Ali Riaz has been in the software business for 18 years, including 6 years as president and COO of Fast Search & Transfer (FAST), the global enterprise search vendor that is being acquired by Microsoft (see the NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=40582). Since August 2007, Riaz and a team of 20 senior engineers—a number of them veterans from FAST—have been working to develop what it is calling "the industry’s first true Active Intelligence Engine (AIE)." Last week, they officially announced the launch of their new software company, Attivio, Inc. (www.attivio.com), backed by $6.2 million in venture capital funding. The startup has already filed several patent applications for its technology and announced its first customer. It plans to make its product generally available during 2Q. The core search engine will even be made available to try as a free download.
The company boldly claims that its main innovations are integrating structured data and unstructured content into one repository, without compromising the richness of either, and using the information to automatically update, manage, and enrich business systems. AIE combines unstructured content—such as emails, documents, images, and webpages—with structured business data and makes it all searchable. AIE automatically selects, calculates, and displays on-the-fly the most relevant facets with no precomputing or reindexing required. The results can then tell corporate applications and infrastructure to take actions, like offer coupons, ship more supplies, or alert an employee. AIE can be configured to work in any context—risk analysis, ecommerce, supply chain management, or operational business intelligence. In a phrase (trademark pending), Attivio says, "we make data actionable!"
Here is how Riaz describes the essence of AIE: "Until now, companies have always had to support two very dissimilar technologies that really do the same thing. Business intelligence provides precise answers that help drive business; enterprise search extracts meaning and context to improve decision making. The words may be different, but the underlying messages sound the same to me. So we decided to build an engine that takes the best ideas from each technology and integrates them. This is the ‘intelligence’ in active intelligence. We also realized that for information to be truly useful, it has to cause something to happen, for example, notify someone, direct an application, or move to the next step in a process. So we added to the engine the ability to tie your information directly to actions in real time. This is the ‘active’ in active intelligence."
The first customer for Attivio AIE is BOLDFACERS, an online media company featuring Boston movers and shakers, as well as events and an insider’s guide to the city. Its founder, Lisa Pierpont, says "we selected Attivio because we were looking for a partner who could deliver more than just search. Attivio provides us with a key active intelligence component that will vastly improve the user experience on our site. They bring a wealth of knowledge and innovation, and have been great to work with." The revised Boldfacers.com site will debut soon.
Search expert Stephen Arnold describes Attivio’s unique selling proposition (USP) as "data integration plus search and content processing." He says the business of transformation—the ability to transform and integrate data—will be a "hot niche for the next few years" (http://arnoldit.com/wordpress/2008/01/25/transformation-an-emerging-hot-niche).
Lynda W. Moulton, lead analyst for enterprise search, Gilbane Group, points to Attivio’s "extremely competent and experienced search technology developers." She says, "They are moving rapidly to develop tools that will eliminate many of the practical barriers to easily and efficiently deploy robust enterprise search solutions. They plan to deliver out-of-the-box advantages that may only be available through significant tuning with other search products. It is entirely possible that their collective experience in the marketplace has given them the know-how and insight to design and package excellent technology at reasonable direct capital and human resource costs. Clearly, the proof will be in the actual user experiences that play out over the next few months but a good and experienced team is the first important ingredient. The opportunity for penetration and growth in this market is huge, and I don’t see any reason that newcomers with excellent products can’t make inroads over the next couple of years, if they package and price it right."
Ken Poore, senior analyst for enterprise search at Forrester says the field is rather crowded with large incumbents and some up-and-coming smaller companies like Vivisimo. But, he stresses some of the technical advantages that Attivio brings—the tiny footprint, control of the data ingestion process, and emphasis on the user experience—and thinks it could carve out a niche in the market.
Consultant and information technology analyst Curt Monash says that "Attivio is going after problems that should have been solved by the integration of text search and XML into relational database managers such as Oracle. But those implementations never lived up to their promise."
Riaz says that other companies have been "putting lipstick on the pig." He says that Attivio is solving the problem of integrating separate silos of information in a realistic and meaningful way. "Attivio believes in breaking down silos: between structured data and unstructured content, between information and action, between open source and commercial software, between customers’ short-term requirements and our long-term technology roadmap. We will break them down with outstanding engineering talent, mash-up technologies, and a steadfast focus on delivering sophisticated solutions that are easy to implement and maintain. This is our mission, created entirely by our past experiences with customers and partners from all verticals."
According to company documentation, AIE is written entirely in Java. It can run on any JVM-supported platform and is reportedly easy to install. It includes a library of preset customer configurations and the ability to create your own profiles. All functionality is accessible through the Developer FIRST API, "designed by engineers, for engineers." Included with the API are a complete SDK, customer extranet, task-oriented documentation, sample front-end code and integration logic, and a library of configurations for a large range of common uses. Its core footprint is less than 10MB and it supports true incremental, linear scaling (100 million objects/server; don’t buy the hardware until you need it).
Sid Probstein, CTO and co-founder of Attivio (formerly vice president of technology at FAST and vice president of engineering at Northern Light), describes the technology mashup involved. He says the company knitted together technologies that were considered best of breed from open sources (Lucene, for example) and from licensed commercial software and then improved, stabilized, and optimized the code. (The company has also contributed back to improve upon some open sources.)
AIE is offered two ways to customers. Attivio AIE is the platform customers use to build their own internal solutions. Embedded AIE is optimized specifically for embedding in other software applications. Pricing details have not yet been determined. AIE will be available as licensed software or software as a service (SaaS).