The Search Solutions 2023 Conference is just over a week away and there is still time to register for what is a unique conference. Although many academic conferences have an Industry Day this tends to be an opportunity for search software and services vendors to talk about some of the technical solutions they are developing. The unique feature of the Search Solutions conferences is that the programme has a balance between academics talking about technology developments and practitioners talking about the issues of implementation and adoption. In my view the future of search, especially at this present moment, is absolutely dependent on the development of technology which is implementable. What is emerging strongly at present is that implementable solutions will almost certainly be a hybrid of ‘BM25’ in some form and machine learning and dense vector approaches. Getting the balance between these (and other options) is going to require IT and search managers to understand the technology in much more detail than they ever had to in the past. There are also issues of user interface design, employee training and performance evaluation which are completely overlooked by vendors offering magic search solutions.
SS2023 marks almost exactly the launch of ChatGPT on 30 November 2022. That now seems to be a life-time away! Although the Gartner Hype Cycle has come in for a lot of criticism it does provide the basis for a discussion of how technologies emerge and are then integrated into business-as-usual, except that business-as-usual has changed totally, not just because of AI but also because of hybrid working. There can be little doubt that we are still overwhelmed by coping with the upward trend on technology but at the same time there is a growing body of evidence that using AI in search mode has some limitations. When the technical solution was on-premise there was always a sense that the firm was in control and that (with the notable exception of Microsoft) advice was just an email or phone call away. Now that search is firmly in a black box (with some vendors proclaiming that their solution is open source when in reality it is not!) the firm has lost control of its search future.
The speakers at Search Solutions next week will certainly identify opportunities and challenges, and it is that balance that is so important for the search industry and its customers. However, it is not just the speakers that make Search Solutions a success but also the opportunities to share experiences with others in a similar situation and so expand on your professional networks.
The Conference starts at 9.45 at the BCS London office which puts it in reach of a significant area of the country. The 06.55 train from Manchester will get you to the opening of the event! Based on previous years the value of the reception at the conclusion of the Conference is an excellent opportunity to consider how best to develop an action plan for search research and search implementation over the course of the next twelve months.
Martin White 14 November 2023