This article is the second in a series intended to help those exploring federated search to understand the steps to procuring a federated search product or service Part I explored the business case, i.e. the compelling reasons for pursuing federated search. While the exploration of the issues in Part I may have included discussion of benefits, the discussion was a high-level one. Part II drops to a deeper level of detail. Part III will consider features in the context of requirements and benefits.

Note that benefits are not features. While I am not a sales or marketing professional, my experience in working with customers is that they desire benefits and that they only desire the features that increase their benefits. Too many features can actually make an application undesirable if, for example, ease of use is an important benefit and the weight of all those features negates that benefit.

Benefits fall into a number of general categories, and some benefits fall into multiple categories:

  • Makes you feel better by addressing a basic human need, e.g. satisfying a physical or emotional hunger, minimizing a fear or alleviating a pain.
  • Makes you feel more successful, especially related to others in your peer group.
  • Saves you or your business time, money, hassle or some other important resource.
  • Allows your business to produce more of something.

I’m emphasizing the importance of benefits over features because most of us make purchase decisions on the basis of meeting emotional or business needs, not because we care about features. Even the technically savvy people who get excited about a product’s features are pursuing the benefit of feeling good by having the best that money can buy.

In the context of federated search, a benefit of a deployment might be that it saves you the hassle of having to search a number of sources yourself. The actual feature is that the federated search application searches multiple sources simultaneously and presents the results to you in one list. A more subtle benefit might be the good feeling you have that your organization has leading edge federated search software that others in your industry don’t.

As part of your process of finding the right federated search solution, make a list of benefits. A list will help you tremendously when you are considering requirements and features because you can match up features to benefits you’ve already considered, or perhaps discover new benefits. Also, having a list of benefits will make it easier to convince your constituents that you are meeting their needs. In discovering and articulating benefits you will also identify values that are important to your organization as something is only a benefit if it is aligned with your values.

To help in your process of identifying benefits, here’s a list of some I’m aware of:

  1. Save time performing research by eliminating the tedious effort required to search multiple sources manually. Saving time is a huge benefit. Since labor is expensive compared to software, letting software replace human labor is a benefit businesses really like.

  2. Save money on cost of searching. This benefit is obviously closely related to the previous one since time costs money.

  3. Reduce your time-to-market. The faster and more complete technical information is delivered to research engineers, the quicker new products get to market. Time-to-market is life-or-death to many high-tech companies.

  4. Save money on cost of hosting and administering yourself. This is a benefit to those who have the resources and inclination to host a solution themselves, assuming a particular federated search vendor provides sufficient incentive to hosting the solution yourself.

  5. Improve your research efforts by finding documents you might not find otherwise. If a federated search solution can deliver more relevant documents than you would find yourself, then the quality of your research improves. This could lead to a monetary savings as well if knowing about additional documents improves productivity.

  6. Save the hassle of administering yourself. To those who highly value the benefit of avoiding hassle, a solution hosted by the vendor might be preferable.

  7. Have full control of environment if you host yourself. Some organizations value (or require) full control of the federated search environment, perhaps for privacy, business continuity or policy reasons. Organizations with this value will only consider vendor solutions that provide the benefit of full control.

  8. Get a return on investment. Organizations that are highly sensitive to ROI will expect a return on their investment. Unfortunately, as important as ROI is to many business, it is notoriously difficult to quantify.

  9. Gain better utilization of paid content. Thrift is a value to many. Organizations that pay for access to content would like to ensure that paid sources are sufficiently used. Federated search solutions provide the benefit of better utilization through the feature of searching sources that might not be searched otherwise. The right federated search solution might also help to identify sources that return relatively few relevant results and should therefore be dropped.

  10. Improve discovery by identifying new sources. Related to the previous benefit, federated search applications help users to discover new sources by providing them with results from sources previously unfamiliar to them. Discovering new sources can lead to being more productive and to finding sources you might not otherwise find, to enjoying the search process more, and to better utilization of resources - all are important benefits.

  11. Stay competitive with other organizations providing a similar (or better) service. This is a subtle benefit. Some organizations highly value having the best technologies in all areas of their business, especially if their competitors don’t.

  12. Be an early adopter of new technologies. Closely related to the previous benefit is that of adopting new technologies before others do. Organizations that value risk-taking and the possibility of dominating a market through heavy exploitation of new technologies will seek the benefit of being first.

  13. Support the organizational vision. This is another subtle value. An organization may, for example, have a vision that promotes collaboration among its researchers. A federated search solution with collaboration features will provide the benefit of supporting an organization’s vision.

  14. Create a more pleasant user experience. Comfort and ease of use are important to many users. Organizations that provide federated search to the public, or to non-sophisticated users, will seek features that benefit users in their desire to not have to struggle to use the application.

  15. Ability to effectively perform research can grow as organization needs grow. A solution that scales will be important to some organizations, in particular to those that are planning to grow in terms of sources, users, or queries.

What other benefits can you think of?

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This entry was posted on Monday, June 30th, 2008 at 11:06 am and is filed under basics, roadmap. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or TrackBack URI from your own site.

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