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An introduction to search-based applications

Search Based Applications (SBA) are applications based on search engines. They are designed for users who want to discover and analyse information. They usually require processing large amounts of data, processing data in real-time or handling unstructured or semi-structured data, among others. To handle these requirements, they benefit from the appropriate processes already used by search engines (scalable foundations and natural language processing, for example).
Input data can be structured (databases…) but also unstructured (Office documents, PDF, mails…) or even coming from other applications (ERP, CRM, intranet, extranet…).

Unlike traditional search engines, SBA provide ad-hoc interfaces to data (dashboards, mashups…), so that the user can access the right information without necessarily having to perform requests manually (in the context of BI, for example, it allows him to take the good decision on time by giving him a relevant view of the data).

Notice the difference between discovering and searching: when searching, the user knows what he is looking for; when discovering, he starts by searching something, which brings him to a final point he may not have expected. Think about it: discovering is what we need when taking decisions. Why? Because even if we know what information we need we may not know how to get it. Discovering helps users to take better decisions.

The players

The main SBA platform editors are also Information Access market players. Most of them have more than five years of experience in providing indexing tools to their clients, which gives them some credibility.

The current leader is Endeca with Endeca Lattitude, which is a big American company also operating in Europe and Asia. So they have clients and offices all over the world. Then comes Attivio with the AIE Platform. The main difference is that Attivio does not provide only a web client but also a desktop one where any user can write SQL-like requests on any kind of data. Two french companies are also in the SBA market. The biggest one is Exalead with Exalead CloudView 360. They are mainly doing business in the French market but are trying to grow up outside the Europe (even more since Dassault System bought them). Finally, the last one and the smallest: Sinequa. It is a young company 100 % focused on the SBA market.

The following “Magic Quadrant” comes up as a summary of the different editors.

SBA Magic Quadrant

General Anatomy of an SBA

Three steps are present in a SBA project, whatever the chosen solution is (at least it is true for Attivio, Endeca and Exalead).

First, the appplication needs to collect data by connecting to all sources. Fortunately, SBA provides APIs and tools to make this easy. As of today, connectors have already been developed for:

  • Databases (through JDBC/ODBC)
  • Filesystems
  • Internet / extranet / intranet
  • E-mails
  • LDAP

If a connector does not exist, it is possible to create it or ask for it. In this part of the project, it is also possible to transform unstructured data in semi-structured one by using semantic and analytic processes.

Then comes the indexing tool. This part is the easiest one because it does not require any development on the client site. This is where the search engine experience and intelligence comes in: the application automatically knows how to collect all data according to the configuration and indexes it, in order to be able to retrieve all information when needed.

The project ends with the restitution part. Building dashboards and pages is almost as important as connecting to data. Once again, editors provide APIs and tools for this part, so small effort is needed to produce interesting and efficient layouts.

Generally, when a client starts an SBA project, he only has an idea of the expected result and the needs evolve with it. Dealing with such constraints is possible because these projects are based on Agile software developments. According to Exalead experience in this kind of projects, the average needed time is around a year with loops of 2 months.

Going further

The SBA market is still very young but it may become a huge one in the future. For example, clients with BI products are asking for such projects to complete their BI solution.

If you are looking for complementary information about SBA, you may also search for UIA (Unified Information Access) or UBI (Unified Business Information).

The following articles may also give you more information:

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  1. 2012/02/07 at 10:33

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