Information and knowledge management are critical to a financial services enterprise. As firms expand both through organic growth and mergers and acquisitions, capturing and understanding the variety of information that exists in the myriad of different formats becomes increasingly difficult. With this challenge in mind, a new breed of federated search technology providers is trying to gain a foothold in the industry, which is in need of a way to consolidate multiple stores of disparate information.
The new generation of search technologies, known as federated search, "focuses on aggregating information from multiple sources and displaying that to the users, giving them one-stop access to information," says Abe Lederman, president of Deep Web Technologies (Santa Fe, N.M.), a federated search technology provider. Federated search solutions typically mine and collect an enterprise's internal information, such as e-mail, research documents and data stores; consolidate information from subscription sources, such as Dow Jones, Bloomberg and Reuters; and crawl information that is publicly accessible via the World Wide Web, he relates.
But more than simply gathering information, federated search providers argue that their major value proposition is in helping users make sense of information and in creating intelligence that can be acted upon. "Although search is certainly important, the act of searching adds no value," observes Duncan Witte, president and COO of Sioux Falls, S.D.-based search provider Brightplanet. "It's in what you do once you find something ... [that] the value is added," he explains. "If you want to do a serious research project about an entity, ... you want to be able to get the most-comprehensive access to information. You're not just looking for an answer -- you're looking for an understanding."
Federated search providers "are creating very targeted slices of searchable content that's relevant to the financial services industry," explains Matthew Brown, senior analyst, Forrester Research (Cambridge, Mass.). "They're looking at people like portfolio managers who are trying to make investment decisions and are making research hypotheses around information that's extremely targeted."
But federated search vendors are just beginning to show off their wares to financial institutions. Deep Web's Lederman says that he has spoken with Citigroup about developing an interface to search across the bank's many Web sites and properties for internal purposes.
Additionally, Brightplanet's Witte says his firm has begun a pilot program with a top-tier American financial institution's corporate bank. The implementation is designed to harvest the Web and the company's several hundred intranets on a daily basis for information on corporate clients, as well as those clients' direct competitors, and report that information to the firm's commercial bankers, Witte explains.
But there still are some technological hurdles to cross before federated search technologies fully penetrate the financial services market, according to industry observers, and firms are cautious about what investments in search technology they're willing to make. Pittsburgh-based Mellon Financial Corp., for example, has been hesitant to adopt an enterprisewide search solution to mine the firm's data stores, according to Ed Cymbalak, VP and application architect in the distributed systems group at Mellon. "Because of the breadth of businesses that we have, the number of people that would be allowed to actually look across all of those data sets would be very limited," he reasons.
Federated search technology can be offered as a hosted solution or can be placed within an organization, behind its firewall. Both strategies have their drawbacks, explains Forrester's Brown. "With enterprise search, it's just like any big installed software package where if you want to add new content sources, you have to do the IT work to make that happen," he says. Conversely, due to the sensitive nature of proprietary information, "The hosted solutions frequently can't get access or won't be granted access to content that sits behind the firewall," Brown adds.
Mellon's Cymbalak adds that he has yet to find a technology that can adjust to the ever-changing IT environment of an institution as large as Mellon. The search technologies implemented at Mellon are domain-specific and typically are integrated features of an individual application, be it an e-mail program, file system, database or business-specific technology, he notes.
The advantage to keeping search segmented across the firm is that when focused on one defined data set, "The search tool itself can make assumptions about the underlying system that its searching, and it can usually be right about those things," asserts Cymbalak. "If you have a generic, enterprisewide search that's going to search all of these things and has assumptions about how the authorization is done, how the authentication is done and how the data is stored -- if it has these assumptions and the underlying systems change, it becomes a maintenance issue."
However, Mellon does recognize the power that such a technology could bring to the organization if it could be integrated into the infrastructure in such a way that maintenance wouldn't require significant resources, Cymbalak says. He relates that there is motivation within Mellon to expand the integration of the firm's research products. "As we look at other systems that we're bringing in-house, ... we are asking questions about their interoperability with enterprise search so that we can look forward to our ability to do data classification and permissions in such a way that enterprise search will be possible," Cymbalak says.
Still, rationalizing the investment in search technology with an ROI and creating a business case for the technology is difficult, points out Forrester's Brown. From firm to firm, he says, the value of knowledge will vary, and so too will the benefits of federated search. <<<