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One-on-One with Paul Sonderegger

by Steve BogdonFriday, June 4, 2010

Dashboard Insight recently spoke with Endeca's Paul Sonderegger about the role of search and information discovery - and how he's answering the questions that people may not have thought mattered!

Dashboard Insight: Tell us about the history of Endeca.

Paul Sonderegger: Endeca was founded in 1999 with a single mission: to help people discover information they need, even when they don’t know it exists.  Our founders saw an opportunity to combine search and business intelligence (BI) approaches to create a more powerful infrastructure that helps users navigate and search data in a highly intuitive way.  Today, more than 600 leading organizations use our technology, including: Boeing, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Ford Motor Company, Texas Instruments, and Walmart.com. 

DI: Where does Endeca fit into the BI market and how is it different from other BI companies?

PS: Companies have hundreds of repositories tied to different applications and reporting tools that contain related data and content, but it has been difficult to correlate that information for use.  Traditional BI tools are very good at reporting on structured data and answering questions the company knew to ask ahead of time.   But today there is a greater need for information discovery so that people can answer the questions they just discovered mattered, in the moment, and make it part of the decision-making process.  Endeca’s search capabilities facilitate this type of self-service discovery on both structured and unstructured or jagged data sources – such as documents or e-mails, empowering users to ask and answer questions of all types of data.

With search capabilities opening up data and bringing a new level of ease of use to the analytical power of BI, Endeca is uniquely positioned to enable managers and front-line employees to locate all of the critical information they need, when they need it, while significantly reducing the strain on IT from the BI backlog.  Today, we’re right at the intersection of search and BI because our technology – honed in eCommerce environments where users demand ease-of-use and zero training – empowers interactive exploration in ways that other BI models don’t support.

DI: Tell us about your customers, who uses your solutions? 

PS: Our customers include industry-leading manufacturing organizations such as Ford, Raytheon, Boeing, and Harris, which have some of the industry’s largest and most diverse data sets.  We also work with government organizations that require high performance, scalability and security with regard to highly sensitive data.  But it’s important to note that our customers also include 45 of the top 100 online retailers, such as The Home Depot, Walmart.com, and Borders, which demand the easiest-to-use interfaces possible so consumers can quickly locate and purchase products.  The demands of these three different kinds of customers gave us a unique incentive to create user-friendly, data-driven and rapidly deployed search applications.

DI: Can you give us some examples of how your customers are using your technology?

PS: The need for better discovery appears in decisions across the enterprise.  I'll give you two recent examples: 

A large consumer packaged goods company is using Endeca’s technology to analyze marketing and sales promotion results by enabling everyday business users with an easy-to-use tool that allows for analyzing internal and external data.  This application combines internal sales data with unstructured content, such as blog comments, giving marketing and sales professionals the ability to accurately measure why programs were or were not effective.

The other example is a large automotive equipment manufacture, using Endeca’s technology to accurately gauge market share and competitive intelligence.  This organization is currently achieving what they could not before deploying Endeca: a cross-business unit view of all product-line sales with visibility into channel, territory and brand performance, including competitive benchmark and market share positions.

DI: What makes Endeca unique?

PS: We solve both of the problems lurking inside the demand for better access to data and content: the first is self-service discovery and the second is agile BI for jagged data.  The biggest trend information management in the coming years will be an explosion of diversity – more people relying on more kinds of information, in bigger volume, to make more decisions on a daily basis.  In that kind of environment, companies need technology that helps people with expertise in the business but not in the data ask and answer better questions in the moment.  And the IT department needs a platform for delivering that capability across the enterprise cost effectively.

DI: What are the biggest challenges in instituting dashboarding?

PS: The primary challenge associated with dashboards is that it is virtually impossible to anticipate all the types of questions or scenarios that end users will request.  In addition, dashboards need to be adaptive and reflect the ever-changing data relevant and necessary to support decision makers.

Most dashboard solutions are developed for a select group of users, with canned reports based on the static dimensions of data.  They typically display the “least common denominator” of actionable data and are not always relevant for particular individuals in the audience.  In addition, many of the data sources incorporated into dashboards are based on static data models, or schemas.  When the underlying data sources change, which is inevitable, the dashboards have to be re-developed to stay up to date.  And re-building dashboards to reflect changing data is a costly and time-consuming exercise.

DI: Do you think next-generation discovery environments like yours will augment or replace existing BI systems? 

PS: Our technology complements existing BI systems.  Every one of our customers already has at least one reporting platform in place and it reliably publishes valuable reports.  However, each of those reports inspires follow-on questions.  And those questions change depending on what matters to that person right then.  The convergence of BI and search technologies reveals relationships in the data that lead to unanticipated answers or new insights – even if no one knew ahead of time those exact questions would be asked.

DI: We’ve been hearing about the merging of search and BI for the last few years.  Is it finally happening?

PS: Yes.  Easy-to-use search and the power of BI are finally merging, enabling IT to now deliver on the promise of providing users the power to discover, explore and analyze all the data necessary to make daily, as well as strategic, decisions.

Taken separately, traditional BI and enterprise search tools were each designed to solve problems other than ad hoc decision-making.  BI was originally developed for reporting on structured data while search was designed for retrieving unstructured documents.  As a result, each technology fall shorts in different ways in several key areas: a good user experience, the types of accessible information, and the ability to respond to rapid change.  However, BI and search can be combined to preserve the strengths of both and mitigate the drawbacks of each.

DI: What is the process if someone wants to evaluate your solutions?

PS: Prospective customers can contact us through the Endeca web site.  Once on the site, they can also view several Endeca product demos in our Resource Center

DI: What can we expect to see from Endeca in the coming months?

PS: The BI industry is ripe for revolution, but there are different factions of modernizers fighting for its future. Some vendors intend to make the existing BI infrastructure just run faster.  Others want to give BI professionals new tools to respond faster to the business’s changing requests.  And still others, including Endeca, propose to give end users themselves the tools to discover new questions to ask and to answer them on their own.  This is just the beginning; we’re entering a whole new era of enhancing human choice in the age of big data.

Paul Sonderegger, Chief Strategist

Paul leads Endeca’s efforts to evangelize the benefits of information visibility and its impact on competitive advantage.  Before joining Endeca, he spent six years as an analyst at Forrester Research, focusing on search technology and experience design.  Prior to Forrester, Paul worked at Strategic Interactive Group (now Digitas), where he helped clients set business objectives for online initiatives and translate those goals into technical requirements for development.

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