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Interview with Tom Henderson from ADDS

Last Updated Mar 2009

By Theresa Shafer, New Idea Engineering, Inc. - Volume 5 Number 6 - December 2008

Our own Theresa Shafer recently interviewed Tom Henderson about their use of ISYS:Web 8 from ISYS Corporation. Tom is the director of quality assurance, user documentation, and knowledge management at software developer Advanced Digital Data, Inc. (ADD Systems).

Q: Can you give us some background on ADD Systems?

Henderson: We develop software for energy distributors, primarily petroleum distributors, fuel oil, gasoline, propane, and related companies including convenience stores, lubricant dealers and the like. ADD Systems started in 1973, and when I joined ADD in 1988 it had 40 employees. Since then it has grown to 175 employees with four offices in the US and Canada. We have acquired several of our competitors and continue to maintain some of their products. We have evolved in that time from a small "seat of your pants" operation to a company with a solid organizational structure, and ever-improving processes and procedures.

Q: I understand you recently looked at adding search. What drove your need?

Henderson: Because of our fast paced growth, we had support, training, development and QA documents spread all over the place. Our challenge was that questions would come up and we knew we had the answer...somewhere. We started working on this several years ago simply by creating a Word document that was a list of hyperlinks to relevant materials. A customer service rep could look through our knowledge index document and hopefully find the document they needed. One of the drawbacks was search; while they could search the knowledge index document itself, they could not search the contents of the documents that it referenced. This provided some frustration.

Q: How did you get started evaluating search engines?

Henderson: We used KM World and various on-line resources to do some initial research. We came up with a number of vendors we thought might be helpful and reviewed on-line demonstrations with several of them. We quickly found that for a company of our size, we needed to be careful which vendor we chose; we had to manage the scope of investment, looking to avoid a product that required a lot of consulting time to get up and running.

I went to the Enterprise Search Summit in New York City and was able to talk to many vendors and find out within 5 or 10 seconds whether they were a potential fit. I'd start by saying, "We have 175 employees. Do you deal with companies like that; should we continue?" And, they quickly said yes or no, and I went from there. Although each of the vendors was responsive, I was especially pleased by my discussions with ISYS. Put simply, the person I talked to understood my questions, provided credible answers, and showed how their search engine could help. He said "no" when the answer was no and "yes" when the answer was yes, backing it up with a product that seemed to work pretty well.

Q: What was one of your biggest challenges?

Henderson: The first was determining the correct criteria for vendor and product selection. This is not like choosing a word processor in a mature market where the price/performance and required features are well understood. To me it seems like a young market where vendors are experimenting with the best way to price their products resulting in a variety of licensing models – number of users, number of documents, etc. It became clear that not only did we need a good search engine, we needed a licensing model that made sense for an organization of our size. And we needed a product we could roll out without the use of extensive consulting services. The month-long trial we did with ISYS was extremely helpful; the results gave us a huge amount of confidence that we could derive great value from the product deploying it almost entirely on our own.

Q: What has been your process?

Henderson: Our first phase was to provide a small group of internal users with search of our customer service knowledge base. We focused on indexing materials that we knew were valuable rather than a broad search of everything. Out of the box the ISYS product provided immediate benefit. That was very encouraging for us, so we have continued at an aggressive pace. We also used ISYS to search our Clientele database. It's a CRM package on a SQL Server database where we record all of our customer support issues and software development decisions. It took about three weeks to decide what we wanted to extract from that database, write the scripts to build the indexes (with technical support from ISYS) and refine the results. Although it took more effort than the file server indexes, it was well worth it as this has provided a huge benefit to our organization.

Q: Any other challenges?

Henderson: Our organization itself. We needed to identify what was important to whom. This has involved meetings with each of our groups, demonstrations of the product, follow-up and an ongoing process to discover what we care about. Excellent search/find depends on having your house in order and the search tool itself has helped us with that. Now that we have ISYS it's amazing what we find sometimes: it's like picking up a rock and finding bugs underneath. So we clean them up.

Q: Any resources that were helpful?

Henderson: I used the KM World buyers guide for initial orientation. I had no experience whatsoever with this nine months ago. I just jumped in, and the buyers guide helped me get started. The Enterprise Search Summit was also key, along with some demos, and finally our month-long trial with ISYS got us to where we are.

Q: What would you like to ask our readers?

Henderson: A tricky question I face today is the extent to which it is valuable to consolidate indexes versus separating them. For example, we have a department with a spot on the file server that has a lot of good information. They would like an index exclusively of that. It is nice to have a focused index but too many indexes have you guessing all over again – where do I search? So, what balance have others found in this area?