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Ernst & Young LLP and Verity, Inc.

By
  • John Beattie, Karen O'Neill
Published
  • April 01 1998, 1:00am EST

Ernst & Young LLP is a "big six" professional services firm that takes a knowledge-centric approach to delivering accounting, tax and consulting services to its clients. Our goal is to create a "connected enterprise" that facilitates knowledge sharing and work collaboration. This requires a strong commitment and culture supported by a robust technical environment. Ernst & Young has been committed to an evolving and rapidly growing knowledge sharing infrastructure for over five years and currently manages an extensive collection of intellectual property such as industry and process best practices, client deliverables, marketing collateral, professional resumes and business relevant journal articles concerning the many industries and clients it services. Content is stored in more than 400 separate Lotus Notes databases and numerous other repositories created on Windows NT file servers, Oracle databases, Folio Infobases, internal Web sites and in PC/Docs managed files. In addition, the knowledge environment is organized according to a robust taxonomy that facilitates cataloging and searching for materials of interest.

REQUIREMENTS EXCEED TECHNOLOGY

While the firm has been able to warehouse this content, accessing it was becoming an issue. Notes' capabilities to hold unstructured data and documents solved a lot of problems for Ernst & Young. However, end users had to know ahead of time which of the over 400 (and growing) knowledge sources to access in order to find relevant content. And, Notes ability to handle our rapidly growing capacity was also in question. Just two years ago, with only a few dozen knowledge sources, this would not have presented a problem, but with such a large number of choices including international repositories, it was becoming difficult for our professional staff to stay current about where to go and how to access content. The ability to continue to capitalize on our vast knowledge base was in need of a unified tool that could organize, search, retrieve and disseminate information across the various data platforms and repositories. With a lack of such tools in the marketplace, E&Y's IT staff presented end users with a two-step process. Users started out by searching a general catalog, which offered them referential or meta data about the multitude of Notes and other repositories. The meta data search would then yield a list of repositories that might hold the relevant information. In the second step, users would then have to formulate a query and execute it separately on each of the sources. For example, if the meta data search yielded five possibilities, five separate databases would have to be opened and five separate queries would have to be issued. Searches were conducted using the native query features of each database.

DEVELOPING SOLUTIONS FOR KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT AND SHARING

The architects of the firm's knowledge environment saw the opportunity for a better solution, one that would make sharing and searching easier for end users, while allowing for rapid growth and remote access. Solutions to this problem began to emerge in the marketplace about the time that we were truly ready for a technology breakthrough to help us move to the next level of sophistication. We decided that we wanted a single Web interface that could provide access to all knowledge sources, regardless of location or underlying technology. Another fundamental decision was to leave the content in place and not attempt to cleanse and restructure the vast collection of mostly textual documents that constitutes our collective knowledge base.

The big breakthrough in our ability to simplify access to this knowledge came earlier this year, when Ernst & Young developed a custom intranet application around Verity's SEARCH'97 Information Server and other components of Verity's product family. This new solution gave users the tools they needed for cataloging and indexing diverse knowledge stores, profiling, making ad hoc queries and disseminating knowledge documents.

Ernst & Young's solution represents one of the world's largest knowledge management implementations. The company has already deployed the solution on 25,000 seats, and plans to roll it out to a majority of its 75,000 people world wide by the end of the year. The massive network is distributed throughout the United States with some limited global access.

SYSTEM COMPONENTS

In selecting a search technology, Ernst & Young focused on two areas: sophisticated search and retrieval capabilities and the ability to work with existing Notes and Oracle databases. Ernst & Young professionals are now able to search through the electronic corporate memory, using Verity's advanced indexing, filtering, and categorizing technology. The Windows NT-based system runs on 20 robustly configured Compaq Proliant servers. The Ernst & Young "knowledge web" is actually a single application that goes out and brings all of these disparate content stores together under a single umbrella, without having to reformat or relocate any of them.

FUTURE PLANS

Ernst & Young also plans to extend the integration to incorporate files managed by PC/Docs, Folio Infobases and even data that exists in structured databases and information warehouses. Scalability has not been an issue so far, but because of the rapid growth in both content managed and usage of this environment, a lot of attention is being paid to monitoring performance. Ernst & Young is pushing the envelope with this enormous environment, although performance is still well within the firm's goal of a two-four second response time. The Compaq server and Windows NT environment is handling the load well and the Verity software has proven effective in searching the massive data stores effectively and quickly through a single interface. We are also excited about the pending release of advanced push capabilities, which will allow each end- user or work group to define or connect to predefined persistent search profiles and have content pushed directly to them based on these profiles.

PRACTICAL ADVICE

Companies that depend on and need to share large volumes of knowledge need a way to store, manage and retrieve content. At one time, a simple RDBMS may have been adequate, but this was meant for structured data. Most corporate knowledge, however, is stored in unstructured formats, multimedia, word processing documents, Notes databases, etc. It is important to give end users throughout the enterprise easy, transparent access to this content. The success of the project is evident in E&Y's unprecedented growth and the fact that end users are adding and/or retrieving more content every day, because it is easy to do and there is a constantly growing demand to share knowledge and experience and to bring solutions to the table quickly. Ernst & Young has created a technical infrastructure, and firm culture that makes it easy to share knowledge globally.

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