It’s SMEs for ISYS

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Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

You would think that fighting Google would daunt the stoutest of hearts. ISYS Search Software relishes the chance. For over 18 years, it has been selling search software to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) the world over. In the last two years it has been doing so in the face of forceful competition from Google’s “search appliances” (hardware and software bundles). According to David Haucke, Vice President, Global Marketing for ISYS, his company offers a wider range of products for the mid-market, with higher performance and at lower cost.

That breadth increased in August 2006, when ISYS announced version 8 of its suite of products. This comprises:

  • ISYS:web 8, which works across organizations’ intranets, Web sites, portals and bespoke web application programs.
  • ISYS:desktop 8, which, as its name suggests, searches desktop and portable computers, from a single PC to all those in an entire organisation.
  • ISYS:sdk 8, which is a software development kit that allows OEMs, system integrators and customers to embed searching into other programs.

New in this release are two major features—ISYS Entities and Best Bets.

ISYS Entities gives users a context for their search results. It can detect inferred as well as explicit links within text, presenting them as a classified list on the right of the display screen.

The entity extractor works on a thesaurus of 30,000 terms, to which administrators can add. There are also industry-specific thesauri available, created by OEMs. Users can remove any entities from view they find irrelevant.

This screenshot of ISYS:desktop 8 shows the list of entities extracted during a search on the files on my desktop computer. I compressed the lists of people, emails and locations because on that search I was more interested in organisations and Web sites.

Clicking on any of the entities listed under any heading—say Basex Group—lets one search on that entity, either within the results shown or afresh. This text-mining feature aids the discovery of new information and new relations within material. It can also lead users to topic experts. The number alongside each entity is the number of files within which that term occurs.

Query tools. The search query I created appears in terse form at top left of the screen—“unstructured//data/10/text”. This means I asked to see all documents within which the words “unstructured” and “data” are in the same paragraph and each appears within 10 words of “text”.

Users can give similar command-line instructions direct. For those not confident at doing so can compose queries using a simple, menu-based ‘wizard’. Alternatively, users can run searches using what ISYS calls “Web style” (that is, Google-like) queries. There is an optional taskbar that lets users input queries without first running the software.

Note that I have sorted the results by relevance, with the yellow bars giving a rough guide to the relevance score for each document. This ability, and those listed above, are not to be found in the average free desktop search tool. ISYS:desktop is in essence a slightly defeatured version of multi-user software, with user and administrator tools to match.

Best Bets allows system administrators to promote specified documents to the top of the list of results for particular queries. This is useful on intranets as a reminder to employees to look first at pages setting out, say, company policy in the topic of enquiry. For sales staff, the first item could instead be a page of the latest offers. Best Bets is available only in the Web product and the software development kit.

Another important new feature is ISYS Federator. This lets ISYS:web users search across remote as well as local indexes. In the next release, the software will also search across Google indexes anywhere on the network.

All the ISYS products run within Microsoft’s operating environments. ISYS:web and ISYS:sdk both integrate closely with Microsoft SharePoint Server and SharePoint Portal, respecting existing security and access settings. The software also works in with Lotus Notes and can index over 130 file types. Linux versions of the Web and SDK product will appear soon.

The company

ISYS Search Software is a small, privately held company that is both profitable and growing. It was founded in 1988 in Sydney, Australia, where it is still headquartered. ISYS also has offices in the USA, where it makes most of its sales, and in Britain.

The company has sold its products into more than 14,000 organizations worldwide. This represents more than 2 million licences, mainly for multiple instances of the desktop software. Its major markets are government, legal practices and law enforcement, with education growing recently. ISYS sells direct and via nearly 80 partners and OEMs around the world. Its products are available in any of 40 languages.

Customers include the US Federal Bureau of Prisons, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, the National Library of Wales and the Australian Stock Exchange. Most customers are small or middling-sized organisations, including divisions of large companies. A representative recent deal, with the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was for 1,500 user licences for ISYS:desktop plus ISYS:web for its Web site.

Licensees pay per user rather than by the number of documents. A typical order—for a 200-person intranet—would be for $10,000 including optional annual maintenance. The desktop software sells at around $1,000 for the network licence, plus $100 for each user.

The company’s main competitors, at least in the USA, are Google, dtSearch and, diminishingly, Verity (now Autonomy) Ultraseek.

The Bloor view

An extended trial of the desktop software impressed me with the range and depth of tools available. The variety of ways of framing a query, the manageability of the results and the opportunities for further discovery put ISYS:desktop 8 above any other desktop search software I have tried. To be fair, though, its main competitors are loss leaders, given away free.

The strength of the ISYS products rests in their affordability, adaptability (particularly at the user interface) and scalability. The Web and SDK products can search up to 8.2 billion documents in a single query. The largest of Google’s appliances, the GB-8008, can search 30 million documents “out of the box”. (Bigger indexes are possible but need specialist attention from Google’s consultants.)

ISYS needs to do more work to tie its products to enterprise systems such as Documentum and Interwoven. The company might usefully take a leaf from Google’s book with its range of “OneBox for Enterprise” connectors. Also, the software would benefit from being able to handle a wider range of document types, especially image and video files.

I did not evaluate the administrative interface and tools of the Web product. The experience ISYS has of working in corporate environments suggests that these will be at least adequate.

Google has ambitious plans for its enterprise search division. The question for ISYS Search Software and other small suppliers is whether, in growing the cake, Google takes so much of it there is little left for anybody else. David Haucke uses a more positive metaphor, seeing Google as raising the tide on which everyone floats. The truth may rest somewhere between the two. Providing Google does not plunder the entire small and mid-range market, ISYS should continue to do well. I think it will.