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Getting Real at DHS

Getting Real at DHS

Like many information rich organisations the Victorian Department of Human Services (DHS) needs a way to help the general public — its customers — navigate through its wide range of different Web sites.

The problem is, says Bruce Riley, manager Web Development in DHS’ Information Services branch, while there are plenty of search engines it could make available, all of which work to one extent or another, most of them work by giving users more information than they need, rather than just the information they need.

“It’s how the information is presented, and the filtering that’s applied to the information, that makes a search engine useful,” Riley says.

DHS’ solution was to take advantage of recent advances in Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing to provide customers with a revolutionary personalised and dynamic content management enterprise search software solution, known as RealTerm. RealTerm commercial search software has now been deployed across DHS’ primary Web sites including: www.dhs.vic.gov.au, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au, www.health.vic.gov.au, www.housing.vic.gov.au, www.disability.vic.gov.au, as well as a large number of sub-sites and the corporate intranet.

“What we were looking for essentially, and what we think we’ve got in RealTerm, is a product which presents the information it finds in a way which makes it much easier to discover the information you are after.”

Riley says the initial driver was that DHS maintains multiple Web sites, making it hard to people — both internal and external to the organisation — to find information.

“What we needed was some way of wrapping that around with a search engine to make it easier for people to find information without knowing where to go in the first place,” he says.

And Riley says since being rolled out by technology provider WDG, RealTerm has been enhancing e-government capabilities by improving resource discovery and boosting productivity

“Deployments of RealTerm globally have resulted in, on average, a 30 minute reduction in the time it takes a user to conduct a search on a complex topic. If we can speed up the time it takes our staff to find the resources they need and reduce duplication, then when you multiply that by 8000 employees, you are starting to see significant productivity and efficiency gains,” Riley says.

RealTerm serves as a mediator between a search engine and the user, analysing results returned by a search, organising those results into a hierarchy of topics then presenting for browsing. It comes with its own search engine but it can work with other search engines and databases, and can act as a meta-search engine by combining output from multiple information sources such as search engines and databases. RealTerm constantly monitors the user’s actions to continually tailor the topics, accurately reflecting the user’s interests and helping them find the right document, the first time.

For DHS it is helping to address one of the biggest challenges employees faced working in an information rich environment — data duplication across DHS’ numerous departments and the need to locate documents on a specific subject from multiple Web sites. With RealTerm, data across all Web sites is aggregated and presented to users for browsing and exploring in one simple search, making it easy for users to find the right resource, the first time.

Meta Group says the commercial search market will grow to $US5 billion over the next two years, as more enterprises operating in document rich environments, including government departments and law firms, are starting to realise that commercial search products can improve business efficiency and productivity by making information readily accessible.

But while Riley says RealTerm is doing just that, there are still some limitations, mainly relating to the speed with which it returns results.

“I guess the only limitation that we’re finding at the moment is speed,” he says. “It seems that the more you do, the slower things get, and what’s tended to happen with the internet is that people have got used to almost instant responses, and so anything that’s not instant, they think is not working.

“That is our only real concern at the moment, is that it is slower than what we’ve been used to, even though it is giving better results.”

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