Thursday, December 3, 2009

The User’s Undying Quest for Exploring and Discovering Info – Part 1

SAP AG and Endeca Technologies might not appear to have much in common at first glance, other than occasional partnering in some joint opportunities, and perhaps that SAP Ventures owns a piece of privately held Endeca. In the world of home appliances, SAP would be analogous to a tried-and-true refrigerator, but with the most advanced features in the market, such as a built-in TV set.

Such an appliance stores important food (i.e., data and transactions) and provides some important basic information and entertainment (i.e., news reports) to nearly 90,000 customers in over 120 countries. Indeed, SAP is the world’s leading provider of business software, offering enterprise applications and services to companies of all sizes and in more than 25 industries for nearly four decades.

By the same token, the much smaller and younger Endeca would be analogous to a cool smartphone that gives users information and entertainment at the speed of light (or thought, or the speed of computing). The snazzy gadget will not only provide results but also suggest possibilities that users might not be aware of (or that they never thought of) before seeking some information.

Interestingly, Endeca derives its name from the German word “entdecken,” which means “to discover” (perhaps another common thread with SAP). Seriously speaking, Endeca offers innovative information access software that helps people explore, analyze, and understand complex and constantly changing information, guiding them to often unexpected insights and better decisions.

The Endeca Information Access Platform (IAP), built around a new class of access-optimized semi-structured database, powers applications that combine the simplicity of searching and browsing with the analytical power of business intelligence (BI). Since the company’s inception in 1999 in Cambridge, Massachusetts (US), over 600 leading global organizations including ABN AMRO, Boeing, Cox Newspapers, the (US) Defense Intelligence Agency, ESPN, Barnes & Nobles, Dell, Ford Motor Company, Hyatt, IBM, John Deere, The Library of Congress, Texas Instruments, and have been relying on Endeca’s platform.

The Tale of Two Events (with Similar Messages)

In mid-2009, these two quite different vendors (in terms of stature and target audience) had their own separate user conferences. Still, those two events revolved around similar themes. I attended Endeca Discover 2009 in person, since it took place in my neck of woods (Boston).

Endeca’s early start was with information discovery projects in the public sector (the less we know, the better), and while today the vendor also targets manufacturers and distributors (as can be seen from the abovementioned representative client roster), the lion’s share of Endeca customers are online retailers and the Internet media & publishers. The Endeca Discover conference is traditionally focused towards those electronic commerce-oriented companies.

Against the backdrop of a dour economic situation everywhere, this love-fest event was contrarily buzzing with fervent activity and interest from existing and prospective customers. I even overheard some of Endeca’s professional services staffers commenting amongst themselves during the break: “if this attendance is an epitome of recession (or even depression), then how are we going to be able to deliver mushrooming projects when the economy improves?” Although privately held, the company is not that tight-lipped about its rapidly growing revenues, which are reportedly estimated at over US$ 100 million.

Endeca has pioneered a new software category that enables users to not only easily find what they are looking for, but also to discover insights, information, and relationships across data they never knew existed along the way. There will be a separate series of in-depth articles on Endeca and its platform, but for now it suffices to say that Endeca’s “secret sauce” is its proprietary semi-structured database called MDEX (meta-relational index engine).

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