Verity search leads to fed market

Verity Inc. is taking its battle against information glut to the government sector, where it plans to broaden its business.

The document search engine vendor, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., recently captured a subcontracting role on the Air Force's MyAirForce portal project, which initially will provide information to 350,000 users. The company also has snagged a place on California's state portal and counts the Army, the CIA, the General Services Administration and the State Department among its government users.

Verity's K2 product line automates the classification of documents, provides search capabilities and is expanding into the realm of personalization, in which search results reflect the particular interests of the person performing the search. The company generates 5 percent of its business in the government space, said Anthony Bettencourt, president of Verity, adding that public-sector revenue could represent 10 percent of the company's business in two years. "We're going to expand gracefully over time," he said. Verity had revenue of $145 million for its 2001 fiscal year, which ended in May.

Although search products maintain a low profile, their impact on e-government may prove significant, according to industry executives.

A search engine's precision will determine whether citizens visiting a government portal find what they seek or leave unhappy. As a means for interacting with government, portals are "at risk to the extent that people find that interaction frustrating as opposed to efficient," said Hadley Reynolds, research director with the Delphi Group.

A robust search capability ranks among users' top priorities, said Janet Pandzik, Air Force portal program manager. Accordingly, Verity's search engine will be included in a coming release of the Air Force portal. Verity, however, will not be included in the initial release of the portal, which will debut in two weeks. The first version will instead link to Web search tools run by Google, Yahoo Inc. and others.

But portals aren't Verity's only pursuit in the government market. The company also views e-business Web sites as an opportunity, citing GSA Advantage among its largest customers in that segment. Overall, Verity sees opportunity in the explosion of "unstructured" information — text, graphics and video — versus structured information housed in corporate databases.

Bettencourt, citing IBM Corp. research, says an organization's un- structured information doubles every six to 12 months.

"A key lever is the growth in unstructured documents," Bettencourt said. Tools that automate the process of classifying documents will save government entities time and money, he added.

The trick, however, is getting customers to acknowledge their in- formation overload. "For a lot of these [deals], our biggest competitor is not another software company," Bettencourt said. "It's apathy."

Verity, meanwhile, is trying to build enthusiasm for what it sees as the latest evolution of search and retrieval: social networks. Bettencourt described social network technology as a personalized search, in which documents are matched to user interests. This approach taps user behavior to gauge a document's re- levancy. The more users select a document, for example, the higher that document appears in the search results of subsequent users.

Geoffrey Bock, a senior consultant with Patricia Seybold Group, said social networks expand traditional search technology, locating centers of human expertise as well as documents.

"Business and government enterprises are fundamentally social organizations, and they have a lot of objective knowledge, which is captured by text retrieval technology," he said. "And they also have a lot of implicit know-how and rules of thumb [that] are not captured by explicit text retrieval." Among Verity's main objectives this year is to demonstrate social network technology's return on investment. "We want to make sure it is as rock solid as we think it will be," Bettencourt said.

He said Verity was discussing social network technology with the Air Force. "The social network aspect is included in the license we offer," he said. "We just have to get them to embrace it."

Moore is a freelance writer based in Chantilly, Va.

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