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Enterprise search, text analytics keep production flowing at R&D company

A Quebec optics design firm used Coveo text analytics and indexing to boost the productivity of its highly educated knowledge workers by 5%.

For a company where brainpower fuels the workflow, knowledge really is power, and intellectual property (IP) the final product, information sharing is like the movement of goods through assembly lines. For over two years, the Institut National D’Optique (INO) has used the enterprise search and text analytics platform from cross-town vendor Coveo Solutions Inc. to keep those lines running smoothly.

At INO, based in Quebec City, IP and knowledge management are the lifeblood of the business. Specializing in research and development (R&D) in optics and photonics, the 25-year-old company functions like an outsourced R&D department for manufacturers, though it can also follow the process through to prototyping and short-run production. It holds more than 130 patents, and 80% of its 235-plus employees are highly educated, highly skilled scientists, technicians and engineers.

But that expertise didn't carry over to INO’s old email- and fileshare-based approach to collaboration, which often made it hard to find the documents that could provide a head start on new projects. Workers were often unaware of colleagues with relevant experience. “Tribal knowledge” was shared around the water cooler.

Enterprise search has removed many of the bottlenecks, according to Pierre Bergeron, INO’s process and compliance manager. “They get the right information faster,” Bergeron said. “It’s fast and accurate. They don’t reinvent the wheel.”

Proof of concept for a “show me” crowd

The idea of using enterprise search and text analytics to improve INO’s workflow essentially arrived with Bergeron, who had a decade of experience with enterprise search while running his own small quality assurance company.  Having used Coveo there for seven years, he championed the vendor’s software at INO. “I knew that it was very, very fast, accurate and reliable on full text,” he said.

INO ran a proof of concept on Coveo’s Insight Solutions for R&D and Engineering, performing most of the work on its own, according to Dominic Lajoie, the Coveo senior vice president of services who was involved with the project from the beginning. “They indexed a very small subset of content, but different types,” Lajoie said.

User acceptance proved a much bigger hurdle than any technical glitches, which both sides characterize as minor. “There were some doubts from some people at first,” Lajoie said, as employees feared they would no longer be able to access documents once they were indexed by Coveo. “They needed us to prove it was indexing permissions correctly.”

Lajoie said the migration and indexing process also revealed security holes in some document permissions, but those were easily fixed. Coveo indexes each underlying system’s security permissions and enables administrator-controlled privileges, he said.

Indexing costs and benefits

The initial contract with Coveo indexed 15 million documents and 400 Microsoft Exchange email boxes, according to Bergeron. “When we bought this license we also bought 25 days of consulting services from Coveo,” he said. “We decided to subcontract that bit and only concentrate ourselves on the business needs. It was easy enough to get 90% of the content we needed.”

The index updates any changes initiated in an application at intervals determined by the system administrator. It is set to update anywhere from every 15 minutes to every 60 minutes, depending on the application, Bergeron said.

 “It could index 70,000 documents an hour,” and email represents about half of the data that gets indexed, he said.

The documentation INO maintains on 3,500 pieces of scientific equipment is a prime example of the high-value, detailed information that must be indexed and made available so employees don’t have to relearn each device’s features and quirks, according to Bergeron. INO annually buys $3 million worth of equipment, so new records are created frequently. A single database administrator does the work of creating and mapping the appropriate database fields. “It’s easy cooking,” Bergeron said.

Not everything gets indexed. Many photos and videos are excluded, for example. “We have millions of documents we decided not to index because there’s no value in finding them,” Bergeron said. But the folders in INO’s document repository that hold the files have been indexed, he said.

Enterprise search for knowledge management

The Coveo software also serves as a knowledge management platform, according to Bergeron. He expects it to boost INO’s knowledge retention when employees leave and decrease the time new employees spend building their internal networks. 

The next step -- Bergeron calls it Coveo 2.0 -- will be to index the websites of INO suppliers and share documents with business partners. Reaching that stage is a matter of paying Coveo additional per-document licensing fees for a new round of indexing.

Bergeron also envisions using Coveo for pinpointing expertise. Currently, employee information from INO’s ERP, customer relationship management and Microsoft Active Directory systems is indexed and combined into a single Coveo object.

“We want to cross or mash up information that is coming from different sources,” including resumes, time sheets and project databases, Bergeron said. “It may sum up that this guy may be more expert than another [guy].”

Even if the soft benefits in knowledge management and collaboration never materialize, INO has been quite public about claiming cost savings. The company says Coveo has led to a 5% productivity improvement per employee by saving two hours a week not having to locate or re-create documents.

While he hasn’t done a formal analysis, Bergeron believes the return on investment came in less than a year. The 5% efficiency boost translates quickly into major money when the workforce consists of highly paid professionals, he said. Last year, the project won an innovation award given out by the Quebec IT industry.

Bergeron is working to boost adoption, which he said “is not yet at the level I would like it to be, but it’s at a very respectable level.” Around 99% of INO employees use Coveo, but how much each person uses it varies widely. “Some do it two to 10 times daily, but a few are tougher to convince,” with around 15% of employees still reluctant to change their work habits. “Highly educated people are more tough to convince than anyone else,” he said.

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