Monday, February 25, 2008

Elsevier's Illumin8 Unleashes Semantic Search on Intelligence for R&D

I really love Rafael Sidi's Really Simple Sidi weblog, it's a great compilation of insights into sciences publishing that is easy to read and is in my daily bookmarks of news sources to monitor. Turns out that Rafel is a big fan of ContentBlogger also, so I was pleased to get a preview briefing from him on Elsevier's new Illumin8 product making its debut today. While it's hard to draw major conclusions on the significance of any product Day One, it appears that Elsevier has enabled Rafael's team to come up with what promises to be a real breakthrough in STM workflow solutions focused on getting the right insights into emerging solutions to scientific problems effectively.

The problem in big-stakes scientific research and development fields is that most search tools are oriented towards topical approaches to research that don't necessarily focus on relating problems and the organizations and people focusing on them with the solutions and benefits that they provide. For example, if one were to look for research, news and Web content relating to the HIV virus, the typical search engine is going to look at a search centered on that term and come up with documents that relate to this topic - but not necessarily focus on the solutions and benefits being provided by specific research studies for available new products.

This is a critical factor when trying to select a new line of scientific research or to understand how to position a new product based on that research. How quickly can one define what solutions are in play for specific types of scientific problems by specific companies or universities? Who's delivering the most beneficial solutions? Illumin8 addresses these kinds of questions by adding an important semantic twist to search processing. Instead of focusing just on nouns to define how content relates to a topic Illumin8 clusters results based on how they fall into verb categories that align topic groups such as organizations, products, experts and technology with problems and benefits associated with those topics. Using this tool one can discover easily not just recent research, Web postings and news stories but the items that the real problems being addressed by that research and the real benefits being revealed very rapidly.

Illumin8 has a very simple search interface thus far, a "white box" approach that will move from topics to problems and benefits mapping automaticaly or the ability to define more sophisticated queries using special keywords. You can choose from news, research and Web content or any combination of these via a checkbox interface and adjust your precision/recall balance for getting lots of results or just of few of the best matches with a slider bar. Search results come with graph bars and totals to make it easier to see which keywords and clusters of topics, problems and solutions are coming up most frequently in results.

While lacking some of the interface sophistication of a more mature product like Collexis that focuses deeply on helping people navigate expert network relationships and still needing to address some entity mapping issues the fundamental power of Illumin8 is quite evident even in its early introduced form. More sophisticated analysis of verbs as valuable tools in semantic processing is in part behind the proliferation of "sales triggers" intelligence products such as Generate and InsideView, which enable sales professionals to understand when news and other content sources are pointing towards companies involved in activities that impact their sales processes. Applying this type of processing to scientific studies and product development is likely to help scientific, medical and technical companies and organizations to get a similar leg up on understanding who's moving towards revenue-impacting insights more quickly.

It's an approach that can probably yield tangible benefits for many types of business information as well as consumer information. It would be nice, for example, to see a semantic engine such as Illumin8's applied to product and catalog sites. To some degree many existing search engines factor these kinds of semantic issues into their processing behind the scenes, but Illumin8 demontrates that when one focuses on the problem-solution relationship from a product standpoint instead of a straight topic approach the benefits can be dramatic.

I am skeptical oftentimes when new products claim to be "workflow solutions," but Illumin8 seems to be pointing towards a pain point that people in R&D departments encounter often enough without real effective solutions being offered elsewhere that it probably qualifies as such a tool. It's another way of saying that there just might be some significant ROI in there if someone can do the research to tease it out from an early adopter community. Hats off to Rafael for a nifty product launch - helps to have that blog - and to the folks as Elsevier for giving Rafael a chance to strut his stuff. Hopefully Illumin8 continues to grow in scope, substance and quality.
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