Fast Search & Transfer (FAST; www.fastsearch.com), a company known for its enterprise search technology, is making a move into the business intelligence (BI) market with a new platform that the company said offers a radical new approach. The company introduced the FAST Adaptive Information Warehouse (AIW), which integrates a framework of products that unify the search and BI functions. By layering BI functions on top of the search platform, the new FAST solution lets business users search and navigate enterprise data directly without the need for predefined report creation, which can be complex, time-consuming, and costly. The goal is to bring actionable information and business insights into the hands of business users, who can then make informed decisions.
The FAST AIW platform is powered by FAST ESP and includes two core products that may also be purchased as individual products—FAST Data Cleansing Solution and FAST Radar. Both products derive from acquisitions made by FAST last year. FAST acquired intellectual property and several employees from BWise, an Oslo, Norway-based IT consultancy that had been working with FAST to develop data cleaning solutions. FAST Radar leverages FAST's acquisition in April 2006 of a small company called Corporate Radar.
The FAST Data Cleansing Solution provides access to information, both structured and unstructured, regardless of its source or location. It uses linguistics to improve data quality, enabling organizations to match, merge, and cleanse data automatically.
FAST Radar provides dashboards for reporting and a search-style interface. Users access the data through a Web-based portal and can drill down, analyze, and present it. FAST said that users can now easily build a report that would take weeks to create with traditional data warehouse and BI technologies. To help users comprehend and interact with data more effectively, FAST Radar provides personalized charts, dashboards, and scorecards. FAST Radar integrates information from third-party and custom-developed applications into consolidated dynamic charts that include drill-down capabilities.
"The nature of Business Intelligence will change due to search-driven data integration," said Bill Gassman, research director at Gartner, Inc. "Since search queries resolve in microseconds, even when using many dimensions and large data sets, this offers a disruptive approach to data integration. Search technology has long provided rapid access to unstructured information and has evolved to include structured information. As a result, search will initially act as an adjunct for data warehousing but will eventually compete to be the golden source."
Susan Feldman, research vice president of content technologies at IDC, also emphasized that database and content technologies are coming together, and FAST is one of the companies that is leading the way. "FAST's offering is quite unique in the marketplace," she said. The hybrid approach it offers has a lot of merit by providing "the ability to normalize across formats and sources of information."
Here's how FAST describes the new approach: "[S]earch is not only the portal, but also the vehicle by which data from previously separate applications and repositories is unified, mined, and made accessible for monitoring, alerting, and reporting, in short, Business Intelligence."
FAST AIW incorporates both quantitative and qualitative analytics through mining of numeric and text data. Data mining includes techniques such as trend and pattern analysis. Text mining includes entity extraction, auto-categorization, and deep linguistic capabilities such as contextual insight, fuzzy matching, and natural-language processing.
FAST says the synergy created by bringing them both into context with the user's query provides a deeper understanding of the user's intention and more accurate and relevant answers.
Reuters is using AIW for its trading platforms and premium content. "At Reuters we are driving scalable retrieval of structured information to provide advanced search and navigation facilities for users of our premium desktop products. The advantage of FAST is that it is reliable, versatile, and guarantees subsecond responses for all queries regardless of complexity," said Ray Tomkins, search architect at Reuters.
FAST said that FAST Radar was implemented in under a month at energy-bar maker Clif Bar. The solution combined sales forecasts with historical sales figures plus promotions and adjustments for seasonal sales, helping the finance department cut inventory on hand from 77 days to 35 days. This reduction reportedly saves the company $2 million a year in reduced spoilage and interest costs. The company also said it saves more than 3 days of work in preparing its month-end reports alone. Richard Boragno, director of finance and accounting at Clif Bar, commented: "Even more important than the time saved mining data and generating reports is the value of giving Clif Bar employees access to current or real-time sales, financial, and customer data in reports that are easy to use and understand."
Some industry experts are calling AIW an "interesting proposition" that could prove disruptive in the BI space. What is likely is this will foster additional developments in both search and BI. Autonomy Corp. (www.autonomy.com) just announced its new Meaning Analytics Warehouse, which is designed to provide insight into information stored in silos across an enterprise by indexing, transforming, and analyzing this information based on its meaning and relationships.FAST, which was founded in 1997, is headquartered in Norway and has offices around the world. FAST's solutions are used by more than 2,600 global customers and partners, including AOL, CNET, Dell, Factiva, IBM, Knight Ridder, LexisNexis, Reed Elsevier, Reuters, Stellent, and Thomas Industrial Networks.