How to Use Unified Information Access to Get Most Value from Your Data

By Sarah Meyer  |  Posted 2010-05-10

How to Use Unified Information Access to Get Most Value from Your Data

We frequently hear complaints that a critical event should have been avoided, with the common cause being that people were unable to "connect the dots" before the event happened. The problem expressed here is that the dots were all available in various repositories but there was no way to synthesize the intelligence. Further, this intelligence would appear only after the information was assembled and analyzed. Inaction itself isn't the issue-it's a problem of access to insight. Organizations can't act on what they don't know.

This is a critical, and sometimes life or death, issue for government and law enforcement agencies. In a recent article, President Obama said that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, had been allowed to board a plane on December 25, 2009 because United States intelligence agencies failed to share data and make sense of it-or connect the dots, as some say-to identify the threat before it materialized.

Although the publicized "unconnected dots" stories are typically about poor communication and information sharing among government agencies, corporations of all sizes suffer from the same challenges. This is the case even when all or most of the dots are internal data.

In a recent Op-Ed piece, Toyota President Akio Toyoda addressed the company's recent recall of nearly 8 million cars to correct serious safety problems, a crisis that has eroded a fifth of the company's market value (or $30B) and has already cost the company more than $2B. Toyoda acknowledged that the root of the problem was that the company "failed to connect the dots."

Toyoda went on to say that the company needed to improve "sharing important quality and safety information across our global operations. When consumers purchase a Toyota, they are not simply purchasing a car, truck or van. They are placing their trust in our company."

The cost of not connecting the dots can destroy not only quantifiable market value but also the long-term value of the brand. That trust, once tarnished, is hard to restore.

Businesses and government intelligence agencies alike suffer from poorly consolidated and under communicated insight. Fixing this vital problem has frustrated IT departments and software vendors for years.

Yet another challenge is data quality. For example, there are often multiple spellings of suspected terrorists' names (Osama bin Laden or Usama bin Laden, as an example) that must be resolved. It has been reported that State Department officials did check to see whether Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a valid United States visa. However, because his name was misspelled in the visa database, their search came up empty.

UIA Bridges Silos and Automates Processes

UIA bridges silos and automates processes

So, how can companies better connect the dots? One key contributing factor is that information is stored in many forms and is retrieved via incompatible technologies.


This basically ens??í??í??íures that the process of assembling and connecting the dots will not be simple, automatic and seamless. When you add in complicating dynamics, such as the exploding volume of information that could contain relevant data, the risk of missing important insight is significant.

When looking at how to better connect the dots, the most important objectives to keep in mind are bridging silos to automate processes and deliver the right information at the right time. Whether the goal is early detection of trends to identify the issues before they mushroom into serious problems, having complete details about a customer at each interaction, or preventing a threat, comprehensive insight is not a luxury.

While organizational and cultural issues are partly to blame for the disconnect, a number of information management technologies-if used in conjunction with process improvements-can help to ease the pain. Unified Information Access (UIA) has emerged to address the increasingly painful problem of not being able to get complete, relevant insight in time to be effective and successful.

UIA integrates all content and data-regardless of source or format-into a single index to deliver complete information to people. This automates business processes and enriches user experience, uniting core capabilities offered separately by enterprise search, business intelligence, data warehousing, process automation, and analytics. UIA solves the problem of information isolation that limits innovation, discovery and market sensitivity.

Implement UIA with These Elements in Mind

Implement UIA with these elements in mind

Assessing the current state of affairs, as well as longer term goals, is an important prerequisite to a successful implementation of any new set of far-reaching capabilities. The impact of UIA can start tactically and spread, but this approach is still much more productive when it is part of a multiphase plan. Three key elements that enterprises should look at when implementing UIA as part of a larger information management strategy include:

Element No. 1: What kinds of interfaces and methods will meet information discovery and exploration needs?

UIA can populate a variety of interfaces-from typical search lists to familiar dashboards and reports. The difference is that these interfaces will provide you with more complete, better synthesized and more immediately available information. UIA typically includes sophisticated exploration tools such as facet recommendations, auto-completion, tag clouds and heat maps.

Element No. 2: Where is increasing the timeliness of information delivery most critical?

The answer to this question can help identify the order of projects that should include UIA. By pinpointing the biggest risks and opportunities for accelerating access to insight, you can target a pilot project that will demonstrate value, and balance your organization's risk tolerance against the urgency of the projects you identify.

Element No. 3: How and where do you want to use automated processes that are triggered by information events?

User-defined, text-based filters can monitor and detect information-based activities in real time, and deliver critical intelligence to trained analysts who can then take the appropriate action.

UIA Platform Should Support Textual Analytics

UIA platform should support textual analytics

The UIA platform you select should support a full array of textual analytics on the ever-expanding corpus of information that makes up the communication landscape of a typical enterprise. These include the following three:

1. Entity extraction: Locating names, places, dates and other words and phrases in text.

2. Sentiment analysis: Extracting and measuring opinions expressed in a document and on specific entities in a document. Entity-level sentiment analysis can show that an opinion is positive overall and includes specific negatives (for example, the writer loves a cell phone but complains about battery life).

3. Key phrases: Detecting significance of an entity based on statistical improbability.

Implemented strategically, UIA can affect an almost immediate increase in the business value of the organization's investment in information assets. UIA enables organizations to increase revenue by identifying new opportunities and outsmarting competitors, while retaining and nurturing customers by improving every interaction. These benefits can be achieved while reducing cost, which lowers risk by heading off issues early and streamlining infrastructure.

Avoiding problems, detecting opportunity and bolstering customer satisfaction are all critical to success. One of the most effective ways to make substantial improvements in these areas is to take advantage of UIA's ability to deliver insight. However, a lack of technology is not the sole issue, as technology can only go so far.

Ultimately, to improve the ability to connect the dots, all levels of an organization need to commit to the goal of breaking down the silos that impede effective collection and analysis of data. This is typically not a single-step endeavor, and companies should plan for the measures and methods that support continuous assessment and improvement. The results are well worth the effort.

Sarah Meyer is Director of Product Marketing at Attivio. Sarah has over 20 years of experience in bringing business-centric enterprise applications, middleware and solutions to market at large and small companies. Her focus has been collaboration and process improvement for business and IT. In the ten years she was at Lotus Development Corporation, she held positions in marketing, product management, product design, and development management. She can be reached at

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