long. That led the Charlotte's Business Support Services/Information Technology (BSS/IT) leaders to search for a software product that could present visualizations quickly and help users make valid, data-driven decisions.

Reaping return on investment

The software would need to empower business users, be easy to use and have a strong set of built-in visualization tools. Those capabilities, plus an affordable price, landed Tableau Desktop from Tableau Software at the top of BSS/IT's list. "We now have approximately 40 users licensed for Tableau Desktop," says Jim Raper, manager of the data administration team for the city of Charlotte. "We have also installed a similar number of the user version of Tableau, which is Web-based, along with hundreds of copies of the free reader."

One of the attractive features of Tableau is the ability to easily bring data in for analysis. For instance, users can drag and drop fields into Tableau for analysis, and the software easily connects to other data programs. "Connecting to Oracle, SQL Server, Access and Excel is routine," says Raper. "We just have to hit the ‘Connect to Data' button and provide the name of the database and the table we want."

An example of the type of analysis that provides a compelling case for Tableau's ROI was a comparison of the impact of oil additives on the fuel mileage of city refuse collection trucks. Raper explains, "We put the data into Tableau, and in 15 minutes we discovered that one of the additives was not improving mileage. This piece of data helped save the city $50,000 in future expenditures."

In the past, business users might look at a report generated by BSS/IT and realize they had not asked quite the right question. A second iteration would follow, with the user waiting in the queue for the updated analysis report. With Tableau, users who want to tweak their initial analysis are able to do so themselves. "Putting a top-quality tool in the hands of non-IT users helps them be more productive," Raper says, "and my staff is now able to focus on the more challenging questions that might be problematic for business users."

The visualization capability of Tableau is another strong point, according to Raper. "The default visualizations are generally best practice from the viewpoint of what the eye can assimilate," he says. Dashboards are also quick and easy to create. Data can be shown on a map and color-coded to indicate performance levels.

Live, Web-based training is offered by Tableau twice a week at no cost. "Having all the training available for free is quite unusual," says Raper. "Since training budgets are often the first thing to be cut when budgets are tightened, that has been very helpful." Occasional users can always go back for a refresher. "Between the online training and a half-hour session of side-by-side mentoring, our non-technical users are ready to go," he adds.

To help polish users' skills, Charlotte's BI community stages a BI Olympiad every two years, in which business units across the city compete. "Each team is given the task of picking a real business problem, finding the data and presenting it in a dashboard along with a write-up for a decision maker to evaluate," explains Raper. In the final round, teams are presented with a critical scenario the city needs to contend with: most recently, the simultaneous arrival of a hurricane, gas crisis and bioterrorism. The teams have 24 hours to come up with a BI solution that provides information useful in responding to the situation, presented in a visually effective manner. "Although the teams can use any BI tool they want," says Raper, "the top three all used Tableau, because the analyses could be done so quickly."

Designed for broad use

Tableau Software emerged from software developed at Stanford University for a defense project. Its chief scientist and one of Tableau's co-founders, Pat Hanrahan, was a founding employee at Pixar, where he was chief architect of an innovative rendering protocol for graphics. The combination of query capabilities and strong computer graphics for visualization have helped Tableau take root in about 6,000 companies in nearly 100 countries.

"Because it's so easy to use, people enjoy working with Tableau," says Elissa Fink, VP of marketing at Tableau. "Our customers range from Fortune 100 companies to mom-and-pop shops. Companies do not need a dedicated staff to get value from the product; on the contrary, it is designed for broad use." A customer of Tableau's before going to work there, Fink had been stymied in her efforts to extract meaningful data from traditional BI products. "With Tableau, users can get started right away, and gain insights from the very beginning," she says.

Automating the scorecard

Companies that move from manual processes to a BI system experience a quantum leap in their ability to provide timely analyses of operational data. ResCare provides services to more than a million people with special needs each year. To monitor its performance, the company prepared a scorecard that covered major business areas, including financial data, risk management and customer satisfaction. One employee gathered information from numerous sources in different formats and media, including both paper and electronically stored information, and aggregated it to produce the scorecard. The process took up to eight weeks and was completed on a quarterly basis.

Wanting to automate the process, ResCare hired a consulting firm to provide an intensive, objective assessment of available BI options. The study took about six months and narrowed the choice to three vendors. After carefully considering a large set of decision factors, ResCare selected two products from Oracle, Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation and Oracle Business Intelligence Application.

The implementation was done with two primary goals in mind. "We wanted to have a much quicker turnaround time for our analyses," says Joe Lichtefeld, VP of application services at ResCare. "Seeing data two or three months later did not provide us with the decision-making capability we needed. At the same time, we wanted the analyses to reach more people so they could benefit from the information."

