Companies can further improve the relevancy of search results —both internally and externally — by combining the value of cloud-based services with the value of context-aware services, according to Gartner.
The research firm predicts that at year-end 2015, more than 20% of revenue-facing external search installations will incorporate context gathered from cloud sources, an increase over 2010, when the figure is expected to be less than 2%.
"The way that context can feed improved search capabilities and relevancy makes cloud computing particularly valuable to companies that provide informational services to workers or customers via search," says Whit Andrews, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "Directors of e-businesses, integration engineers, Web architects, marketers and others will need to examine how cloud and search exploit contextual information. CIOs and CTOs will derive value from understanding new capabilities that are emerging."
Many organisations will see the value of shifting their organisation and Web search efforts to incorporate cloud-based services in the near-term, and developing market dynamics will drive a general inclination to consider search in the cloud through 2015.
"In the past, search was overwhelmingly managed on-premises, because the indices that search engines use to select results for users generally contain significant amounts of sensitive information, and executives balked at allowing such data to exit the premises and enter the cloud," says Andrews. "However, inclinations to allow sensitive data — such as e-mail and discoverable information in e-discovery processes — to enter the cloud are changing companies' attitudes toward such approaches."
In addition to conventional benefits such as pricing improvements and capacity offloading for search projects, cloud computing also offers improved results accuracy through the provision of valuable contextual cues.
"Optimising search through the effective application of context is a particularly helpful and effective way to deliver valuable improvements in results sets under any circumstances," Andrews says. "Knowing what role a searcher has in a company, his or her location, and what interactions he has previously had with the search engine are all elements that may be used to provide better search results. Combining the value of cloud-based services with the value of context brings with it the potential to improve the relevancy of search results even more greatly. Improving results reduces the time spent searching and increases the value of searches, which results in quantifiable improvements in how some workers — such as customer service representatives or procurement officers — conduct their duties."
Social networking sites are another potential source of improvement for search. Facebook, for example, now offers a means to allow users to carry their Facebook identities with them as they travel the Web — fulfilling the desire for portable identities that Web businesses have long sought to develop and provide. This offers the potential for Web search to improve relevancy based on a user's explicit statements of interest and their network of fellow users.
"What the cloud offers, in addition to the promise of reduced pricing, is a standardised means of delivering information to augment queries that can improve search results significantly," Andrews says. "Most importantly, it offers a source of rich profile data that aids in setting the context for individual searches. Such context may be sensitive, such as a patient's status in a hospital when information is queried from a separate data source, or unremarkable, such as whether a user is closer to coffee shop X or coffee shop Y on a busy street."