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Enterprise Search Firm Moves Into Business Intelligence

Fast will offer a smart search system to challenge the structured queries and data warehouses required by traditional BI systems.

Dissatisfied with 300,000 search results, none of them yielding the answer you're looking for?

Fast Search and Transfer, a Norwegian firm founded in 1997, is about to plunge into the business intelligence market, substituting a smart search system for the structured queries and data warehouses required by traditional BI systems. On Jan. 29 in London, it will launch it as the Fast Adaptive Information Warehouse.

Fast says it's not allying itself with existing business intelligence vendors. But Fast's $8 million purchase last April of Corporate Radar gives it a personalized, browser-based, business intelligence system. User access is through a Web portal. The system can drill down through the data that it finds, analyze it, and present results in a user dashboard, like a business intelligence system, says Eric Kirsten, a Fast business development spokesman.

Business intelligence has traditionally relied upon well scrubbed, historical data loaded into data warehouses. It appears doubtful that a search approach can yield the same kind of precise BI results as a Business Objects or Cognos-style system.

But could Fast pull off a disruptive technology introduction anyway? Can Fast's warehouse yield useful results that the more structured systems can't? Search functions more loosely and finds informaton more easily than BI, tapping a wider variety of sources. Nobody knows for sure, but Fast has "gained product leadership" in enterprise search with Version 5 of its Enterprise Search Platform, according to Forrester Research. The product has strong visibility when installed within the enterprise, good controls, delivery, architecture, and security, wrote Matthew Brown, a Forrester analyst, in June 2006. It's "quickly becoming an enterprise search standard for major corporations," he wrote in "Enterprise Search Platforms Q2 2006.

Fast missed its first golden opportunity. In 1997, it produced AlltheWeb, a search engine that was once engaged in a race with Google to see which could index more Web pages. In July 2002, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fast had momentarily passed Google's total. AlltheWeb was acquired by Overture in 2003, which in turn was acquired by Yahoo in 2004, but there's no question of who won the Web search race. Now Fast is ready to try again, this time with a business intelligence approach.

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