Financial data was the first area addressed by the system. "As a longtime Oracle customer, we were able to leverage a lot of data from our enterprise system," Lichtefeld says. "Some of the data is still coming from spreadsheets, but rather than being dealt with manually, the spreadsheets are put on a shared network drive and the BI software picks it up from there."

The Oracle BI solution displays data on a dashboard that is tailored to the employee's role. "The biggest benefit that we are seeing, which is what we had hoped for, is that executive directors of the individual units can see data at the level of their operations, the regional manager can view it from that level and so on," adds Lichtefeld. In the past, the information was available in theory, yet not readily accessible. "Now, in 20 minutes, our employees can look at the main metrics for their business activities," he says.

A dashboard shows the five business areas, with a green indicator if all performance targets are being met, and red if there is a problem. If trouble is indicated, the user can drill down to find the specific source. The dashboard layout is identical for each user, but the default data shown is appropriate to his or her level. Some of the performance measures are shown as bar charts and others as pie charts.

Initially, the plan was to focus on the financial data portion of the scorecard, because the BI system could connect to the Oracle data quickly. But before the system was launched, ResCare decided that it wanted to include all the elements of the scorecard. "We are a service business," Lichtefeld explains. "We believe that providing quality services is equally important with cost-effectiveness, so we delayed the project in order to incorporate all the metrics, including customer satisfaction."

The data is refreshed from the data warehouse each evening, to provide daily updates for one of the lines of business. For other units, the updates take place at varying times. "Rather than seeking real-time monitoring, we aim at ‘right time' measures and a single version of the truth," Lichtefeld says.

Oracle's Business Intelligence Suite offers the advantage of being able to integrate readily with financial data contained in other Oracle systems. Its scalability and strength in handling complex analytics also make it attractive to organizations that want the options of extending their BI applications over time.

Real-time Web data for enhanced BI

Increasingly, information that could be valuable to have in BI systems is available on the Web, but extracting it for inclusion in data warehouses is difficult. Kapow Katalyst Platform from Kapow Software is an application integration product that performs extraction, transformation and integration from any Web-based data source without needing an API. "We work with BI vendors to get data that is important but cannot be obtained through traditional means," says Stefan Andreasen, CTO and founder of Kapow Software.

Kapow Katalyst provides real-time information for applications such as competitive and financial intelligence. "Katalyst can automate any repetitive tasks on the Web, such as navigating through pages on a website and extracting and transforming pricing data for cameras, for example," Andreasen says. "A company can then use that information to adjust its own prices to be more competitive." Kapow Katalyst can also seek out and extract qualitative data from social media, imposing metadata such as date, title and author name as well as removing "noise" such as ads and navigation.

As another example, Fiserv, which provides technology solutions to financial institutions, is using Kapow Katalyst to automate access to external financial accounts. Prior to using Katalyst, four people were logging into 300 Web banking

applications and manually copying data into spreadsheets. The process took a week and ran the risk of errors. By using the solution, each bank was in effect converted into an ETL feed and the data was available in near real time.

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Ness Computing Releases Personal Search Engine App

Ness Computing debuted its personal search engine app in Apple's App Store as a featured app. The free app, called Ness, tailors search results specifically to each user, learning a person's preferences over time and considering friend's recommendations when providing search results. It is driven by Ness' Likeness Engine, which employs machine learning (including collaborative filtering), social graph data mining, and natural language processing to determine personal preference. Next, it collects any recommendations from friends on third-party sites like Facebook and Foursquare. Ness computes a Likeness Score of 0-100% that predicts how much the person will enjoy each result.

Ness is part of a new category of search engines, which are designed to use mobile and social data to create personally relevant and individually targeted search results. The first search category Ness supports is restaurants. In the future, Ness plans to extend its offering to other lifestyle categories, including music, shopping, nightlife, and entertainment, all within the same app.


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High-volume capture enhancements from Kofax

Kofax has optimized its Capture platform to enable users to more easily and effectively manage information.

The company reports it offers customers a consistent process for securely capturing all types of inbound information at the perimeter of their organization and extracting and validating the accuracy of information on which that enterprise thrives. The new and existing features of Kofax capture driven process automation solutions enable users to more easily capture high volumes of information in any format or language from any location; separate, classify, extract and validate critical information; and deliver process-ready digital information to any system, application or service.

