Highspot Targets Enterprise Search Via Machine Learning

Darryl K. Taft covers IBM, big data and a number of other topics for TechWeekEurope and eWeek

Former Microsoft engineers form Highspot, to tackle enterprise search using machine learning

A new startup has been officially launched by a team made up of former Microsoft executives and engineers.

The company, known as Highspot, offers a cloud knowledge management service that helps organisations capture, share, and cultivate their most valuable working knowledge via machine learning.

Learning Geek

Highspot’s chief scientist, Paul Viola, ran the core data science team for Microsoft’s Bing search engine and helped it to pull even with Google in many measurements of search relevance during his tenure. Viola described himself to eWEEK as a “machine learning geek.”

Find, search engines © Tashatuvango Shutterstock 2012In a blog post about the company’s launch, Highspot’s CEO Robert Wahbe, who was corporate vice president of product management for the Server and Tools Division at Microsoft, said the inspiration for Highspot came from its founders’ collective frustration that their previous organisations had the potential to be much more effective if they “only knew what they knew.”

Indeed, “We spent a ton of time and money producing content, and what came clear to me was that people are not able to find the content they are looking for when they need it,” Wahbe told eWEEK. Wahbe cited a Forrester study that says there is a knowledge gap where the failure rate for not finding the information users are looking for is 56 percent, while the process of looking for the information wastes up to 12 percent of users’ time.

According to Wahbe, “The information existed to make the organisations smarter, but it simply wasn’t available to the people who needed it, when they needed it. Some of this vital working knowledge was formal, such as documents and presentations about a new product launch, while other was more informal such as the fruits of hard-won experience. But regardless of whether formal or informal, most organisations really struggle to capture, share, and cultivate the collective working knowledge of the organisation.”

He said this is particularly true for frontier functions like engineering, marketing, and sales that operate at the edge of institutional knowledge. “They have an insatiable demand for the latest and greatest information to win the next deal, fend off competitors, captivate customers and inspire innovation,” he said. “As often as not, the information they need to win the day exists, it just isn’t available when it matters.”

Highspot Pioneer?

Wahbe said Highspot is following the lead of existing Internet solutions like Google, Amazon and Pinterest. “They all use similar pioneer techniques to connect people with information – they use machine learning,” he said. “Compare those Internet solutions to existing enterprise search solutions for business. They don’t use machine learning, they use tags. However, tags get less and less correct and less and less relevant over time.”

The Highspot approach to enterprise search is based on four pillars: to leverage approachable consumer user experiences, to build a comprehensive knowledge graph, to increase relevance through machine learning, and to deliver it all as a modern cloud service.

“To effectively ‘know what you know,’ Highspot must cast the broadest possible net for information, and gracefully incorporate content wherever it is created, whatever its type, and wherever it is consumed,” Wahbe said in his post. “We are committed to integrate with information wherever it resides, including widely used platforms such as Office 365, Google Apps, Box, Dropbox, and Salesforce as well as information types as diverse as documents, presentations, spreadsheets, images, videos, audio, news feeds and news alerts.”

Highspot utilises familiar consumer Web experiences and it increases relevance through advanced machine learning. The machine learning platform delivers highly relevant results that get even more relevant over time, Wahbe said.

Machine Learning

With machine learning, as people use Highspot the knowledge graph gets smarter. Highspot enables users to organize information in “Spots,” which are collections of related content. “Spots are the main ways we organise knowledge,” Wahbe said.

The Highspot knowledge graph represents all people and all items in an organisation and all the relationships between them. The knowledge graph factors in observed facts such as geography, views, likes and follows, as well as learned facts such as influence, similarity, trending and interest, Viola said.

“I try to put things in front of you that will be of value to you,” he noted.

Highspot automatically brings the latest and most relevant information to users’ attention. It enables users to browse in context for the information they need. It also features information genomics to enable users to follow information as it evolves and track documents as they mutate.

Microscope, research © kurhan, Shutterstock 2012“With the rocket growth of our business we were creating content faster than anyone could keep up,” said Forest Key, CEO of buuteeq, in a statement. “And with our team more than doubling each year on boarding new people was a huge challenge. Highspot lets us capture our important information and expertise in a way that makes it easy for everyone to find it and leverage it.”

Parallels, a provider of hosting and cloud services enablement and cross-platform solutions, also is an early Highspot customer. “Keeping our leadership and our sales, support, and engineering teams equipped with the latest information was a constant challenge,” said John Zanni, chief marketing officer at Parallels, in a statement. “Highspot easily gets the most relevant information into people’s hands when they need it and helps our marketing team focus on the content that matters.”

Wahbe said enterprise search is estimated to be an $8 billion market. “We believe we are the first to tackle this in the enterprise,” he said. The company’s focus on frontier foundations such as marketing, sales and engineering represent a sweet spot for the service, he said. “Sales and marketing produce about half of the content coming out of an enterprise. Engineering produces a large amount of content as well, in the form of things like process guidelines, coding guidelines, documentation and more. We feel like this is a very horizontal solution.”

Highspot runs on the Amazon Web Services cloud. “We run the service on AWS and it is based on a proven, open-source stack,” Wahbe said. Machine learning is very compute intensive, he added.

“Open source is both a business and strategic decision,” Wahbe said. “There is so much innovation going on in the open source world.”

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Originally published on eWeek.