Energy pilots Autonomy search tool

The Energy Department's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management is testing search software from Autonomy Inc. of San Francisco to see if it can help its inspectors better find their way through millions of documents.

During the first phase of a pilot, which started last summer, a search portal linked 100 users to about 20 repositories.

The second phase, which began last month and will run through August, extended the service to about 400 people, said Robert Wells, supervisory IT specialist for the office.

'The first group told us they were finding information in 30 percent of the time that it took previously,' Wells said.

Responding to user feedback, the office is working to increase the flexibility of the portal, letting users specify basic information they want in their search responses. The response pages will also be customized for each department.

Eventually the office hopes more than 2,000 agents will use the portal as a gateway to over 500 repositories.

The Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management develops methods for disposing of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. When evaluating disposal methods or locations, analysts must consult a wide variety of documents, from internal and external databases to e-mail and news service postings.

Using plug-ins, Autonomy's software can search across more than 300 formats, said John Cronin, vice president of government sector sales for Autonomy. Given a search term, the software returns not only a list of documents but also documents that may be related conceptually to that term.

With the office's portal, users can search through one or multiple repositories, Wells said. In the original pilot, searches were made with conceptual terms, though user feedback led the office to add keyword searches as an option. The Autonomy software runs on Sun Microsystems Inc. servers under Solaris, Wells said.

The office bought its software license in 2000 for $900,000 from reseller TRW Inc., now owned by Northrop Grumman Corp. The agency also considered software from Plumtree Software Inc. of San Francisco and Verity Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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