April 02, 2001, 9:22 AM — IT IS A TIME-HONORED warning to dreamers: "Be careful what you wish for -- you might get it." And nowhere is it more true than in the executive suites of companies where managers wish they had all the information they want to help them make a decision.
Now, thanks to the Internet and huge internal databases easily accessible through corporate intranets, e-mail, and the digitizing of everything from faxes to voice mail, most businesses today are drowning in information.
Manual methods of aggregating this content into something useable is time-consuming and costly, and in many cases it is plainly not doable. In fact, the average human can only read about .3MB of text per hour, and evaluating that data takes much longer, according to statistics gathered by IDC, a research firm in Framingham, Mass.
"No one is interested in sending one fax. But how you add to a collection of faxes a collection of e-mails and how you create access to it all is what content management is all about," says Susan Feldman, director of the document and content technologies research program for IDC.
Two California companies addressing the information glut are Santa Ana-based NQL, which uses a network query language to seek out and deliver relevant content, and GreyStone Digital Technology, based in San Diego, which uses what it calls "digital immersion" to aggregate dozens of disparate data sources.
Both companies' technologies use forms of artificial intelligence to add a touch of smarts to the process of organizing and delivering the right content to the right person. NQL gives its intelligent search agents pattern-matching capabilities, whereas GreyStone's technology describes the existing facts, infers what the missing facts might be, and formulates a statistically appropriate response.
Tackling data chaos
"Large companies have a problem with chaotic data. It is often unstructured and loose," says David Pallmann, CTO of NQL.
NQL, whose beta customers include General Motors, CMGI, Lycos, and other Fortune 1000 companies, allows corporate developers to write NQL scripts that collect relevant information, discard the irrelevant pieces, and deliver it inside Microsoft Office applications.
Getting information into a user's own personal workflow, however, is the tricky part.
"Some managers have as many as 20 windows opened simultaneously," Feldman explains. "If they could bring it all into a single environment with the click of a search button, it would save a great deal of time."
Saving time frees up a so-called "knowledge worker" to do higher-level tasks as well.