Turning Information Into Knowledge

It's not quite as dramatic as turning water into wine, but transforming information into knowledge is proving to be miracle enough for Excalibur Inc. The Vienna, Va.-based company is finding a niche in the competitive Internet products market with RetrievalWare, a suite of search engine products that possess seemingly supernatural power when it comes to locating information on the World Wide Web.

Just how extraordinary is the product? Sales jumped by 90 percent between January 1996 and 1997, and company officials hope for even better numbers this year.

Excalibur's Tom Polivka said his company is pulling together disparate sources of information and refining it into knowledge.
RetrievalWare combines two unique searching capabilities. Excalibur's core technology, Adaptive Pattern Recognition Processing, allows it to perform "fuzzy" searches, meaning it can overlook misspellings or errors resulting from optical character recognition processing. The product's network semantic technology, on the other hand, gives it the ability to conduct "concept" searches. This allows it to locate terms or phrases that express a similar idea. So, for example, a search for the word "plane" would also turn up references to "aircraft" and "jetliner."

The RetrievalWare suite of products, first released in August 1995, includes some very powerful solutions that integrators can use to develop applications. For example, EFS is used for managing digital documents, Visual RetrievalWare for managing digital images; and Web Server, for searching and managing large volumes of documents over the Internet. Thus, users of the product can tackle diverse data collections, including text and multimedia objects, as well as unstructured information such as spreadsheets, PowerPoint slide shows and other data types that don't fit easily into relational databases.

"We're trying to cut through this information glut that's out there," said Tom Polivka, director of government operations for Excalibur. "We're focused on trying to pull together all these disparate sources of information and then taking that information and refining it into knowledge." Knowledge in this context refers to information needed for making critical and complex decisions, Polivka notes, and corporate America has only just begun to zero in on its value. A recent Meta Group study noted that 42 percent of Fortune 1000 companies are in different stages of hiring on chief knowledge officers, or CKOs.

"Typically when a corporation or government agency has to make these types of decisions, they have to query, in some cases, hundreds of sources of information, bring it all together and then refine it into something that allows you to make complex decisions very quickly," he explained. Such intense demand has helped Excalibur pick up some prestigious customers, including Ford Motor Co., United Airlines, World Bank, Los Angeles Times, Federal Reserve Board and the Department of Defense.

The product's real value will be even more apparent as companies and agencies make their archives accessible through the Internet or over intranets. Given the disparate nature of the Web's information sources, the ability to fire off a single search and hit the many pockets of information has been frustratingly difficult if not impossible up to now.

RetrievalWare overcomes many of these problems not only by its ability to overlook errors, but because it allows the user to adjust the granularity of the search. So for example, with a search of the word "stock," the product can be instructed to restrict its search to hits within the context of a financial instrument. References to "stock" as a soup base, a gun part or cattle are ignored.

"You no longer have to spend all your time throwing away all the information you don't want," Polivka stated. "It's a very accurate and very sophisticated search engine, and we feel that we're in a very unique position to take advantage of the market since no one else has anything like this product."

- Heather Hayes

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