interactive voice search
The confluence of search innovations and voice search has opened up a whole new realm for enterprise search PHOTO: “Interactive Dialogue” by Santi Siri is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Innovation comes from unexpected places. After all, if it came from expected places, it wouldn’t be innovative, would it? 

A number of things have recently come together to put search and search engines in a whole new light.  

While grappling with search problems, I started looking at search tools and techniques as a single, holistic system, which opened up brand new vistas of enterprise search functionality.

Siri, Google Now, Cortana and 'Insight Engines'

As the amount of organizational data grows, companies are increasingly seeking intelligent information discovery and analytics platforms that go beyond keyword searches to better understand users' intent. 

With Google Now and Cortana, the growing ubiquity of these advanced question answering systems is being met with growing demand. At the same time, research firm Gartner started discussing "Insight Engines," a new technology redefining the market around search, providing natural, total and proactive search and insight discovery.

But is this really a practical solution for business enterprises? Up until recently I didn’t think so, but my view is changing.

The key problem when translating consumer answering systems à la Siri is one of domain understanding. Generic question answering systems only understand a very broad, generic domain: things like movies, birth-dates, geography. But that’s not necessarily going to give business users what they want from a search system.

Organizations want a search application created for their own purposes, whether it is search for intranet portals, ecommerce, recruiting, media and publishing or public sector content. They have their own language, their own acronyms, their own business processes, their own way of doing things — and they expect their digital assistant to understand their unique domain.

Therefore any question answering system would need to heavy tuning to be capable of handling problems like this. 

Understanding the query is key to the highest possible quality search. We can do this now by turning to natural language processing and looking at this technique in a new way — simply by matching text against a large database of patterns, and as a result, building understanding.

Search Goes Hand in Hand with Modern BI and Analytics

The enterprise search industry is constantly evolving. As data sources within organizations continue to grow in size and diversity, technologies such as intelligent search engines will be vital to the modern workplace. 

We should no longer look at BI and analytics applications as an IT-driven initiative, but as a critical enterprise platform driven by business users and objectives. By creating truly intelligent search engines, we will enable functionality which was not previously practical. Think about workplace digital assistants that can:

  • Identify language fluency for employees from their résumés
  • Identify what parts or systems are often failing from repair reports, and the symptoms and fixes of those failures
  • Identify lab procedures and how they were applied to chemical compounds from electronic lab notebooks
  • Identify major failure modes from customer support calls

Even better, imagine if the answers to these questions could be formatted as a natural language response (e.g. “Sales for Widget X in 2015 was $1.8 million dollars”) or as a chart, report or interactive graphic.

Making Search Easy for the Enterprise

Ultimately intelligent search engines will help create a digital understanding of your world. This digital understanding provides the bridge between language (queries, requests, actions and content) and the business objects that make up everything that is pertinent to an enterprise.

A recent study found 60 percent of voice users wanted more natural, relevant spoken responses as opposed to a list of search results. Having a computer that talks your business language and immediately understands your unique requests and needs is truly an amazing thing. A customized, intelligent digital assistant can be within reach by placing a speech-to-text system on top of the search engine.

Imagine the possibilities.