Kentico 1 on 1 - SharePoint Search with Virgil Carroll
In this edition of Kentico 1-on-1, I spoke with High Monkey CEO and Founder Virgil Carroll on integrating SharePoint Search with Kentico. Virgil and his team have done some really interesting work in the search space with Kentico and have a lot of great insight for companies.
Hi Virgil. First, can you tell me a little bit about High Monkey and how you got into development?
Sure. High Monkey has been in business for about 17 years. We started out making websites, but have moved on to other things over the years and now do all sorts of projects in all kinds of industries. We have been working with Kentico since 2005. Myself, I have been doing development for the 17 years since I started the company. We started more in the e-learning space as a company, and then started to do websites and applications. My background is actually sports medicine and education. For the past 20 years, I have been a part-time athletic trainer at a high school here in Minnesota. I had a natural geeky side to me and was interesting technology and decided to start a company in that space. For most of our projects, I lead from an architecture standpoint, but sometimes I do some of the coding, as well.
What is SharePoint 2013 Search and how are companies using it within their applications?
I have been working with SharePoint since 2001 and have a lot of experience with all aspects of the platform. There are plenty of areas of the platform I don’t like, but I really like the search feature. Back in 2011, Microsoft purchased the FAST search engine from the founding company, which at the time was one of the top search companies on the market. With the 2010 version, they integrated a pseudo-form of the search, but it required up to 11 servers to run properly. With SharePoint 2013 and purchasing the FAST engine, they greatly consolidated the system down and got it much more efficient. It still needs to run on a separate application server, but is overall much faster and more efficient than the previous implementation.
Why I think it helps companies is this search does something that no previous search engine had done, which is “deep refiners”. This deep understanding of content has a lot of relationship-built pieces behind it that understand the relationships of content and don’t just give weight to the word you are searching on, but can do a lot of advanced things with the results.
From my side, being more in the information architecture and usability spaces, it started to bring a search experience in place that we could actually do something with and build really good search experiences for our clients. From a SharePoint side it not only brings search like you traditionally think of, but it actually runs the entire content engine of SharePoint. With that you are able to use the content search web parts to surface data through search and display just like you would from a document library or something like that. People often want to store information in one place, but look at it in another. SharePoint 2013 search helps you manage the relationships needed to do that and display great search results.
How do you integrate that into Kentico?
That’s actually a pretty long discussion and one that I have a number of blog posts that I have written on the topic. The short answer is we are using the SharePoint 2013 search to complement the great content management capabilities of Kentico. We are grabbing data out of Kentico and we are going down to the data structure level to get a deeper understanding of the content in Kentico. A lot of our clients have a long-page structure when really there are sub-items on the page that have different meanings. We break that content up and logically separate it by keywords and other relationships.
We also use the categorization module in Kentico extensively and some of the document tagging features to give rich, metadata to go along with those data crawls. With all of that data, we can do some really sophisticated things on the search side. Being able to do that, we can leverage all the power of SharePoint search to provide a really great experience, but use the power of Kentico to manage the content.
What kind of companies would want to look into implementing SharePoint search with Kentico?
The real benefit of doing this is you are able to use SharePoint to its strength, which is really content understanding and being able to surface that through a great search experience. Overall, where this is going to be appropriate is for clients that have large information structures. You are not going to want to do this if you are a company that has 5, 10, or 50 pages on their site because you’re not going to benefit from great search results because your content isn’t that big.
For one of our first clients we implemented this for, if you broke out all of their content into components and subcomponents, there were about one thousand pieces of content on the site. For them, the SharePoint search provided a really good search experience over traditional methods and we were able to fine tune the experience for their users. I think one of the things you can really pull from that is this is appropriate for clients that have a lot information on their site, both internal and external.
The other side is cost. Implementing SharePoint is not for the faint of heart! This makes the solution more appropriate for companies that already have enterprise agreements, and have these types of systems already laid out in the packages. Or companies that have a large enough web presence where a custom search solution becomes necessary.
Providing a great search experience is as crucial as any part of a project and SharePoint Search can open up some interesting possibilities with your Kentico sites. If you are interested in learning more about the topic, check out Virgil’s blog series below:
Next Gen Search Article
Thank you to Virgil for taking the time to talk with me and sharing his great insight into the integration!