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New FAST Search Solution Speeds Retrieval of Relevant BI Data

Business case Study

Published: May 2011

The following content may no longer reflect Microsoft’s current position or infrastructure. This content should be viewed as reference documentation only, to inform IT business decisions within your own company or organization.

Microsoft IT hosts many terabytes of business critical data inside its Enterprise Database Warehouse (EDW). The data in the warehouse serves a subset of users with standardized reports by the people who know how and where to access these reports. Converging FAST Search for SharePoint 2010 and business intelligence data enables information and management professionals to easily find BI information with more flexible reporting.

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Customer Profile

Situation

Solution

Benefits

As the worldwide leader in software for business and personal computing, the vision of Microsoft Corporation is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.

Sales teams did not have a simple effective way to index their structured data and have it available through a simple search interface: information wasn't easily accessible to end users.

In early 2010, the Microsoft BI Engineering Group developed a new converged Search and BI solution. The solution leveraged Microsoft FAST Search Technology and an Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW)..

  • Faster results based on FAST Search crawling and indexing
  • Users find more relevant data using four different search types: Simple Search, Contextual Search, Similarity Search, and Fielded Search.
  • Easier IT management requirements: the FAST administrative interface displays status messages from a range of modules such as the FAST log server and FAST configuration server, it is easy for managers to monitor and manage the solution

Situation

Getting swift access to the right business intelligence (BI) information is essential for today's sales and marketing professionals. They need to quickly search and retrieve relevant BI data to be able to approach current and prospective customers armed with the right data.

To make that happen, these professionals rely on enterprise search tools to search through file systems, intranets, email, databases, and document management systems. However, using these search tools presents major challenges.

The Challenge of Structured and Unstructured Data

Within most enterprises, some data is structured and only accessible to a small group of employees via BI tools. In fact, there are terabytes of business-critical data hidden in data warehouses. Only a small group of users can access this data through canned reports and dashboards. Other information, meanwhile, is unstructured and can be found in blogs, emails, and other sources easily accessible through a range of different search engines.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way for a sales and marketing professional to gain access to this combined structured and unstructured data. Many internal Microsoft teams have struggled to find this potentially valuable BI data when required, as it is placed in so many different locations.

As a result, some teams, such as the Enterprise Partner Group (EPG), did not have a simple effective way to index the structured data and have it available through a simple search interface. For example, if an account manager needed to find the top 20 customers by sales in a particular region, the information was not easily discoverable through the traditional enterprise search portal since the information is buried in the SQL Server Database which is not crawled or indexed.

For these reasons, the Microsoft BI Engineering Group decided it needed to create a new solution that combined search and BI. "We wanted to show how search can be utilized in the area of BI," says Harrish Natarajan, Microsoft BI Engineering. "How can we give sales and marketing professionals the ability to use the popular white box search interface to find relevant BI data instantly?"

Solution

In early 2010, the Microsoft BI Engineering Group developed a new converged Search and BI solution. The solution leveraged Microsoft FAST Search Technology and an Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW).

Taking Advantage of Fast Search for SharePoint Technology

FAST Search for SharePoint 2010 is an add-on product based on FAST Search technology that comes best of FAST's high-end search capabilities with best of SharePoint. These were some of the reasons for choosing this technology

  • Meta-data Extraction - FAST Search for SharePoint 2010 takes advantage of simple administrative tools and the concept of "managed properties" in SharePoint to support adding custom meta-data extractors very quickly.

  • Structured Data Search - FAST Search for SharePoint 2010 adds an extra level of sophistication for searching data that contains numbers, dates, and other encoded and structured information

  • "Deep" Refinement (Faceted Search) - FAST Search for SharePoint adds to this the ability to deliver faceted search across results sets of any size while retaining precise counts on the refinement facets.

  • Advanced linguistics - FAST Search for SharePoint 2010 builds on the FAST ESP heritage and Microsoft tools to include advanced language processing (linguistics) for dozens of languages, including optimized processing for Chinese/Japanese/Korean.

  • Visual Best Bets - FAST Search for SharePoint adds to this the ability to render visual best bests in the form of images and even videos. Management of search best bets, both standard and visual, is through the standard SharePoint administrative console

  • Custom search experiences (per user/profile) - It is possible to create custom relevancy models tuned to differences in content sources, application needs, and user contexts. User context simply means that different users can have different search "contexts" that enable experiences optimized for their specific business needs.

With these capabilities, the sales and marketing professionals can index structured data from relational databases and make it available for any users to search as BI content. With a search interface for business critical data, the users are able to find relevant BI data faster.

Creating a Prototype

In January 2010, the Microsoft BI Engineering Group created a solution prototype for an internal Microsoft sales and marketing team. The team was responsible for managing reporting applications and BI data used by internal sales groups.

The Microsoft BI Engineering Group created the prototype integrating SharePoint Server 2010, FAST Search, and the existing Customer sales data in the sales and marketing team's database. The BI Engineering Group demonstrated how the solution gives users the ability to quickly search for BI data via a search box. "The Sales and Marketing team, loved the idea of searching for relevant data in a white search box on their computer screen," says Harrish Natarajan. "They saw that they could find the data they needed, as pulled from multiple databases fast and efficiently."

The solution ultimately focused on a very simple principle: finding the right information fast. "A sales manager, for example, can simply type a question in the search box using natural language query. So the sales manager types in 'sales report 2007 Europe,' the relevant sales reporting data is retrieved and ranked instantly," Harrish Natarajan says.

Benefits

Retrieves Search Results Faster

The new solution helps sales and marketing users retrieve BI data faster than before, thereby enabling more accurate decision making. "Users can find the data they're looking for very quickly," says Harrish Natarajan.

That's because FAST SharePoint 2010 crawls the SQL Server database, retrieves content from database and transforms it into an internal document. The technology also analyzes and processes those documents for better relevance; it indexes the documents to make them easily searchable, processes search queries against the documents, and applies business rule-based rankings to the results. Additionally, the FAST query language allows users to further refine BI data searches.

Helps Users Find More Relevant BI Data

With the features built into the solution, users can search for and retrieve much more relevant BI data using a search interface which uses a tab metaphor to display four different search types: Simple Search, Contextual Search, Similarity Search, and Fielded Search.

In the prototype, the search engine was able to pull the top 20 percent of customers by sales data, the bottom 80 percent based on revenue, and other similar criteria. "Users can type in 'top 20 customers' and be presented with each customer's account name, account number, revenue, and other relevant data they might need for a presentation." says Harrish Natarajan

Users of the solution can also further customize or drill down their data search by specific regions, such as country or city, by organizing the search into specific facets presented on the left side of the screen.

Eases IT Management

For IT managers, the converged search and BI solution is simple to operate and manage. Because the FAST administrative interface displays status messages from a range of modules such as the FAST log server and FAST configuration server, it is easy for managers to monitor and manage the solution. Also, the solution's FAST home and search business center applications can be used for setting up and fine-tuning search sites, creating new user accounts and user access, and accessing additional FAST interfaces.

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products or services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Order Centre at (800) 933-4750. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information via the World Wide Web, go to:

http://www.microsoft.com

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/itshowcase

© 2011 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Microsoft and FAST Search for SharePoint 2010 are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

This document is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.

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