Kofax emphasizes the following new capabilities:

  • browser-based deployment—additionally, Kofax Capture can now be launched or initiated from within existing enterprise applications and thin-client solutions, tightly integrating the capture flow with other systems of record or core business applications;
  • a new user-centric interface—a standardized user interface facilitates ease of use while reducing training and support costs;
  • new customization tools—improved filtering and search capabilities, as well as enhanced workflow capabilities and expanded application programming interfaces (APIs) allow administrators to customize and prioritize applications; and
  • expanded language packs—client-facing applications can run in the user’s preferred language, and multiple language applications can run on a single server.

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Managing SharePoint in the cloud

Ensim, recognized for its public and hybrid cloud infrastructure solutions, reports upgrades to its SharePoint Manager, including enhanced provisioning, management automation and compliance capabilities for Microsoft’s SharePoint Server 2010.

Ensim reports key enhancements for Ensim Unify SharePoint Manager include:

  • automated provisioning of SharePoint sites, including site collection and sub-sites—allows administrators to centralize administration of SharePoint and implement chargeback mechanisms if required;
  • managing user permissions on various SharePoint sites so users can meet compliance goals by providing an accurate picture of who has access to each area; and
  • SharePoint group management—allows employees to add themselves to SharePoint groups based on IT policy.
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    Vizit adds search and social features to SharePoint

    Vizit has released Version 4.0 of its namesake software. The latest iteration includes new visual search and social collaboration capabilities for SharePoint 2010.

    Version 4.0 contains thumbnail previews to its Essential component, making it possible to place previews next to SharePoint lists and search results. The new version also includes Social eXchange (SX), which integrates social conversations with SharePoint content, workflow, records management and security. Social eXchange enables SharePoint users to highlight content and invite co-workers to engage in conversations. Social eXchange conversations take on the security and governance policies of the associated content. SharePoint workflows can also initiate Social eXchange conversations by sending out invitations to workgroups to share input on content placed in a SharePoint repository.

    Along with Version 4.0, Vizit is releasing a fully documented Application Programming Interface (API), making it easier to integrate Vizit into a SharePoint implementation.

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    Google Shuts Down Fast Flip in "Fall Spring-Clean"

    Google is performing a "fall spring-clean" over the coming months, according to its blog. The company is shutting down some of its products and services, and modifying some of its existing products to incorporate features from the discontinued products. Among the shuttered products is Google's Fast Flip, a service that assembled news webpages as thumbnails that the reader could flip through, as though they were printed paper on a newsstand.

    The list of 10 products that will be shut down includes Google Notebook, Sidewiki, Google Desktop, and Google Image Labeler. Some of the services have been rendered irrelevant or redundant due to the advent of web-based apps and cloud computing. Google plans to give its users sufficient notice and support in the transition from one product to another.


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    Influencer Exchange unveiled by Appinions

    Appinions has debuted Influencer Exchange, a new service designed to identify, analyze, engage and monitor opinion and thought leaders on social and traditional media.

    The company reports the Influencer Exchange is a user-defined, topic-based platform that leverages the power of opinions discovered on media. Appinions offers a 14-day trial during which registered users can create an unlimited number of topics.

    The company adds that the platform enables PR agencies, marketers and publishers to exploit the power of opinions and influencers to provide constituents with more relevant and interesting content that can be sourced from across the Web or specific sources.

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    Covario and Kenshoo Align to Provide Joint Search Marketing Solution

    Covario, Inc. and Kenshoo, providers of digital marketing solutions, announced an agreement to deliver search and social marketing solutions for enterprise marketers. Under the agreement, Covario will license Kenshoo's digital marketing software to enable scalable online media buying and optimization for paid search and paid social advertising. The two companies will co-develop and integrate a paid and organic search solution.

    The integration combines Covario's SEO technologies, including Covario Organic Search Insight and Covario Organic Search Optimizer, with Kenshoo's online campaign management products Kenshoo Enterprise, Kenshoo Local, and Kenshoo Social. The Covario-Kenshoo solution is designed to drive improvements in the performance of search marketers' paid and organic search programs. Covario began rolling out the solution with Kenshoo for a number of existing paid search clients. A prototype for the integrated organic and paid search solution is expected in the months ahead.


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    Enterprise Search Summit Expands to Europe

    Join us in London this October for two days of plenary and panel sessions, technical and implementation tracks, and case studies from corporate, public sector and not-for-profit organisations, supported by a range of networking opportunities to promote debate and dialogue and help you to learn from your peers.

    Topics covered include:

    • multilingual search
    • open source search applications
    • federated search
    • search centres of excellence
    • search business case development
    • mobile search
    • SharePoint search
    • technology trends
    • enterprise search analytics
    • search based applications
    Enterprise Search Europe, 24-25 October 2011, Hilton London Olympia.

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