An Interview with Bjørn Laukli
I met Bjørn Laukli in the course of the Fast Search & Transfer implementation at the precursor of the USA.gov service. Mr. Laukli was the chieft technology officer for the company. In the 2001 - 2002 period, Fast Search was a worthy rival to Google and it was making enterprise license deals for the Fast ESP (enterprise search platform). Mr. Laukli is no longer working at Fast Search & Transfer, having left the company in mid-2008. Mr. Laukli demonstrated a solid understanding of the Fast ESP system and he was able to make short work of a number of issues that arose during a complex deployment of the Fast ESP system.
What's your background?
I have a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Civil Engineering from University of Colorado at Boulder. After graduating from college, I entered the software industry in Colorado. In 1999, I joined FAST Search & Transfer, initially in R&D working on alltheweb.com. I re-located in 2000 to the Boston area, where I was involved with building up the company, focusing on product development, services and technical support. After nearly nine years, I left Fast Search, I took some time off, and joined Comperio in the fall of 2008 to head up their US operations.
What was the trigger in your career that made search and retrieval a focal point? Weren't there other, easier opportunities for you to use your technical training and expertise?
When I joined Fast Search in 1999, that was really the company and technology that got me interested. I saw huge opportunities to create products that could help other businesses succeed either in terms of revenue creations or business efficiencies and cost savings. However, my first job after college at Dataware Technologies created a lot of interests dealing with data searches, storage and management that I leveraged later at Fast Search.
Do you have a search related project underway? If so, will you describe it?
We have done several projects in the US, and hundreds in Europe in the last four years. The first one we did in the US was for MarketResearch.com and its profound.com web site. Marketresearch.com is the world’s largest and continuously updated collection of market research. Comperio was responsible for the implementation of Fast ESP, and in addition they leveraged the Comperio Front application.
Leveraging this technology enabled Marketresearch to not only decrease the implementation time by more than 20 percent, but they also took advantage of more advanced analytics to help their overall user experience. The web site and the traffic have since the go-live date in December 2008 been very positive. Comperio continue to provide technical support, and we are in discussions about more work at their site.
The number of new companies entering the search and content processing "space" is increasing. What's your view on too many hungry mouths and too few chocolate chip cookies?
Certainly, there are many new companies entering the search and content processing space. I still feel there are opportunities for most of them to succeed as long as they are able to differ themselves in some ways. This can be done either by focusing on certain segments of the market, or, deliver new capabilities as an addition to existing platforms.
hat are the functions that you want to deliver to your customers?
We view ourselves as the search specialist. That means we bring value beyond just the technology. In addition to the traditional implementation services and technical support, we have created a search middleware called Comperio Front, based on best deployment practices and configurations, to improve the user-experience and system operations, as well as decrease deployment time.
What are two or three of the key features you are implementing?
We have focused on providing more advanced analytics on the fly to improve the user experience. We are leveraging the query logs from the back-end, and clicks from the front end to optimize the user interface and experience. Another feature that we have had a lot of success with is the new search-driven Topic Page functionality. More and more customers see a need for this.
There's a push to create mash ups--that is, search results that deliver answers or reports. What's your view of this trend?
I think it is a natural progression to move towards mash-ups, however, it still seems less mature and would need some standardization of technology to make it more main-stream.
What differentiates your approach from the systems available? Can you be more specific? What are some of the key differentiators?
Comperio has up to this point worked exclusively with the Fast ESP technology, both as a re-seller and service and technical support partner. In addition, we have built Comperio Front, as search middleware on top of the search platform that can for example decrease the implementation time, improve the user experience by leveraging more advanced analytics, and creating topic pages.
A number of vendors have shown me very fancy interfaces. The interfaces take center stage and the information within the interface gets pushed to the background. Are we entering an era of eye candy instead of results that are relevant to the user?
I think you need both user experience and relevance to be successful. Those companies that can bring them together in a personalized way will win. The users are expecting nice and intuitive user interfaces; however, the content and results must still maintain high quality.
What text processing functions do you offer?
We are leveraging the Fast ESP processing functions. In addition, we have dictionaries that are leveraged to enhance the quality of the search results.
What are the hot trends in search for the next 12 to 24 months? How will you take advantage of them; for example, go public, partner, sell to a larger firm, etc.
I think you will continue to see some consolidations, Microsoft acquiring Fast Search & Transfer in 2008, Omniture buying Mercado, etc. This trend will continue as larger companies are trying to strengthen their position within search, bring in new technologies that will bring value to their overall offering, or increasing their customer base.
Where can people get more information?
Anyone can go to www.comperiosearch.com to learn more about the company and our product and service offerings, or they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organizations looking for assistance with a Fast ESP implementation will want to learn more about the services of Comperio. Mr. Laukli has the knowledge to reduce implementation time and make the Fast ESP system perform at its optimal level.
Stephen E. Arnold, May 28, 2009