The Myth of “Unified Information Systems”

I was just listening to a web cast of IDC’s called “Enterprise Search 360: A Company-Wide Case Study with National Instruments and IDC”. This was commercial for search vendor FAST Search and Transfer, but one of the best kinds of commercials – one by an enthusiastic customer. The web cast shoud be available here. Julie Schlembach, Search Program Manager, National Instruments did a terrific job of explaining what they have accomplished with search and content management. I really liked her style and the detail of her slides.

That said, I disagree with the basic premise that “Unified Information Systems” are the “Next Big Thing”. Or that search tools are the silver bullet that will allow for “a single point of access to multiple points of information”. “Unified information platforms could disrupt the business intelligence market by extending user access to far more information than previously achieved by search”, claims Sue Feldman, analyst for IDC.

“…new hybrid applications…” “…databases and content combined”… “enriched indexes with semantic descriptions”… “…meaning behind data points..” It’s all… so exciting

I can see why organizations get fatigued from the hype.

Yes, this is a good thing, yes, it is valuable and yes there are new approaches and technologies that will make life better. But it is impossible to have a “single point of access” for information in an organization. Or wait a minute, we already have that, don’t we? Web browsers? Portals? Enterprise content management systems? Intranets? Each of these approaches were heralded using the same glowing descriptions.

Every time we try to build the “single point of access”, we fail. Why is that? Because we did not have the correct search engine? Not the right application? Why is it that the answer to application proliferation is always… ANOTHER APPLICATION!!

The reason is simple. Things change. We live and work in a dynamic environment. Business needs change, markets, customers, competition, internal systems, processes, etc. There is no way that a single point of access can be developed that meets all needs.

Now, that said, what I did like about the presentation is the fact that there is a tremendous amount of flexibility and adaptability built into the infrastructure that National Instruments developed. They leveraged content management systems, metadata, various data technologies and, oh yes, search, to create an integrated, adaptable environment. I will still venture to say they will never eliminate all their other applications and replace them with this search environment, but they did do something else well – they treated search as an application and not as an appliance.

The two year project applied many principles of taxonomy development, faceted navigation, metadata standards, user interface design and application integration to allow for the level of functionality that they achieved.

So the bottom line is that there is no simple search solution and no “single point of access” to all of your information, but instead there are well designed, well developed and well executed applications that meet the clearly defined needs of a target user.

Next post: Easter Bunny Exposed!

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